A LARGE gathering of film students and film buffs that included historian Romila Thapar and producer of S Durga, Shaji Mathew, turned up on Wednesday to hear veteran filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan speak about his long-time mentor and friend — the late Mrinal Sen — with Naveen Kishore, publisher of Seagull Books. “We had planned this tribute to Mrinalda, about six months ago, and now with the demise of our friend, this evening has taken an all together different hue,” said Kishore, who had published several of Sen’s books. Sen passed away at the age of 95 on December 30, last year.
Gopalakrishnan’s talk was part of a three-day event titled “The Absence Trilogy: A Tribute to Mrinal Sen”, which also screened Ekdin Pratidin, Kharij and Ek Din Achanak, three films of Sen where absence is always present. “Ekdin Pratidin is one of my favourite films by Sen. The strong sense of anticipation and suspicion that is built in the film, it’s unparalleled. All because a woman has stayed out of the house beyond the ‘acceptable’ time limit. And when she comes back, the family can’t say anything to her, as she is the sole breadwinner. The message is so strong, yet delivered so subtly,” says Gopalakrishnan, who called Sen his teacher, in spite of never having been taught by him at FTII, Pune.
“He died at 95, he was so active at that age, unlike me. I have long intervals between my work. He made 27 feature films, and innumerable short films and documentaries. He truly lived the life of a filmmaker, film-to film. While he used to be at FTII, he would tell the students, you have to see, think, live and dream cinema. And his strength was this desire and capacity to experiment. That’s what kept him going, he was very open to new ideas, narratives and his work was largely dominated by an overwhelming concern for the common man,” Gopalakrishnan says, also recalling his first meetings with the late filmmaker in 1967-68, in Mumbai.
“I first met him in Mumbai, at Arun Kaul’s home in Bandra. Kaul and Basu Chatterjee used to run this film society, and I was running one small film society back home in Kerala. So whenever I would visit Mumbai, I would meet Kaul. And that’s where I met Mrinalda. Arun Kaul had applied for a loan from the film finance corporation that time, for a film that was to be directed and scripted by Mrinalda, I was part of that meeting. At that time, he used to smoke, and would light up a new cigarette with the fag end of the one he was currently smoking. That was the only bad habit he had, and of course that he used to talk a lot,” shares Gopalakrishnan, adding, “People used to gravitate towards him, inadvertently, he attracted such attention because of the stories he would narrate. He always had something to say, on any given topic or time.”
Sen, according to Gopalakrishnan, was the one who completed the trifecta of the ‘Great Trilogy’, the other two comprising Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray. “I call these three the ‘Great Trilogy’ of Indian cinema, not just Bengali cinema. They were contemporaries and their first films came almost at the same time. While Ray hit the international circuit, with almost immediate approval, Mrinalda had to struggle a lot. His early films went completely unnoticed. It’s only with Bhuvan Shome (1969) that recognition came his way,” adds Gopalakrishnan, who was quite instrumental in ushering in The New Wave movement in Malayalam cinema, just as his mentor Sen did with Bhuvan Shome. “The film opened the floodgates. And we needed that assertion, as how the Germans did, they declared their ‘new wave’ and said that the old cinema was dead and that they needed a new cinema. Mrinalda was he undisputed president of the new cinema movement. And almost all his films had a strong socialistic fabric,” says Gopalakrishnan.
The generosity and large-heartedness of the late filmmaker was also something that Gopalakrishnan remembered. “The year my film The Rat Trap won the Best Feature Film in Malayalam, as opposed to the Best Feature Film, Sen wrote a very strong letter to the then I&B minister, and told him that my film should have won the latter. No other established filmmaker would have done this for a young, upcoming director,” says Gopalakrishnan.
Ekdin Achanak will be screened today at The Habitat Film Club, 7 pm