That Shyam Benegal shared a special bond with the Sen family is evident with the way he talks about actress Gita Sen,who was Mrinal’s Sen’s wife and most frequent collaborator. “Gita di had a way of making people feel comfortable. She was also an incredible actress who had an innate understanding of the craft. And Mrinal da was her most persistent fan,” says Benegal.
To understand Mrinal Sen the man, the political filmmaker, it is important to recognise his collaboration with Gita Sen, agree most of his collaborators and friends and family. Sen’s son, Kunal Sen, remembers how deeply the filmmaker trusted his mother’s opinion in almost everything. “Theirs was a marriage of true intellectual equals. had a strong influence on the dialogs in my father’s films. While writing a script, he would often read a scene or two to us, and my mother would be very critical any time she sensed something didn’t sound adequately natural. This is where her experience as an actress helped. Even during shootings, she had a much keener eye towards the everyday details of a middle class Bengali household, and she would help in everything starting from set design to acting and dialogs. They both had tremendous respect towards each other. My father was very lonely since my mother died a couple of years ago,” says Sen.
As parents, Sens were constantly encouraging Kunal to be an independent thinker.” I had a strong affinity to be a contrarian, and I think my parents encouraged that. Therefore, it is quite likely that I wanted to prove my independence by doing something other than what everyone expected of me. In fact I remember my father telling the story that in his childhood his father had the desire that he would grow up to be an ayurvedic doctor, which is what our caste based profession should have been. My grandfather was a lawyer by profession. My father chose to become neither a lawyer, nor a doctor, so it seemed rational that I would pick up a totally different profession,” says Kunal who was a scientist and technologist in the US for decades.
Mrinal Sen also encouraged his actors to be independent thinkers but he would also a great believer in spontaneity. “He was unlike any other director I have worked with. He trusted you implicitly as a performer but he would also hold back something from you. When I was shooting my debut film with him, I wouldn’t understand his technique,more often than not, I was reacting to situations. But slowly, he started sharing his worldview with me,”says Mamata Shankar, who debuted in his National Award-winning film Mrigaya.
Simi Garewal, who starred in his 1973 political drama, Padatik, says that he never underestimated his actors and their intellectual capacity. “While working in Padatik, he would discuss world politics with his actors and crew. He expected and demanded that his actors be as intellectually committed to the cause as him. Padatik was a film about the intense Naxal movements of the late 1960s and I was playing a rich socialite who shelters a political activist. I was expected to be aware about the socio-political reality of Bengal at the time and I was more than happy to comply,” says Garewal.