On Sunday morning, as 2018 prepared to dissolve into the next year, Mrinal Sen passed away at the age of 95. His was a life well-lived, to put it mildly Along with Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak Mrinalda is considered the third fundamental part of Bengal’s great triumvirate of filmmakers.
Starting in 1955 with the well-received Bangla film Raat Bhore, Mrinalda etched an indelible footprint in the cinematic sands with masterpieces exploring the Indian middle class’ existential anxieties in Neel Akasher Neeche(1959), Akash Kusum(1965), Interview(1971), Chorus(1974), Ek Din Pratidin(1979) , Bhuvan Shome(1969) , Mrigaya(the Hindi film which fetched Mithun Chakraborty a National award for best actor) and the stunning Akaler Sandhane(1980).
He made his foray into Hindi cinema with Ek Adhuri Kahani in 1971 and then went on to make the masterpiece of his career Khandhar in Hindi.
Shabana Azmi who has played the lead in three of Mrinalda ’s highly acclaimed works regards Khandhar as her finest performance to date.
Teary-eyed at his death Shabana says, “I am deeply saddened by Mrinal da’s loss . It is a profoundly personal loss for me. But I seek consolation in the fact that the last time I met him will be one I will always cherish. It was in February this year. I was asked to give him the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award and was warned he was frail and uncommunicative. I approached him with some trepidation but was delighted to find that not only did he recognize me, he also hugged me warmly and showered much affection.”
Shabana had once told me she had pursued Mrinalda to cast her until he had no choice but to do so.
She remembers, “Being around Mrinal da was a constant learning experience. He was talkative and shared his experiences and observations freely. He was deeply invested in the society around him and owned up his own frailties with great courage. He had a lovely child-like curiosity which he kept alive both consciously and unconsciously and that’s what made him such an accomplished filmmaker.”
The three films she did with Mrinalda are all close to her heart. “I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with him in Khandhar, Genesis and Ek Din Achanak. Khandhar is a film in which I think I've made the least number of mistakes. My character Jamini is someone I love deeply and I saw a lot of Mrinalda in her. Her vulnerability, her self-respect, her refusal to be a victim.”
Shabana recalls a revealing incident from the shooting of Khandhar. “ I was traumatized when Mrinalda decided to do my last shot in the film where my face seems to get embedded into the ruins as my first shot. I protested but he would have none of it! In hindsight, I think that’s what helped me internalize Jamini completely It was a risk but it worked because of his confidence. I was also surprised to discover that inside my gregarious exterior there is a shy Jamini in the recesses of my being. I’m thankful to Mrinalda for helping me discover that. Mrinalda will live on through his work. My deepest condolences to his children Kunal and Nisha.”