Kunal Sen and Ina Puri talk about the former’s father and legendary filmmaker, Mrinal Sen, at a special session of Tête-à-Tea
Portraying the plight of the common man through art is no mean feat, but Mrinal Sen used cinema to expose the fallacies that marginalised sections of the population. Films like Padatik, Mrigayaa, Kharij and others have endured the ravages of time and are considered among the best films ever made. They have rightfully earned their place in the hearts of cinephiles around the world.
To celebrate the birth centenary year of the legendary director, Prabha Khaitan Foundation organised a Tête-à-Tea session with his son Kunal Sen, who was in conversation with the writer, art curator and documentarian, Ina Puri.
Kolkata has been a living presence in the works of the acclaimed filmmaker. Elaborating on this, Sen pointed out that despite having migrated to the city at the age of 17 to attend university, his father never experienced a sense of displacement. “He considered Kolkata to be the place that helped him grow and become who he was. His earlier films were very Kolkata-centric. Later, he focused on stories that had Kolkata as the background,” said Sen.
Rather than dwell on the nostalgia typical of Kolkata, the filmmaker looked for ways to adapt his craft to the changing times. “With TV, the illusion of the film breaks immediately because of advertisements. When he made the 12 short films for Doordarshan, they were all in a very different format from what he was used to. He tried to adapt to a new medium,” said the younger Sen.
“He considered Kolkata to be the place that helped him grow and become who he was.” – Kunal Sen
Beyond the veneer of the artist, the filmmaker was also someone who cared deeply about others. “Despite having small budgets for his films, he made it a point to pay the technicians working on his set significantly higher wages than the industry rates and always shared a close bond with them,” remarked Sen.
The senior Sen was very particular about the people he employed on his sets. After the passing of art director and production designer Bansi Chandragupta, the filmmaker employed one of his son’s friends, Nitish Roy, as the set designer for Kharij. Roy eventually went on to work for Shyam Benegal and won several National Film Awards.
However, the director’s relationships with musicians were always fraught – in part because he didn’t understand music very well himself. “He didn’t have a very well-developed sense of music and he didn’t want to soak the audience’s minds with too much of it,” added Sen.
The only pointed failing on the part of the filmmaker was his disinterest in fathering his son. During his youngest years, the younger Sen considered the actor Anup Kumar, whom he called ‘Anu’, the father figure in his life. Despite this, he decided to go ahead with writing the upcoming book Bondhu: My Father, My Friend on his visionary father. “I’m not a writer, and when the publisher asked me to, I hesitated. The first thing I decided was that I wasn’t going to write about the aesthetics of his films and that I won’t turn it into a chronological biography because a lot has been written about him already. So, I decided to create thematic chapters and connect different parts of his life,” he explained.
The session concluded with an engaging Q&A round with the audience and actor Sudipta Chakraborty felicitating Sen.
Tête-à-Tea Kolkata was presented by Shree Cement Limited and with the support of Ehsaas Women of Kolkata