Mrinal Sen movies and Kolkata

Kolkata in Mrinal Sen movies

Chandi Mukherjee04 Jan 2011

In many Mrinal Sen movies from Punascha to Mahaprithibi, Kolkata features prominently. He has shown Kolkata as a character, and as an inspiration. He has beautifully woven the people, value system, class difference and the roads of the city into his movies and coming of age for Kolkata, his El-Dorado.

Kolkata 71, Padatik, Kharij and Ekdin PratidinKolkata 71, Padatik, Kharij and Ekdin Pratidin

Mrinal Sen has made 27 feature films till date. Kolkata has featured directly in 14 films and partly in two or three films. The fourteen films are Punashcha (1961), Abasheshe (1963), Pratinidhi (1964), Akash Kusum (1965), Interview (1970), Kolkata 71 (1972), Padatik (1973), Chorus (1974), Parshuram (1978), Ekdin Pratidin (1979), Chalchitra (1981), Kharij (1982), Ekdin Achanak (1989) and Mahaprithibi (1991)

Mrinal Sen once said, “I cannot think of my existence without Kolkata…Kolkata is my El-Dorado. My protest, my success or my failure, my emotions, my excitements - everything is wrenched with my own city Kolkata.” In 1990 Mrinal Sen made one documentary on his own city, “Calcutta, My El-Dorado.”

Punashcha, Abasheshe and Pratinidhi are the three early films by Sen, where urban middle class life has been shown. But these three films were typically ones of the early days. He was then searching for the language of expression. Those were the formative years of Sen. So, Kolkata as such did not appear as a character in the films.

But in Akash Kusum we found new director in Mrinal Sen who has a definite message in his film. For the first time Kolkata became a character in his film. He tried to convey the message that urban middle class have lots of dreams, but there are all false dreams. It is the city, who forces to dream all those absurd dreams, which ultimately remain unfulfilled. Nobody can become rich overnight in this capitalized society. And the truth is there always remains a class difference. Love is insignificant if there is class difference.

Kolkata becomes a major character in Sen′s later works. Interview was the preparatory stage of his later works. This film deals with the problems of the colonial hangover the city still had. A young man did not get any job because he couldn′t organize a suit to wear before the interview board. Sen tried to present the film in a Brechtian style. He deliberately tried to convince us that we are seeing a film, not a real thing. Kolkata tram, bus, street, pedestrians, shops became the character of the film.

And then Sen became a political film maker. In 1967 Mrinal Sen made a documentary titled, “Moving Prospective”. The role of this documentary was definitely there in his overtly political approach in all of his remaining films. His next three films: Kolkata 71, Padatik and Chorus and are three unique documentation of the prevalent political situation in Kolkata. We may also call the three films as “Kolkata Trilogy”. Mrinal treated the city of Kolkata of the 70′s in a way, Godard treated his own city Paris. We have never seen Kolkata in such a way before. Sen′s hand-held camera was moving even through the narrow bye-lanes of the city. Violence, treachery, torture, beurocracy, revolutionary ideas, terrorism, petit bourgeoisie vacillation and love - all were part and parcel of every inch of the city and Sen capture everything in the minutest detail. These three films remained as the unique and most convincing document of Kolkata of the 70′s till date.

In Ekdin Pratidin Sen again came back to middle class urban people. He wanted to study the middle class values of the late 70′s. The only female earning member of the family did not return one day, she stayed somewhere overnight. And this created a tension amongst her family members. Her father, mother, brother - all were tense not because she hadn′t come, but because she remained outside her home whole night which defames the family. Sen never told us where the girl spent the whole night. This is a typical urban story, a story of Kolkata, a story about Kolkata′s middle class people and their values, their limitations and their own crisis.

Kharij and Ekdin Achanak are the two films where Sen studied the urban middle class people from a different angle.

Ekdin Achanak is also like Ekdin Pratidin but here the family in crisis is of a slightly higher status, of the upper middle class strata. Here an aged man, who is a famous writer, one day leaves his home and never returns. The crisis of this wife is that, she is in a doubt that her husband may go away with one of his female researcher students. We never see her bothered about the absence of her husband, she is only perturbed with whom he has gone. Again the crisis of defamation, the crisis of urban middle class value appears.

Kharij is a study of urban middle - middle class value. Here a teenage village boy died in a kitchen of a Kolkata flat because of the leakage of the cooking gas. As the space in the flat was so small, the boy who worked as a helping hand to the family had to sleep in the kitchen. The crisis of the family is how to hush-up the case and convince the poor father of the boy that his son died a natural death. We find the young couple of the family though feeling guilty about their crime, but constantly trying to prove their innocence. The film begins with a panoramic view of Kolkata, where it is superimposed - “December 29th 1981 Kolkata is under cold wave.” The teenage boy had to sleep in the kitchen for a little warmth in the Kolkata of late December night. Here also the crisis of defamation, crisis of values.

So, if Kolkata 71, Padatik and Chorus are part of the trilogy of Kolkata of the 70′s; Ekdin Pratidin, Kharij and Ekdin Achanak may be treated as another trilogy to study urban middle class values.

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want this documentary "Calcutta, My El-Dorado" ...
Posted by Square on on  Jan 4 2010 7:39PM

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