Masterclass: Mrinal Sen On Why He Made The Kind Of Cinema He Did!

By Yash Thakur. Posted on August 17, 2015

Undoubtedly one of the most important Indian directors alive today, Mrinal Sen just turned 92 a couple of months back. Mrinal Sen was one of the pioneers of India's 'Parallel Cinema' and his film Bhuvan Shome is credited with having launched the parallel cinema movement.

Fiercely political with a strong Marxist worldview, his films reflected the ideological turmoil that India and in particular Bengal, was going through in the post-independence period.

His films like Baishey Shravan, Akaler Sandhane, Parashuram, Oka Oori Katha, Kharij, Khandhar won accolades and acclaim at international film festivals. Mrinal Sen along with his contemporaries Satyajit Ray & Ritwik Ghatak put Indian cinema on the international map.

There are very few interviews of the maestro available online in English, but one of the best is this one by Rajiv Mehrotra, that sees Mrinal Sen speak about various topics, including technology in films, austerity of filmmakers, and what drives him to make movies (Mrinal Sen's last film was in 2002).

The interview is free-flowing & conversational and gives an insight into the mind of the legendary filmmaker.

On What a Filmmaker Does, When Not Making a Film

"Well, primarily he is loafing about. I read, attend seminars to get doubly confused, in the process, confusing others also, and plan productions, later aborting it (laughs). I am planning to make a film, though I will not talk about it right now. You see, when a writer decides to write something, does he/she speak about it? Only the film people keep talking about making films, before making them."

On Filmmakers and Austerity

"When I made Bhuvan Shome, I didn't find any producers, so I had to apply to Film Finance Corporation (now NFDC India) for the funding. We, as filmmakers, should be austere. Austerity is very important. Now when I make a film, I make sure I keep true to it. I also try to make sure that it does not cost too much. See, it is always the establishment which is trying to impose upon the people that filmmaking is an (highly) expensive proposition, but it is our job (filmmakers), and nobody else's business. We are here to say that filmmaking is not as expensive as they think it is.

If I make a film now, at the very least, it shouldn't be more than 30 lakhs. At the most, 40 lakhs. If a producer gave me 50 lakhs, then I'd be a little uncomfortable; I wouldn't know how to spend so much money."

On Technology in Films

"No technology hasn't inhibited me; on the contrary, I look for ever-newer technology to come in. For that matter, film is a continuously growing phenomenon, not only because of the fact that the ideas are (and should be) very interesting, newer ideas are there, and now also technology is there. It (technology) has been increasing at a very rapid pace. But then inspite of the technology, not just in Indian cinema, but even world cinema, courage, conviction and creativity are very much in short supply.

But I am very much interested in the technology of cinema. For instance, take (Steven) Spielberg. Here is a man, who has cinema at his fingertips. He knows the technology, the latest of technology, and when I watch his films, I sit up and very respectfully take note of the tremendous advances of science and technology which have been put into cinema. But at the same time, I am not very happy with his works. It is mostly about technology and it rests there."

On Not Going By The Scripts On Sets

"It is a kind of interaction; interaction between the actors and director. And then I tell them, "Go ahead with whatever you do". The director is not a dictator. You have to keep on giving your ideas, letting them build something new. I think this chemistry is very important. I keep on saying that there are a lot of things which aren't in the script. In most of my films, 30-40%, at times 60% of action is just done there, on the location. When you go to the location, when you are on the set, in the proper atmosphere and you see your characters moving about, the characters become very exacting. You become very creative as a filmmaker. I think that what I wrote at my desk in my home, doesn't go with my characters, in the situations, so I end up doing something different."

On What Drives Him To Make Cinema

"It was an accident. I never had any particular interest in cinema as such. When I was a student, I was not even a film viewer. As a student of science (physics) I wanted to study sound recording. I did go to a sound studio to learn recording, though I didn't like it much. I was interested in the mathematics of this sound, not in other things. Even when I was at the studio, I never went to the (shooting) floor.

Back then, I used to read a lot. In fact, I used to read any and everything, without knowing how to shape myself. One day it so happened, instead of reading fiction, or a biography or a play, I read a book on cinema. I just bumped into this book on aesthetics of cinema by a German writer and I was completely floored. And that was the beginning of my love affair with cinema."

Watch Rajiv Mehrotra in conversation with Mrinal Sen:


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