Nationality: Indian. Born: East Bengal (now Bangladesh), 4 May 1923. Education: Studied physics in Calcutta. Family: Married Gita Shome, 1953; one son. Career: Freelance journalist and medical representative in Uttar Pradesh; involved with Indian People's Theatre Association, sponsored by Communist Party of India, 1943–47; directed first film, Raat Bhore , 1956; jury member at numerous international film festivals; chairman of Gov. Council Film and Television Institute of India, 1983–85. Awards: Silver Bear, Berlin Festival, for Akaler Sandhane , 1981.
Films as Director:
(in Bengali unless indicated)
Raat Bhore ( The Dawn ; Night's End )
Neel Akasher Neechey ( Under the Blue Sky )
Baishey Shravana ( The Wedding Day )
Punnascha ( Over Again )
Abasheshey ( And at Last )
Pratinidhi ( The Representative ; Two Plus One )
Akash Kusum ( Up in the Clouds )
Matira Manisha ( Two Brothers ) (+ co-sc, in Bengali); Moving Perspectives (doc)
Bhuvan Shome ( Mr. Shome )) (+ pr, sc, in Hindi)
Ichhapuran ( The Wish-Fulfillment ) (+ sc, in Bengali, also Hindi version)
Calcutta 71 (+ sc); Ek Adhuri Kahani ( An Unfinished Story )
Padatik ( The Guerilla Fighter )
Mrigaya ( The Royal Hunt ) (+ co-sc, in Hindi)
Oka Oorie Katha ( The Outsiders ) (+ co-sc, in Telugu)
Parashuram ( The Man with the Axe )
Ek Din Pratidin ( And Quiet Rolls the Dawn )
Akaler Sandhane ( In Search of Famine )
Chalachitra ( The Kaleidoscope )
Kharij ( The Case Is Closed )
Khandahar ( The Ruins )
Tasveer Apni Apni
Ek din achanak (+ sc)
Calcutta, My El Dorado (doc) (+ pr)
World Within, World Without
Mahaprithivi (+ sc)
The Confined (+ sc)
By SEN: books—
In Search of Famine , Calcutta, 1983; London, 1990.
The Ruins (Khandahar) , Calcutta, 1984.
Absence Trilogy , Columbia, 1999.
By SEN: articles—
"Introducing Mrinal Sen," interview with U. Gupta, in Jump Cut (Berkeley), no. 12/13, 1976.
"Mrinal Sen: cineasta de los humildes," interview with M. Pereira, in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 99, 1981.
Interview with S. S. Chakravarty, in Ciné-Tracts (Montreal), 1981.
Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), January 1982.
"New Visions in Indian Cinema," an interview with U. Gupta, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 11, no. 4, winter 1982.
"Mrinal Sen," in Cinema in India , vol. 4, no. 3, 1991.
"La révolte des adolescents," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.
On SEN: books—
da Cunha, Uma, editor, The New Generation 1960–1980: An Examination of India's New Cinema , New Delhi, 1981.
Willemen, Paul, and Behroze Gandhy, Indian Cinema , London, 1982.
Vasudev, Aruna, The New Indian Cinema , New Delhi, 1986.
Hauff, Reinhard, Hauff on Sen: Ten Days in Calcutta: A Portrait of Mrinal Sen , Calcutta, 1987.
Kishore, Valicha, The Moving Image , Hyderabad, India, 1988.
Hood, John W., Chasing the Truth: The Films of Mrinal Sen , Columbia, 1993.
Mukhopadhyay, Deepankar, Maverick Maestro—Mrinal Sen , Columbia, 1995.
On SEN: articles—
Williams, Forrest, "The Art Film in India: Report on Mrinal Sen," in Film Culture (New York), Winter/Spring 1970.
"Mrinal Sen," in International Film Guide 1982 , edited by Peter Cowie, London, 1981.
Malcolm, D., "Guerrilla Fighter," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1981.
Vreeswijk, L., and others, "Sen dossier," special section, in Skrien (Amsterdam), October 1981.
Bassan, Raphael, "Mrinal Sen," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), March 1985.
Roddick, Nick, "Original Sen," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), July 1986.
Sen, J., "Silence! Work in Progress," in Cinema in India , vol. 2, no. 2, 1991.
Krishen, P., "Knocking at the Doors of Public Culture: India's Parallel Cinema," in Public Culture , vol. 4, no. 1, 1991.
Datta, B., "The Rhythm of Acting," in Cinema in India , vol. 3, no. 2, 1992.
Breschand, Jean, "Lyon fête ses Lumière," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1995.
Young, Deborah, "And the Show Goes On—Indian Chapter," in Variety (New York), 21 October 1996.
On SEN: film—
Hauff, Reinhard, Ten Days in Calcutta: A Portrait of Mrinal Sen , 1987.
* * *
Mrinal Sen's work is distinguished by the attention he pays to the lives of the underprivileged in India. The style of his films varies considerably, and even within individual films his achievement is uneven, but the body of his work adds up to an important attempt in India at making political films, films which point to prevailing injustices and urge people to change society. Sen is India's preeminent activist filmmaker.
Sen's early films testify to the influences of the Italian neorealists and of Satayajit Ray's first films. Sen filmed people at the ragged edge of society, using natural locations and employing non-professional actors. Nothing in his films touched up the drabness of poor villages. Unlike Ray, however, Sen's attitude had less humanism in it than political urgency. In a strong film like Baishey Shravana , Sen suggests that a bourgeois mentality makes bad conditions worse by interposing the claims of respectability on matters of survival.
Although Sen established a reputation in Bengal with Baishey Shravana , he came to be known throughout India for the comic Bhuvan Shome , made in Hindi in 1969. The film describes a railway official's encounter with the wife of a ticket collector under fire for accepting bribes. The prudish railway official (played in a restrained slapstick manner by Utpal Dutt) is charmed by a country girl while on holiday in Gujarat and only later discovers that the girl is married to the offending ticket collector. The film is shot among sand dunes and sugarcane fields and reveals Sen's skill at sustaining a simple narrative. To some critics, Bhuvan Shome remains Sen's best film, an example of his little-used talents as a confectioner of cinema.
Conditions of near civil war in Calcutta in the late 1960s led to three Sen films known as the Calcutta trilogy— Interview, Calcutta 71 , and Padatik. In these films, Sen moved away from the surface realism of his previous work, turning instead to allegorical characters and symbolic utterances. Sen returned to conventional narrative with the Hindi film Mrigaya in 1976. Since that time he has continued to present stories about marginal people, framing the story so that the viewer is led to discover his or her own complicity with oppression.
In 1980 Sen directed Akaler Sandhane , which describes the adventure of a film crew out to film a story about the Bengal famine of 1943. The villages in which the crew works are no more prosperous in 1980 than they were forty years before; an afternoon's shopping for the film team cleans out the village vegetable market. Akaler Sandhane is intensively effective in its portrayal of the film-within-film. At one point the actors recreate the dire poverty of a disabled peasant's household. The wife has sold herself to the landlord in order to bring home a potful of rice. Sen cuts from a chilling night scene of the lame husband beating his wife to the crowd of onlookers; it is an open question whether the dissipation of intensity which follows this distancing serves a necessary political purpose.
Communist critics generally favor Sen's work; liberal critics point to characteristic weakness of structure. But Sen's compassion and energy are never contested. In film after film he probes the fate of those people—tribals ( Mrigaya ), outcasts ( Oka Oorie Katha ), pavement dwellers ( Parashuram ), working women ( Ek Din Pratidin ), servants ( Kharij )—who are treated as if they were sub-human. Sen's more recent films affect a subdued tone and, unlike the Calcutta trilogy, trust the audience to draw its own moral from the films. Outside of India, too, critics discern a new phase of maturity in Sen's work of the 1990s.