To many Indian filmgoers today, Mrinal Sen is a cult hero. He has managed to transform a very commonplace film style into a socially relevant, politically committed cinema. For a long time, the Bengali cinema has been quite removed from social realism and relevance. Even Satyajit Ray, Bengal’s internationally famed director, has seemed content to portray India from the artist’s viewpoint—painting beautiful canvases devoid of any real analysis of India’s condition today. Ray has ignored the problems that are predominant in Indian society—poverty, economic exploitation and political repression. It is Mrinal Sen who has begun discussing these problems in a nonromantic manner, in a manner that is making Indian audiences sit up and take notice.. He has faced obstacles: difficult producers, reluctant distributors, and, of course, a disapproving Censor Board. But he has managed to bypass them and is today the only Indian director who has been discussing contemporary political situations and analyzing them
THE CONCEPT of art cinema is subjective. I make art films but I don’t understand what is art cinema. As a member of the jury for a number of international film festivals I am often engaged in long discussions about what exactly is art cinema. To me it is either good cinema or bad cinema,’ says Mrinal Sen, the third in Bengal’s trinity of greats — the others being Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak Sen has pioneered the new cinema movement in Hindi with his film “Bhuvan Shome” in 1969. This was the film which captured the stark reality of life, creating a cinematic language that was Sen’s own. It liberated the Hindi cinema from its escapist approach, stirring the audiences to reflect on life and society. This was a work of art which inspired the audiences to analyse social complexities, both rationally and emotionally.
Known for creative experiments with the cinematic medium and a remarkable knowledge of the medium and literature, he produced works which reflect “a serious socio-economic point of view”. Sen has made “Matira Manisha” – “Two Brothers” — in Oriya. Commenting on his multi-lingual film-making experience, he says: “The culture of poverty is the same all over the world. Exploitation follows a certain ubiquitous pattern…An ordinary family drama becomes a valid social document.”
At one stage of his artistic evolution, he said, “I have of late developed a taste for pamphleteering to blend the fictional with the actualities to draw conclusions on a propagandist note.” Through his childhood Sen had one recurring dream. “I used to dream of riding Garuda — the mythical king of birds and the carrier of Vishnu, the slayer of enemies. “I would ride on the bird around the house and then it would fly away. I even used this image in Matira Manisha, an Oriya film I did in 1966. How easily our experiences metamorphose into art,” says Sen.
Not everyone thinks highly of Mrinal Sen. To a lot of his critics, he is a filmmaker who is making films about politics and not political films. They feel that his commitment is not to a revolutionary cinema or to radical film, but to his continued existence as a filmmaker. How does he explain the contradiction between making films critical of the government and the establishment and being financed by that same government and the establishment?
The controversy will continue. In the meanwhile Mrinal Sen goes ahead with his films against heavy odds. Undeniably he will remain a commercial filmmaker, a filmmaker who has not been able to set up a viable alternative to what exists today, but his cinema is innovative. It is trying very hard to rid itself of commercial trappings and commerce-oriented formulas. For that matter, not all of Mrinal Sen’s films are Mrinal Sen per se. He owes a lot to Italian Neorealist and the New Wave French in his attempt to create a new cinema. He is trying to transform film from the purely mindless entertainment that it is in India into a medium that provokes and raises the level of audience consciousness.
Mrinal Sen’s moving neo-realistic film of the sixties, Matira Manisha (1966), which first caused a handful of Odia artists and intellectuals to take a close look into the possibilities of cinema as both an art form and a tool for critical social discourse, it is likely that the picture would have been even more disheartening. The film contrasts traditional and modern values as exemplified by divergent attitudes of two brothers to their inherited land. Such divergence in attitudes is intensified during war years when native exploiters and controllers of agrarian economy appear on the scene. Interestingly, no conclusion is drawn and no judgment is offered in the film. The spectator is asked to watch and, in the process, to get involved, to question Based on a story by the reputed novelist and short story writer Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Matira Manisha may be said to be one of Sen.’s more important films even if the director himself has not been known to be expansive about it. The film was made during a period of intense struggle in the veteran filmmaker’s life and career. For the film connoisseur it was perhaps the first authentic and creative work in Odia , made in a style part-feature, part-documentary. . So it could be assumed that Mrinal Sen take MatiraManisha as an experiment on Indian new wave cinema, First Film director from odisha Nitai Palit was follows the path of Mrinal Sen
Matira Manisha started with a preconceived notion of surrealism and liberation of the unconscious. The whole armory of sophisticated treatments was employed, as a result of which it turned somewhat mechanistic. Besides, the film contained all the pet nostrums of Mrinal Sen. For instance, he can always call on a train or a village fair to represent solitude and in communication. Matira Manisha at times was so ridden with gimmicks that often it verged on affectation. Yet Its vastly cinematic idiom had never been made before in Odia and hence it secured for Odia film recognition of maturity. Compared to this, Mala janha had a softer essence, and was more vulnerable. Both of them were classics of Odia cinema and both of them were box office disasters. As the Matira Manisha and Malajanha paved the way for new wave Odia cinema so there is a question whether the two film of sixty able to shower the seeds of Neo realism in the shore of Odia cinema?
Malajanha, is a traditional melodrama, even though the characters posses an intense psychological density and the film a realistic dimension. This film was based on novel written by Upendra Kishore Das in same title. The sensitive Sati (JharanaDas) is forced to marry an old man but refuses to consummate the marriage. She is thrown out of the house when she takes shelter with Nath (Akshya Mohanty (Kashyap)after a storm. Her parents die in a cholera epidemic and Nath takes her to the city where they live together, fighting unemployment and poverty. On their return to the village they are shunned and, unable to bear further humiliations, Sati drowns herself (in an understated dawn sequence simply showing her footsteps leading to the river). A long, slow-moving film renowned for Bengali cinematographer (later director) Gupta’s sensitive camerawork, for the famous Kabisurya Baladev Rath’s pastoral lyrics and for being probably the first Oriya film to pay attention to its soundtrack (notwithstanding the overuse of flute and sitar). However, the main plaudits go to Jharana Das’s remarkable performance which showed the oppression of women in traditional Odi ya society without glorifying suffering womanhood.
While Mrinal Sen influenced by Satyajit Ray Pather Panchali, Malajanha director Nitai Palit heavily influenced by Ritwik Ghatak’s film Meghe Dhaka Tara (A Cloud Capped Star). Ghatak was influenced by the arguments that Sergie Eisenstein, the Russian filmmaker and Rabindranath Tagore, a poet and a Bengali writer put across. He was not influenced by Hollywood or the French New Wave Cinema but like Jean-Luc Godard, who was obsessed by the Vietnam War, Ghatak was obsessed with the Bengal Partition. Ghatak’s involvement with literature is also quite evident in his films. In Meghe Dhaka Tara (A Cloud Capped Star), he has referred to Tagore, Yeats, Keats and Wordsworth. In fact the title, ‘A Cloud Capped Star’, is taken from a speech by Prospero, a character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
While Mrinal Sen could not able to stop his temptations to put the background music of Pather Panchali in Matiramanisha, Mala janha director Nitai Palit unable to free from the influenced by Meghe Dhaka Tara, Ghatak seems to compose both his visual mise en scène and his aural mise en scene in discrete layers. He frequently employs deep focus cinematography, permitting a certain counterpoint between background and foreground details that on occasion reminds to us the early films of Orson Welles. Ghatak’s sound is often layered between music, dialogue and sound effects that can be naturalistic (such as the sound of food cooking on a grill or expressionistic (such as the recurring sound of a cracked whip,)Much as our visual attention can shift in certain shots from foreground to background and back again because of the construction of the layered images, our aural attention might shift at times between music, dialogue and sound effects, which might in turn affect the direction of our gaze in relation to those images. He made some of his films under the influence of alcohol, but he made them with great passion. His films were sometimes overemphasized, sometimes melodramatic, sometimes unevenly edited, but there was an enormous power in his films which transcended everything else. He also tried new techniques which had never been used in the Indian cinema. For example the use natural sounds which are very prominent in the film, Meghe Dhaka Tara.
Nitai Palit tries his best to follow the style of Ritik Ghatak, in some extent he is also able to match himself with the making style of Ritik Ghatak in Malajanha poignant love story is narrated in the context of life in rural Orissa infested by superstitions, narrow caste prejudices and acute poverty. Women were like slaves with no mind and choice of their own and child marriages were widely prevalent. The agony and suffering of Sati may be seen as essentially related to the social evils that afflicted contemporary rural Odisha.
In an unforgettable moment, in last scene of Malajanha Nath Nana cries out “Sati… Sati …”, the camera pans across the mountains accentuating the indifference and eternity of nature even as the echo reverberates over the shot. In the opening sequence Meghe Dhaka Tara across a river, a train is shown moving from the right of the frame to the left. This sequence of the train is repeated many times during the film. This train is used to signify the distance in relationships and the distance between the two countries created by partition. The landscapes also play an important role in the film. The other motifs of Nita are the tree and water, the ancient images for Prakriti. While tree provides shelter and refuge, water has been always been associated with the primal force of creation the establishing shot of the film is that of a pond and a tree. It is interesting that whenever Shankar, Neeta’s brother, does his morning ‘riyaaz’ and sings to the Great Mother, Neeta passes by from below the tree. In Malajanha we found train, pond and tree but the director is not able to establish the image as Ritik Ghatak does in Meghe Dhaka Tara.
In Malajanha Sati, unable to bear the scandal concerning her and Natha, finally Sati drowns herself (in an understated dawn sequence simply showing her footsteps leading to the river). Neeta in Meghe Dhaka Tara cries for life, she cried to want to be live, both the film has tragic ends but Sati dedicated her life while Neeta want to be live in this beautiful world. Whatever may be both Mrinal Sen and Nitai Palit tries their level best to bring a change, how much they successes that is not point, but the high watermark that both has left on the shores of Odia cinema will continue to provide the measure for many a new wave to reassure them.