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No director today comes anywhere near Satyajit Ray: Mrinal Sen

There are very few Indian filmmakers like Mrinal Sen. The auteur, known for his hard-hitting socio-politico films, turned into a nonagenarian last week. Although health remains a constant concern, the Kolkata-based veteran filmmaker is thrilled about his forthcoming book on Charlie Chaplin titled My Chaplin. The only living great of the triumvirate that included Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal comes across as someone who is taciturn enough to let his work speak for him. Over an email interview, Mrinal throws light on his life, fellow filmmakers and career...

What were the things that inspired you as a filmmaker?
Time did. Time has always been sitting on my neck. Thus, I’ve always been confronted by it so I had to fight and survive the tension. It was an everyday battle. And that has always influenced my films. It’s about time, an era, a period of struggle. That’s the kind of films I have been making. Whatever happened in my life reflected on my work. As I survived and continued to make films, I tried to look beyond what’s visible. I never had materialistic ambitions and I was clear-headed enough to know the difference between dreams and reality. That’s also why I was able to clearly refuse fragile optimism. All shades of life inspire me in
various ways.

How do you describe your journey so far?
I turned 90 recently and I’m doing well. I do not have any regrets. Mine has been a continuous journey like climbing a steep hill where with every step upward, the horizon line keeps on changing. If I were to describe my life story in one word, it has to be fascinating. The journey would and is still going on.

What do you take from your days as an acclaimed director?
Every time I shoot a film or even command a “shot”, I was growing. That was what I was living for -Films. That way, my entire movement has given me increasing strength and a sense of growth - some from experiences and some from experiments. That’s all.

Which were the films that you loved watching during your filmmaking days?
Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito, Ritwik Ghatak’s Komal Gandhar, Tapan Sinha’s Khaniker Atithi as well as Shyam Benegal’s Ankur and Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh were some of the brilliant Indian films I saw. I’ve always considered Adoor Gopalakrishnan as a director of international calibre.

Tell us something about your friendship with Satyajit Ray?
There is a common belief that we were rivals. It is not true at all. We shared the best of vibes and had a deep silent regard for each other. We did have differences regarding our works but that never made us enemies. Ray and I were by the side of Ritwik Ghatak prior to his passing away. Ray, according to me, remains the most prominent director in the international scenario from India.

Do you manage to watch films nowadays?
I used to watch a lot whenever time permitted. As of now, I come across very few films and I rarely view them. Seldom does one come across films of classic nature now. There’s not a single director today who can come anywhere near Ray. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed Goutam Ghosh’s Moner
Manush recently.

Are there any particular contemporary directors whom you like?
Yes, there are some young performers whom I’ve liked as well loved. Their passion for filmmaking without fearing to commit mistakes too is indeed wonderful. Filmmakers such as Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh and Madhur Bhandarkar show lots of promise on whom I pin high hopes.

Do you feel technology is interfering too much with cinema?
No, not at all. I’ve been growing on the advent of technology to express my thoughts and ideas. You must not forget that a film, by and large, is a technological performance depending on the properties of two branches of Physics - optics and sound. The point is to express oneself through technological advances. Technique is welcome but it should not outdo the content.

What inspired you to write a book on Charlie Chaplin?
For a very simple reason that I love him! I’ll ask you to read the book and find connections with my movies if you will because I’m sure there are many. He’s one of the three film personalities - along with Sergei Eisenstein and Jean-Luc Godard - who inspired me a lot. I admired Eisenstein for his tremendous control over the form and montage, Godard for his elegant style and Chaplin, of course, for his overpowering humanism.

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