Changing contoursNov 18th, 2008 | By editor | Category: On Cinema
Ziya Us Salam
He has just come back from the hospital. And all that veteran filmmaker Mrinal Sen asks for is some time before he can sit down, and answer a few questions about the changing contours of filmmaking.
He is polite to a fault, extremely modest for a man who has much to be immodest about. No swagger, no tantrums, he even answers his landline phone himself! Unlike many veterans, he refuses to wallow in nostalgia or even be unduly critical of the present generation.
Even as he prepares for his next film, Mrinal Sen, fresh from a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Osian Film Festival, talks of Satyajit Ray, art and commercial cinema and lot more in an interview.
Is independent filmmaking the new ray of hope for all those who crave for sensitive cinema impervious to the winds of commerce at the box office?
Would you call it anywhere near an answer if I quoted the concluding lines of my convocation address, more or less, to the students of the Film Institute of Poona years ago? ‘Remember, when you touch your multifaceted medium, you touch man. As you serve your medium, you serve your conscience too. And as you walk into the world, you take chances or play safe. By taking chances, you achieve or perish. Or, playing safe, you just survive. The choice is yours. Till the time you choose, I wish you all a very tough time.’
I said it and debated within myself, if it could be a feasible proposition to always strike a balance between creativity and commerce. Some would possibly say, ‘no’, some, ‘yes’.
Example? “Pather Panchali” for instance. That was a fabulous success — creativity and commerce walking gracefully, hand in hand, shaking the world. But, “Aparajito”, Satyajit Ray’s second of the trilogy and, to my mind, his greatest and the most contemporaneous, was a commercial failure, a flop everywhere, except in festival circuits all over the world.
Are the days of a unified Indian film culture over? I ask because, despite subtitles, people are often unaware of what is happening in regional cinema. For instance, a Hindi filmgoer does not know what is happening in Assamese cinema, a Malayalam filmgoer has no idea of Hindi or Bengali cinema.
I feel ill at ease when they call the so-called ‘Indian cinema’ as Indian cinema. Why not say cinemas in India? And that is when I feel comfortable.
I feel ill at ease when they call the so-called ‘Indian cinema’ as Indian cinema. Why not say cinemas in India?
How far is it acceptable that only the technical language of cinema has changed, the intellectual concerns have remained the same?
You know as much I do. Technology is not the end in itself but a means to an end. It is the language of cinema that matters, the language growing out of technological performances. With technological advances, the language of cinema has been getting richer. But, of late, a large chunk of the Indian films that are being talked about in glowing terms are technically marked by unusual smartness, but aesthetically are clearly below par. Such a trend is totally unacceptable.
Serious Indian cinema is becoming increasingly an urban affair, away from the reality of the masses based in villages. And commercial filmmakers are also depicting urban fantasies. Where does it leave space for understanding the rural reality?
I agree with you totally. While making “Aakaler Sandhane” (In Search of Famine), about an urban filmmaker going to a village with his team in 1980 to re-create the terrible famine that ravaged Bengal in 1943, the entire crew and actors reached the location on September 7, 1980. As the convoy arrived, we realised the word had already spread that the cinema-wallas were coming to make a film on famine.
I was thrilled. I rushed out of my car; I looked around and almost ran into the village leaving my unit behind. I saw how an aged farmer, his body nothing more than a bundle of bones, suddenly spoke up, rather shouted, almost in jest: ‘Hey, look, they, the cinema babus, have come from the city looking for famine. But here we are, the famine itself. It is present in every pore of our beings.’ The wizened old farmer laughed guilelessly.
I was shaken. Isn’t it a cruel taunt? Isn’t it a heartless jest? Honestly, never before had I met a man like him, never before I heard the like of him, none of his kind, who had learnt to survive by virtue of their own peculiar logic.
Two days later, when we took our first shot, it was that of an old man, a highly dependable aged actor from my own unit, speaking the same line of the old farmer, speaking and laughing the same way.
Finally, why does not sensitive and sensible cinema reach the masses? How do you as a filmmaker arrive at a cinema that is commercially successful and critically applauded?
Why think of cinema alone, why not of other arts? But, true, nobody will be happier than me to see that my films are liked by wider spectators. But, in reality, in most of my cases my films are popular failures.
Ask Ray about two of his films, just two, “Pather Panchali” and “Aparajito”. There is hardly an answer to the question.
Published on August 24, 2008