In the passing of Mrinal Sen at the age of 95 in Kolkata on Sunday, Indian cinema lost a colossus whose works constituted a marker for change in, first, his native Bengali cinema, and then in the wider canvas of cinema in India. Along with Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak, each of which authored a genre of films that left a deep impression, Sen constituted a trio who have earned a place as trailblazers of “new wave” cinema.
But it’s not only in that sense that this filmmaker was a modernist. He introduced new film shooting and, above all, editing methods — such as the “jump cut” — that broke fresh ground. The newness that Sen offered through his cinema was a forceful acknowledgment that India was in the act of becoming a different country in the late 1960s. Social and political life was changing with extreme rapidity and without giving notice.
Women were out in the urban workforce in large numbers, leaving the moribund security of their homes — and this brought its own dilemmas, difficulties and uncertainties. Politics was receiving a jolt as never before after Independence, with the Naxalite movement tearing through the fabric of thought. This is the changing socio-political world the great filmmaker caught with elan and brought to his canvas without fuss, as he dealt with feminism and left-wing ideologies.
There was neither genteelness nor coarseness about Sen’s works, but a cinematic coherence and elegance. The late Mrinal Sen made his films in not just Bengali and Hindi, but in several other languages of India, picking his cast from the best available everywhere. There was a certain “largeness” about his oeuvre.