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The Point is not to Pocket the Truth, But to Chase the Truth...


Narendra Panjwani

MONTAGE: LIFE, POLITICS, CINEMA
By Mrinal Sen
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2002, pp. 372, Rs. 1200.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 2 February 2004

This is a big, heavy book weighing about 5 lbs., but it is not heavy reading. On the contrary, it seems designed for scatter-brained, distracted reading—rather like watching a TV Talk Show, punctuated by commercial breaks and ‘recaps’ for those ‘who have just joined us’. The breaks here consist of numerous film and shooting stills from Mrinal Sen’s films, which interrupt rather than illustrate the text. Like those commercials, however, some of the stills are independently interesting. For the rest, the book is a compilation of interviews with Sen by various admirers of his, and of jottings by Sen himself—recalling his early days, his hometown Faridpur in what is today Bangladesh, and so on.        Rewind back to Calcutta of the 1960s-70s and Mrinal Sen emerges—from amidst coffee houses and college campuses animated with anger, joblessness, cigarette smoke, and the red-blooded language of Naxalbari and Marxism-Leninism—as the Enfant Terrible of Indian cinema. The film I remember most from those days is a subtitled version of Sen’s Interview (1970, black & white), or was it his Calcutta 71 (1972, b&w)? The last scene in Interview, yes that’s the one, shows the film’s young jobless protagonist staring at a brightly lit mannequin in a shop window, late at night. An impotent rage at his being condemned to remain outside, allowed only to look at the good life, propels him to lift a stone and smash the shop window! For a moment there, for just a brief moment that shop window symbolizing the world of success and glamour, looks damaged— like him, our hero.       The film ends, and you ‘carry’ the pieces of glass, and the young man’s angry stone with you —as you make your way home.      Like many of Mrinal Sen’s films over the last 30 years, Interview does not have a plot-driven ‘story’. It is about a young man’s day-long search for a suit in the city, which he will need for a job interview. All of Calcutta’s laundries are on strike on that very day! Other events that add to his frustration happen in a mad rush, typical of life in a metropolis. Sen blends a thin fictional narrative with newsreel clippings, with a documentary sort of style, and a provocative verbal exchange between the young man and the invisible director after he has had to forego the interview. And then a ...


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