By Tirthankar Mitra
A son writing on his father makes interesting reading. BONDHU, MY FATHER, MY FRIEND a book on Mrinal Sen penned by his son Kunal Sen does not disappoint.
In a country where a famous sire is usually succeeded in his profession by his son/daughter, Kunal chose to tread a path away from the camera, lights and sound. The content of the book is a rare sight, a close up of sorts on the film maker and his wife Gita, a consummate actress and home maker.
Kudos to the author for not succumbing to the temptation of hero worship. After all, Sen was more of a friend than a father to his son as the 198 page book is aptly titled Bondhu or friend is about the man who was the author’s father.
The Seagull Books publication stands out from other biographies of Sen for its naturalness. Here we find Sen waking up his son almost at the crack of dawn, the duo taking a tram to Maidan, Kolkata’s green lungs and letting go his son’s hand on the verdant green.
Just as panic taps Kunal on the shoulders when he is familiarising himself to the natural surroundings, he hears his father calling out his name. As the panic lifts like the morning mist, the boy is invited to a game of hide and seek.
As the Bondhu, Sen would have nothing to do with chaperoning his son who was a friend. But he did not want him to lose the way either. A pot pouri of people finding mention in this book adds to its uniqueness. Mrinal Sen had a motley crew of visitors one of whom was a taxi driver.
He had once been part of a revolutionary group which sought to end the British rule by armed revolution. It is perhaps a pointer to the fact that the ideology of “power flowing out of a gun barrel” is not a concept which first sprouted in the early ’70s in this state.
More than seven decades after independence, much is made of a person’s knowledge of English. Gita Sen’s doubts about her skills in this language disappeared of all places in international film festivals when she went to these events coming across many people who shared her “shortcoming ‘.
Kunal Sen’s book makes no claim to be a bare it all tale.. Yet it delights it’s readers for its focus on unexplored corners of a famous film maker’s life and that of his better half. Sen was a story teller extraordinary and so was Gita. He would listen without interrupting her but would chip in if she missed a bit.
Here is the portrait of a gregarious public man. But he remained rooted to his family. The photograph of Sen in conversation with Satyajit Ray in a room full of books evokes interest. Surely it belongs to a period when both the men, big in stature and comfortable with a great peer have forgotten the war of words they had engaged in after Ray shot off an indignant letter to the editor of a city daily following the release of Sen’s film, Akash Kusum.
Priced at Rs 599 this book is certainly a layered account and promises to provide value for its price to those who seek to know the director when he was not calling out aloud “Lights, Camera, Action.” The son sort of swims against the tide when he mentions his father portrayed break up of a family in Matira Manusha, an Odiya film. Sen himself from a joint family set up had done the same. It is not an act welcomed in the society of which the father and the son are an integral part; yet the matter is not glossed over.
The author does well on blending the events of his father’s life with delicacy and aloofness. It is a difficult act especially when the subject of the book is none other than Mrinal Sen.
Sen had deftly navigated between documentary style realism and avantgarde experimentation. If it kept his audience guessing as to what to anticipate for, Kunal resists the temptation of analysing his father’s technique which fetched the film maker many accolades at home and abroad; after all it is well known to cineastes.
Every father is a hero to his son. Yet like a cautious batsman who leaves alone the ball moving outside the off stump, Kunal too has not fished into unknown territory. This is a book full of stories. Rightly so, since it is a memoir and is replete with stories about stories. (IPA Service)