Kolkata: Legendary Bengali filmmaker Mrinal Sen, who, along with his contemporaries Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak was considered a doyen of regional parallel cinema internationally, often had public debates with Ray regarding film narratives and styles, but always chose to term them as clash of ideas and not conflict.
Sen, who directed 27 feature films, including ‘Ek Din Pratidin’, ‘Kharij’ and ‘Khandahar’ had said his films are “more of a thesis and do not have the imagery of Ray’s masterpieces.”
“I am not a Kurosawa, I am not a Satyajit Ray, I am not a Godard, who believe in drawing sketches. I can’t do that. I can’t draw a single line. My films are a kind of thesis,” the Dadasaheb Falke awardee filmmaker was once quoted in an interview.
Sen, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 95, maintained he and Ray shared a warm rapport during their time but often indulged in “constructive criticism” of each other’s films.
Their differences came into public domain when the two exchanged 19 open letters in ‘The Statesman’ newspaper in 1965 over Ray’s criticism of the script of one of Sen’s film ‘Akash Kusum’.
In one of those letters, Ray questioned the topicality of the theme written by Ashish Burman, a script writer and a regular collaborator of Sen.
“May I point out that the topicality of the theme in question stretches back into antiquity, when it found expression in that touching fable about the poor deluded crow with a fatal weakness for status symbols?” Ray wrote in one of these letters.
“Had Mr Burman known of the fate of this crow, he would surely have imparted this knowledge to his protagonist, who now acts in complete ignorance of traditional precepts with, need I add, fabulous consequences,” he had noted.
Replying, Sen had written that iconic actor Charles Chaplin had also referred to the poor deluded crow of Aesop’s Fables as “My conception of the average man, of any man, of myself” and asked whether Ray doubted the topicality of Chaplin’s theme brought out with such mastery during the long years of his film career.
The polemics – rich in content, and now keenly lapped up by wannabe film makers, critics and enthusiasts – continued for months till the newspaper called for a halt.
Sen’s ‘Bhuvan Shome’ also received some caustic comments from Ray, who despairingly wrote: “Summary in seven words: Big Bad Bureaucrat Reformed by Rustic Belle.”
Sen in his autobiography ‘Always Being Born’ claimed that Ray had “reacted rather unwholesomely” to the film.
Talking about Ray in an interview, Sen said he had no conflict with the Oscar winning filmmaker from Kolkata and claimed that the media finds a sadistic pleasure in writing about their conflicts.
“I did not like ‘Abhijan’, ‘Aranyer Din-Ratri’ and ‘Asahni Sanket’ (films by Ray). I openly said it with due reasons. We believed in constructive criticism. Both of us did not support gross commercialisation of cinema. I always admire ‘Aparajito’ as his best creation,” Sen noted.