Of course I have watched a few "Bollywood" movies in my life. As one who grew up in India, how could I have not? But, anybody who is even remotely familiar with India knows that Bollywood is not India. Instead, it is some kind of a fantasy world. A crazy invention.
As a young adult, I started turning away from those formulaic movies. And, thanks to the one-channel television that was introduced, I finally could watch movies that I had only read about in newspapers and magazines. The movies that rarely ever played in cinema houses but won awards both at home and abroad.
Mrinal Sen was one of those movie makers, whose movies appealed to me. As art, and as stories about the real world and its people, his was among the few movies that I remember and cherish even after all these years.
Sen became a seminal figure of India’s “parallel cinema,” which was less the counterpart that its name suggests than an utter refusal of the predominant model of filmmaking in the subcontinent, now colloquially known as Bollywood.
The older I got, the more the Bollywood movies were unwatchable, like in the instances that I have blogged about. (Here and here.) Every visit to India has been even more disappointing than the previous ones on how far removed society seems to be from art and culture.
Sen's Ek Din Pratidin I vaguely remember--after all, it has been more than three decades and my memory isn't what it used to be. Until I read that essay, I had no idea that Sen is still alive. He is.
Now ninety-four, Sen grew up during the era of Gandhi’s protest against colonial rule, in rural Faridpur, “an unknown little town belonging to the ancient landmass of undivided India,” as the director describes it in a rambling but ultimately moving memoirNo doubt that a life experienced over all those changes would be reflected in the art that Sen created. In those art films, which did not cater to any set formula, the endings often left the viewer exploring the story and the characters because there was no real ending. No bow tie to wrap up the box. Sen was no different:
“Life itself is uncertain and inconclusive,” he has said. “Then why should I make a creation conclusive? Thus, all my films are open-ended.”Uncertain and inconclusive, indeed. Which is exactly how the latest art film that we watched also wrapped up--uncertain and inconclusive. If only they made more such movies in the old country instead of the messed up Bollywood ones!