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Invite that never was

Gabriel Garcia Marquez with Mrinal Sen in Havana, Cuba. The photograph was taken by Senís son Kunal Sen

One warm afternoon, sometime in April 1982, Mrinal Sen received a phone call from the Cannes film festival’s Gilles Jacob, who requested him to join the jury.

On the panel with Sen was one Gabriel Garcia Marquez from Colombia, not yet the Nobel laureate.

It is in Cannes that Sen met Marquez for the first time.

“He (Marquez) had not yet received the Nobel Prize then, and I had already read his famous book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which had deeply impressed me. Our interaction had started through this famous book,” the filmmaker from Calcutta said during a recent chat.

Sen’s wife Geeta was also in Cannes and the trio spent hours chatting. “His (Marquez’s) son had also come from Barcelona and we were introduced to him as he had not met anybody from India,” Sen had recalled. “Gabriel Marquez, the great writer, was very unassuming, jovial, intimate and warm.”

Sen later met Marquez in Havana, Cuba, where they were part of a special faculty in the Havana film school. It is here that their life-long friendship developed. They spent the whole day together with Sen telling him stories of Calcutta.

Marquez, who had studied at the film school in Rome, had two main interests — films and literature. The author had seen two of Sen’s films, Khandhar and Genesis. The old and dilapidated houses shown in these films impressed Marquez.

Sen had taken the initiative to invite Marquez for a lecture series in Calcutta. But it never happened apparently because Marquez never got the invite.

“When I asked him in Havana about it, he said he never received the invitation,” Sen said.

When Sen was in Mexico, Marquez had requested him to make a film on his book, The Autumn of the Patriarch. He had even offered it free, but Sen excused himself, saying it would not be possible for him to catch the essence of the book written in Spanish.

Kumar is a professor of mass communication at Calcutta University