Monday, 30th October 2017

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 30.06.10

Back in his Puddapukur home, Mrinal Sen tells t2 why Cannes holds a special place in his heart...

When Cannes came calling

I went to the Cannes Film Festival for the first time in 1980. It was for Ekdin Pratidin. Gita (wife) had accompanied me. Ekdin Pratidin was in the Competition section. That was my first entry in the Cannes Competition section. Bagging a prize isn’t the most important thing, making it to the Competition is.

The second time I went to Cannes was as a jury member (in 1982)... the first Indian jury member at Cannes. After that, Cannes became my second home.

In the next 10 years, I went to Cannes eight times. Sometimes to screen a film, sometimes to attend a seminar. The last film I took to Cannes was Genesis in 1986. It was in the Competition section.

The last time I visited Cannes, before this year’s trip, was in 1989 for some programme… as far as I can remember, to mark the 100th birth anniversary of Charlie Chaplin. I had met Chaplin once in Cannes several years before that but couldn’t talk to him because he was very ill and was in a wheelchair...

Cannes 2010: when Ash touched his feet

The festival has become very crowded, very glitzy. I wanted to see some films so much but just couldn’t. Someone like me couldn’t catch (Jean-Luc) Godard or (Abbas) Kiarostami’s films! The only movie I saw was (Bertrand) Tavernier’s The Princess of Montpensier.

In the crowd, a woman came up to me. “Would you recognise me? I am Suhasini, Charuhasaan’s daughter,” she said, and then hugged me. She was Mani Ratnam’s wife. Suhasini is a very good actress and director.

Aishwarya and Abhishek (Bachchan) met me too. I didn’t notice when Aishwarya touched my feet in the crowd. She said, ‘You won’t know me. I am Aishwarya.’ I told her that I knew her, I had seen her film, Chokher Bali. She was very happy to hear that.

Ray and The Ruins

Khandahar (The Ruins) was screened at Cannes in 1984. Manikbabu (Satyajit Ray) was supposed to take Ghare Baire the same year but he couldn’t go as he was very ill.

Jilles Jacob, the president of Cannes film festival, who was then the secretary, is a very good friend of mine. He called to say that they had all liked Khandahar very much. At the same time, they also wanted to show Ghare Baire because they felt Satyajit Ray might not survive the illness. His Pather Panchali was screened at Cannes in 1956. It had won the Best Human Document award. Shara duniya kanpiye dilo!

So, Ghare Baire was shown in the Competition section while Khandahar was included in the Un Certain Regard category. The festival organisers didn’t want me to show my film anywhere other than Cannes and I didn’t have a problem with that.

People liked Khandahar very much. It got a standing ovation. There was a seminar too. A couple of months later, Khandahar was screened at the Montreal World Film Festival, where it got the Special Jury Award.

The next year, Khandahar went to the Chicago International Film Festival. They handed over the Golden Hugo prize to my son (Kunal) as I couldn’t go.

After that, Khandahar got several prizes here and there. But what I loved most was the fact that Khandahar was chosen as one of the 10 best films of the year by the International Film Guide, edited by Peter Cowie (a noted film historian and editor).

The 1983-84 edition of the Guide placed Khandahar alongside films by John Huston, Marta Meszaros, Federico Fellini, Wim Wenders and the Taviani brothers. It’s a matter of sheer luck!

A new life for his film

In 2004, a new section called Cannes Classics was introduced. They have been screening 10-12 films every year in this section since. This year, they showed 12 films, which included Khandahar.

The festival organisers wanted to show a few of my films in Cannes Classics in 2009. They suggested Interview, Calcutta 71 and Padatik. But I turned them down because the prints of these films were in very bad shape. Most of my film prints are in very poor condition. I conveyed the message through my representatives. That got them thinking about how the films could be restored.

Then this gentleman, Martin Scorsese… he makes less films now and takes more initiative in restoring good films... he showed interest in restoring some of my films. Scorsese has restored one of Ritwik’s (Ghatak) films — Titash Ekti Nodir Naam.

Satyajit Ray’s films have already been restored. The prints of Apu Trilogy were destroyed in a fire in a London laboratory years ago. Shei print-ta tara (The Academy of Motion Picture) je obosthay daar koriyechhe ta bhaba jayna! I have seen two of Manikbabu’s restored films — Pather Panchali and another one that I am forgetting. Darun, darun! Ami mugdho. Such sound, such picture quality… it’s unthinkable!

When our Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) heard that my films couldn’t make it to Cannes Classics last year because of bad prints, he instructed his office to do something about their restoration — not only of my films but of others as well.

The National Film Archive of India, based in Pune, was given the job. There’s a committee to oversee it. Govind Nihalani is a member of that committee. They asked me which films they should choose. I suggested Khandahar. ‘I have done 27 films, you work on 17 at most,’ I told them.

Khandahar was restored in Bombay. Jilles Jacob was very happy to hear about it. He said he would show it at Cannes.

I saw the restored print at Cannes for the first time. They call it ‘pristine restoration’, which means every frame of the film has been restored. It didn’t look like my film at all!

I walked up the red carpet before the screening and they gave me a standing ovation. And once again when the film ended...

Amar Bhuban (2002)
Antareen (1993)
Mahaprithibi (1991)
Ek Din Achanak (1989)
Genesis (1986)
Khandahar (1983)
Kharij (1982)
Chalchitra (1981)
Akaler Shandhaney (1980)
Ek Din Pratidin (1979)
Parashuram (1978)
Oka Oori Katha (1977)
Mrigaya (1976)
Chorus (1974)
Padatik (1973)
Calcutta 71 (1972)
Ek Adhuri Kahani (1971)
Interview (1970)
Bhuvan Shome (1969)
Matira Manisha (1966)
Akash Kusum (1965)
Protinidhi (1964)
Abasheshe (1963)
Punascha (1961)
Baishey Sravana (1960)
Neel Akasher Niche (1958)
Raat Bhore (1955)