Wednesday 6 September 2023

Why Mrinal Sen failed.

A movie which changed Tamil Nadu was Nandanar (1942). I was unaware that the first version was made in Calcutta by M.L Tandon and a pal of his from UCLA back in 1932. A female singer played the male Saint. She was paid one lakh. The total budget was 3 lakh. The film was a flop. Kalki made fun of it. The three best actors in it were, he said, the coconut tree, the cow, and a goat. 

But, it must be said, it was Calcutta which first turned the 'kathakalakshepham' of Bhrarati Gopalakrishna into a more than Wagnerian 'total' art form which actually changed Society (in the reverse direction from what was intended) and established a dynamic, 'dhravya', hypokeimenon or hypostasis for every intensional, that is epistemic, discourse for all us 'Madrasis'-  Iyers more especially. Mani Shanker getting elected by gormandizing mutton biryani and Mani Ratnam doing its Cinematic equivalent displayed this distressing fact. On the other hand, Ilayaraja- a Dalit- showed Indian Music was essentially symphonic, had a well tempered scale,  and thus was playable anywhere to any purpose- just like Wagner. 

Then Jayalalitha got elected and stayed elected. Mother, it seems, is the breast upon which, both the infantilism of ideology and the fatuity of film, build their fantasises- which is cool provided their respective finances are sound. 

The film industry is an industry. Its job is to make money or beg for a handout from the Government. A profitable industry can take over a politically bankrupt Government- which, in a Democracy, is simply a service industry of a different type. 

 Grow the economy- i.e get more 'bums of seats' for the splendiferous 'Starship Enterprise' type saga of always increasing productivity and commercial contact, and you get more tax revenue with which to buy votes. Of course, we can say the same thing about Religion or Justice. They are service industries. If they do smart things, they get more revenue. They can also figure out how to improve 'mechanism design' in the wider economy and this can enable them to transform the polity. What matters is whether an industry responds to what people need and want. If if fails to entertain, or, it tries to foist its own views or values on the people, absent great coercive power, it will fail. 

Mrinal Sen was born a hundred years ago. He was a Communist film-maker. But, like other 'great' Bengali Directors, he was useless. Tamil Nadu now has a Chief Minister named Stalin. His father was a great script-writer and poet who enabled 'Reel Society' take over 'Real Society'. Meanwhile, the Communist Party in Bengal is dead. The Chief Minister is a Brahmin lady who will pass power to her Brahmin nephew. Meanwhile Stalin's son, also a film actor, is threatening to wipe out 'Sanatani' Hindus. Thus it was Madras, not Calcutta, whose Cinema achieved the Communist objective of wiping out 'eternal' Hinduism. Still, it must be said, in Sen's last film, where- because all the characters- even the moneylender!- are Muslim, there is a happy ending. One elderly Hindu- a Mr. Chatterjee- is allowed to join in at the end because he can't live much longer. This shows there can be a humane solution to the big problem facing Bengal- viz. the presence of Hindus. Once they all die, things will be hunkydory.

Even 40 years ago, it was obvious that the Madrasi Film industry had succeeded whereas Calcutta's Film industry had failed. At this late date, have Bengali intellectuals at last woken up to the fact that Bengali film directors were shit compared to Tamil or Telugu film industry people? Let us see. 

Devarshi Ghosh writes in Jacobin of 
 'a scene from Sen’s anthology film, Calcutta 71 (1972)... the director takes us to a party full of uptown liberals waxing eloquent about India’s burning political issues in the 1970s: poverty, corruption, unemployment, and so on.

Indira Gandhi had liberated East Bengal. But it had already slit its own throat by going down an infantile Leftist path. Bangladesh, under Mujib, became a one party Socialist State after suffering a big famine. Then Mujib was killed and there were coups and counter coups. In the early Eighties, Gen. Ershad had to embrace privatization and permit the exploitation of cheap female labour in textile factories. Bangladesh began to grow economically and has now overtaken West Bengal.  

Leading the pack is a political figure who laments about the 1943 Bengal famine, widely attributed to Winston Churchill’s policies,

not by Bengalis alive at the time. The Muslim League was just as corrupt in 1943 as the Awami regime in 1974. They made money out of the starvation deaths of millions. Churchill had nothing to do with it. 

which claimed millions of lives. But, we learn, it was the famine that helped this person grow his business as a black marketeer.

Was he an Ispahani? No. Wrong religion. Mrinal Sen was telling a stupid lie. Why the fuck would Suhrawardy line the pockets of a Hindu? His own people would have got angry and arranged a nice beating for him.  

Later, this same profiteer drunkenly argues for revolution.

Fuck was Sen arguing for?  

Meanwhile, striking workers have forced his factories to sit idle.

Which was cool because he didn't have to pay them. Also the tax-man would leave him alone. He could concentrate on piling up black money. Come to think of it, financing a flop film was a way of laundering black money. I.S Johar had a movie on this theme around that time. Anyway, that was the Bengali buddhijivi's own theory of why buddhijivi films were so utterly shit.  

What, the scene forces us to ask, does politics mean to a middle class

the Bengali middle class was malnourished. The profiteer was upper class. What the middle class wanted was Government jobs. The Communists could deliver this at the price of fucking up the private sector. That was cool because there was a caste angle to it. The upper castes dominated the Communist party. In 1979, they could even massacre Bengali Dalits in Marichjhapi.  

that can throw around the word revolution so casually while exploiting workers?
But the workers were on strike. There were creating no 'surplus value' which could be taken from them. Sadly, they also didn't get paid. This is why everybody wanted a job with the Government or a Nationalised firm where actually doing a little work was not a condition of employment. 
All the while a rock band performs live.

Was it any good? If so, Sen could have made money of music sales. Lots of Movie Producers balanced the books that way.  

The music is intercut with images of the famine and on-screen text: “unemployment, degeneration, hunger, betrayal of our ancestors.” Finally, the charade is interrupted by an explosion. From the darkness emerges the disembodied head of a communist activist who was shot dead by the police. He announces that he is dead before adding:
Can you guess why I am here? I have come to tell you that I know who murdered me. But I won’t tell you their names. I want you to find out who they are. You might experience discomfort in the process, but you will not stay so comfortable, so indifferent.

The problem here is that the CPM was cool with slaughtering Naxals. Once those more extreme Maoists killed judges, nobody had any problem with extra-judicial killing on an industrial scale. It is foolish to say people didn't know who the 'murderers' were. They either got promotions and medals or became Ministers. One prominent Left Front Minister had killed a couple of Congress supporters and then mixed their blood in rice and forced their mother to eat it. Pranab Bardhan had a very high opinion of this great buddhijivi who successfully adapted Marxist doctrine to indigenous conditions. Mamta got her start fighting the Commies in the streets. They kept trying to kill her- also one IPS officer bit her- but she prevailed. Then she beat the fuck out of the Commies and sacked the IPS officer when he objected to her goons killing his constables.  

The roots of such storytelling lie in Sen’s past.

No. They lie in the buddhijivi proclivity to slit its own throat while babbling modish bollocks.

Unlike Ray, Scorsese, and most great filmmakers, Sen came to filmmaking later in life.

By which time there was a small international market for Leftist shite from a shithole country whose 'intellectuals' slavishly imitated gimmicks to be found in 'New Wave' European films.  

He was first an activist,

a useless one 

then an intellectual,

a stupid one 

followed by a short stint as a film critic,

an unreadable one 

after which he eventually managed to find a gig as a director.

As a Communist, there was a chance the Soviets might buy his shite. Sen also did a film with a Chinese dude. But Mao didn't want it. He wanted to take Nehru's pants down and make fun of his puny genitals.  


Sen’s father Dineshchandra was a lawyer closely associated with Indian freedom fighters.

i.e. guys slitting their own Hindu throats in East Bengal 

His son had his coming of age as a student in the teeming metropolis of Calcutta, now Kolkata. There he witnessed firsthand the savagery of the Bengal famine.

Under Muslim League rule. Suhrawardy's mistake was to get his people to slaughter Hindus on 'Direct Action Day'. The Hindus turned out to be better at killing and thus Calcutta was preserved for India. Otherwise Sen would have had to run away somewhere else.  

While riots and World War II raged on, Sen associated with the Communist Party’s cultural wing and locked himself up in the library. During the war years he discovered Rudolf Arnheim’s influential Film as Art and turned his attention to aesthetics and film theory. In 1945, Sen published the article “The Cinema and the People” in a magazine rolled out by the Indo-Soviet Friendship Society. By the early 1950s, his first book on cinema, about Charlie Chaplin, was out.

So, this was a Communist who was brought into the film industry because he was useless in every other field. Still, the Indian Government and the French Government and the Soviets were prepared to give this cretin awards. The market, however, would not reward such programmatic stupidity.  

To be fair, as he got older, Sen gave up on Communism and gimmicky movies. By the Eighties, it was obvious that Satyajit Ray was shit. There was no point in getting the silver medal for being shit. Meanwhile, Mithun Chakroborty- whom Sen had given his first big role- had become the poor man's Amitabh. He became a big star behind the Iron Curtain with films like 'Disco Dancer'. 

Another Bengali intellectual, Abhrajyoti Chakraborty, has an essay in 'the Point' on Mrinal 

in Kharij (The Case Is Closed), from 1982, a woman is getting her child ready for school when she tells her husband that she would like someone—“preferably twelve or thirteen, someone who doesn’t talk back”—to help with the chores in the house.

Why would a twelve year old want to 'help with chores'? The answer is, such a child might want to gain a reliable source of food and clothes and shelter. Sadly, in this particular case, the kid dies from monoxide poisoning while sleeping in the kitchen. But, if some relatives, escaping pogroms, had turned up at the family's door then it would not have been a servant kid but one of their own kith and kin who would have died while sleeping in the kitchen. 

Their own child is in the room with them; but already it is lost on the couple that the 12-year-old they want as hired help may also be someone else’s child.

Everybody' is somebody's child. But some Mummies and Daddies don't have the money to feed their kids. 

It is at home where we first learn to alienate, home where we first feel alienated—home that engenders Tagore’s “suspicion of man for man.” 

No. Home is where we gain 'oikeiosis' or a sense of belonging and guiltless appropriation. Chances are a child living with a family as a domestic servant will be better off than one living on the street. A certain, lower, level of oikeiosis would be extended to the child. Yet it may gain a superior support network. No 'alienation' is involved not even Marxian alienation which is an economic theory which only applies to commodities, not services.

Home does not engender 'suspicion of man for man'. If Mrinal Sen's family fled East Bengal it is because their suspicion of their Muslim neighbours was well founded. Had they stayed, they may have been killed.  

If you are suspicious of a person, you don't employ them in your home. There is some peculiar buddhijivi logic at work here which I fail to understand.

Seventy years after independence, Indians still view each other in the shadow of that suspicion.

No they don't. I don't think a guy named Narendra is likely to kill me because of my religious beliefs. Narendra too may feel reassured if he hears my name is Vivek.  

It is a view that, at its worst, has manifested in riots and indiscriminate violence, the recurring violations of women’s rights, the lynchings of Muslims and other minorities that have become terrifyingly frequent since Narendra Modi first became the prime minister in 2014.

This gentleman who writes for the Guardian and other such Western newspapers and magazines, hasn't noticed that NATO killed 1.3 million Muslims and displaced tens of millions more. Still, Westerners aren't Indian. Thus they could have no suspicion of Muslims at all. As for 'violations of women's rights'- no such thing happens in a proper Muslim majority country. West Bengal has a long way to go before it becomes Muslim majority and accedes to Bangladesh. We sympathize with this young buddhijivi. Still, under Mamta or her nephew, his dream of living under Muslim rule may come true. 

The crowd has become a murderous mob. Education can only do so much to eradicate this apathy, as we see with Chinu’s family in Ek Din Pratidin and the couple in Kharij.

Mrinal Sen was educated. Many Communists were. But their militancy was more poisonous than apathy. It destroyed the productivity of the Province. The underlying problem of the families and individuals shown in Sen's films was that lack of productivity was causing poverty. But the pedagogy of the buddhijivis destroys productivity. It creates the illusion that condemning other people will cause all social problems to disappear.  

In a country like India, where films are still valued essentially as fantasy,

Entertainment, not fantasy. The problem with the fantasies of the buddhijivi are that they are boring and stupid and based on the notion that scolding other people can make the world a better place.  

If anything, Modi’s uncomplicated popularity among the country’s urban middle class

Gujarat, like Bengal, is majority rural, not urban. Modi is popular in rural Gujarat as well as urban areas.  

and wealthy expatriates abroad would suggest that the desire to have a good life is synonymous for many Indians with a wish to

get the fuck out of rural shitholes and then get the fuck out of urban shitholes 

be indifferent.

Indifferent to Bengali bores- sure.  

Artists and intellectuals are not exempt from this: too many of them have, for too long, kept themselves apart from the crowd.

The author never sleeps in a bed on his own or with just one or two other people. If there isn't a big crowd around him he can't fall asleep.  

Sen’s willingness to put art at the service of politics

shit politics. The Tamil film industry was very political. Then it took over politics and did a better job than the Communists in West Bengal. But the Tamils made better movies.  

—his skepticism toward every orthodoxy, the anger of his films—is missed in these complicit times. 

Which is why these times are better than those times.  

Perhaps the film that Sen will be remembered for most is Akaler Sandhane (In Search of Famine).

Buddhijivis like Amartya Sen were already cashing in of the Great Bengal Famine. Was Mrinal's film intended as satire? No. You can't satirize a Pavlovian reflex you yourself display in more rabid fashion. 

It was released in 1980, a year after Ek Din Pratidin. Sen again steps out of his home into the world—but now he is also questioning his own impulse to be in the crowd. The film is about the making of another film, also titled Akaler Sandhane.

East Bengal had a big famine in 1974 because it was run by a Leftist dictator.  The amazing thing about Mrinal's movie is that he wrongly says the famine occurred in 1971. Perhaps he thought the refugees who had fled the Pakistani Army's genocide were actually fleeing famine. No doubt, Hindu profiteers in Dacca were responsible for everything that happened in that terrible year. 

The crew has arrived in a village called Hatui, almost 40 years after the 1943 Bengal famine, to shoot a film with the famine as a backdrop. They are boarding in an old mansion nearby, once a royal stomping ground

the 'zamindars' were tax-farmers. None had 'royal' titles. 

but now empty except for a woman and her comatose husband who occupy a room on the first floor.

no doubt the symbolize something or other.  

In his efforts to faithfully recreate the period, the director is oblivious to the effect his film is having on the village. Hatui is still a place where The Guns of Navarone is screened every month in an open field, where those who usurped land from starving farmers in 1943 now claim to be survivors of the famine.

They survived the famine by not fucking dying. Farmers didn't starve, landless labourers did.  

Crowds flock around the set at all hours to watch the shooting.

No crowds flocked to watch Sen's shite. 

The crew’s indulgent tastes

How? The village shops don't stock luxury items- like soap or toothpaste. You can't drive up the price of what doesn't exist. Still, it may be the 'crew's indulgent tastes' led them to consume 10 kilograms of rice at a sitting. 

drive up prices in the village. When an actress pitches a fit and returns to Calcutta, the director wants to audition some local women. Each of them is asked, in turn, to play the part of a prostitute: the implications are dire in a society that has more or less no reason to distinguish between reality and make-believe.

I frequently asked Mrinal Sen to play a rent-boy in a porn movie Nobodyjee was making . Sadly, he refused to take it up the ass from the assortment of hobos I had assembled for the task.  

The villagers refuse to cooperate, bringing the production to a standstill. The crew decide to leave the village and resume shooting in a studio. 

'Grapes of Wrath' and 'the Good Earth' were mainly shot in studios in America. They were good films and had positive political effects. Sen's films were shit. He got to make them and was given awards for political reasons- but those reasons were shit. Infantile Leftism has bad economic and social effects. 

Akaler Sandhane is skeptical about the breakthroughs of neorealism.

Rising affluence in the West killed off that shite.  

But Sen’s larger disappointment is utilitarian: what effect did landmarks like Pather Panchali, even Baishey Sravan, ultimately have on Bengal’s political landscape?

It made it worse. If educated Bengali people- Ray had an Economics degree, Sen had studied Physics- display their great stupidity about Economics and Politics and if they get lots of Government awards for doing so then the conclusion is inescapable- the Bengalis are stupid and destined to decline more steeply yet. Bombay made entertaining movies which made a lot of money. So did the Tamils and 'Andhrapreneur' Telugus. Bengal was shit because the fish rots from its buddhijivi head. 

At the end of a day’s shooting in Akaler Sandhane, we see the crew relax by playing a strange game. One person pulls out a photograph from the director’s research notes, while the others take turns to guess when it was clicked. In every image we see faces and bodies hollowed out by hunger and heat. None of them, however, are from the 1943 famine. One is from a crop failure across West Bengal in 1959;

there were no famine deaths thanks to Uncle Sam. The Commies pretended there was but this hurt them at the polls.  

another from a food shortage in 1966;

when Uncle Sam once again came to the rescue 

yet another from 1971, when refugees fleeing the war in Bangladesh turned up in Calcutta with nothing to eat.

There was no famine then. There was in 1974 because of Mujib's crazy Socialist policies.  

For Sen, the famine never ended. 

Then he died. But his stupidity did not die entirely with him. Buddhijivis will write shite about him decade after decade till, finally, West Bengal accedes to Bangladesh and Hindus from that region will find that blaming all the World's ills on Hindu 'profiteers' wins them little sympathy.  

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