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When Shabana Azmi last met Mrinal Sen

By Subhash K Jha
December 30, 2018 18:20 IST

'The last time I met him will be one I will always cherish. It was in February this year.'
'I was asked to give him the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award and was warned he was frail and uncommunicative.'
'I approached him with some trepidation, but was delighted to find that not only did he recognise me, he also hugged me warmly and showered much affection,' Shabana Azmi tells Subhash K Jha.

IMAGE: Shabana Azmi with the legendary film-maker Mrinal Sen. Photograph: Kind courtesy Shabana Azmi

On Sunday morning, as 2018 prepared to dissolve into the next year, Mrinal Sen passed away at the age of 95.

Along with Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak, Mrinalda is considered part of Bengal's greatest triumvirate of film-makers.

Starting in 1955 with the well-received Bangla film Raat Bhore, Mrinalda etched an indelible footprint in the cinematic sands of time with masterpieces exploring the Indian middle class' existential anxieties in Neel Akasher Neeche (1959), Akash Kusum (1965), Interview (1971), Chorus (1974), Ek Din Pratidin(1979), Mrigaya (the Hindi film which fetched Mithun Chakraborty a National Award for best actor) and the stunning Akaler Sandhaney(1980).

He made his foray into Hindi cinema with Bhuvan Shome (1969) and went on to make the masterpiece of his career, Khandhar, in Hindi.

 

Shabana Azmi, who played the lead in three of Mrinalda's highly acclaimed works, regards Khandhar as her finest performance to date.

Teary-eyed at his death, Shabana says, "I am deeply saddened by Mrinalda's loss. It is a profoundly personal loss for me."

"But I seek consolation in the fact that the last time I met him will be one I will always cherish. It was in February this year."

"I was asked to give him the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award and was warned he was frail and uncommunicative."

"I approached him with some trepidation, but was delighted to find that not only did he recognise me, he also hugged me warmly and showered much affection."

Shabana once told me she had pursued Mrinalda to cast her until he had no choice but to do so.

"Being around Mrinalda was a constant learning experience," she remembers. "He was talkative and shared his experiences and observations freely."

"He was deeply invested in the society around him and owned up his own frailties with great courage."

"He had a lovely child-like curiosity which he kept alive both consciously and unconsciously and that's what made him such an accomplished film-maker."

The three films she did with Mrinalda are all close to her heart.

"I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with him in Khandhar, Genesis and Ek Din Achanak."

"Khandhar is a film in which I think I made the least number of mistakes. My character Jamini is someone I love deeply and I saw a lot of Mrinalda in her. Her vulnerability, her self-respect, her refusal to be a victim."

Shabana recalls a revealing incident from the shooting of Khandhar.

"I was traumatised when Mrinalda decided to do my last shot in the film where my face seems to get embedded into the ruins as my first shot. I protested, but he would have none of it!"

"In hindsight, I think that's what helped me internalise Jamini completely."

"It was a risk, but it worked because of his confidence."

"I was also surprised to discover that inside my gregarious exterior there is a shy Jamini in the recesses of my being. I'm thankful to Mrinalda for helping me discover that."

"Mrinalda will live on through his work. My deepest condolences to his children Kunal and Nisha."

Subhash K Jha Mumbai
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