Earlier this week, cinephiles all over the world celebrated the centenary birth anniversary of one of the greatest Indian film directors who ever walked – Mrinal Sen. About a week before that, Seagull Books of Calcutta republished a lost gem, Mrinal Sen’s memoir – Always Being Born. On the publisher’s page it reads: “An outspoken memoir by a much-celebrated Indian filmmaker.”
Sen was often described as a radical and rebellious rulebreaker, but “outspoken” is perhaps the best summation of his life and works. An artist who wouldn’t allow the society to dictate the limitations of his art; that’s who Sen was throughout and Always Being Born is the closest glimpse one can get of this maverick genius.
Each chapter of this edition chronologically takes us through Sen’s journey – a loved and protected young boy born in the small town of Faridpur (now in Bangladesh) who came to the city of Calcutta and gradually became one of the most distinguished intellectual minds representing the aesthetics of this city.
From his early failures to unexpected successes, from box office duds to unimaginable international acclaim – one of the few Indian filmmakers who won big at all three major film festivals in the world, viz., Cannes, Venice, and the Berlinale. A lucid self-portrait of his dreams and despair as well as a candid, often brutal inner look at the ever-sharpening, persistently self-critical politics of his cinema.
Sen, an integral part of the holy trinity of Ray-Ghatak-Sen, also devotes some delightful passages to that famous war of words that began after the release of Sen’s Akash Kusum (1965) between Satyajit Ray, Ashish Burman (the author of the story on which the film is based) and Sen in the columns of “Letters to the Editor” in the Statesman – Sen admitting in the end how no one particularly gained anything from this skirmish.
It’s this anecdotal nature of the volume, which showcases Sen as an artist who always wore his fame lightly and never took his own myth too seriously that has made it such an all-time personal favourite in just a few days’ time. The appropriacy of this book’s title reminds me of a Bob Dylan song which begins with the line: “That he not busy being born is busy dying”. Sen, like Rajesh Khanna’s Anand, shall always be so busy being born that he’ll never die.