Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mrinal Sen- Friends Across Continents

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mrinal Sen
Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mrinal Sen. Courtesy Kunal Sen.

Mrinal Sen, the internationally acclaimed Indian filmmaker was born on 14 May 1923. To celebrate the ace director’s birth centenary, we plan to publish a series of essays, features and memoirs on Mrinal Sen. In this intimate recollection, Sanjeet Chowdhury writes about Sen’s friendship with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In this short piece Sanjeet refers to Mrinal Sen as ‘Mrinal da’, a customary Bengali salutation used for a man one looks up to.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez and  Mrinal Sen first met in April 1982. They were both part of the jury at the Cannes Film festival that year. Marquez’s Nobel Prize was just round the corner, it was announced on the 21st of October the same year. When they first met, Mrinal da had already read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ and was enamoured by the book. As jury members there was a lot of talk, discussion. Cannes went off well, they became friends. 

In 1988 they met again. This time at the Havana Film School where both Sen and Marquez found themselves involved with the faculty and their bonding strengthened, Marquez had watched some of Sen’s films and loved them.

Mrinal Sen during a film shoot
Mrinal Sen during a film shoot. Courtesy Sanjeet Chowdhury.

A couple of years later at a small public discussion in Calcutta, Sen had mentioned that Marquez had offered him the rights to make a film based on any of his writings other than “One hundred years of Solitude”. At this Mrinal da had told Marquez that the film copyright of a Marquez story would most likely be higher than the cost of his entire film. When Marquez offered to give it for free, Mrinal da told him “I can make the film, but on two conditions.” Marquez was curious. The first was that Marquez would not be allowed to read the script and come for the shoot, Mrinal da smiled and said, “he was very surprised and probably also a bit offended but reluctantly said Okay and wanted to know the second condition. I told him, you can’t commit suicide after watching the film”. 

Mrinal Sen
Mrinal Sen. Courtesy Sanjeet Chowdhury.

A few months later I was at his residence, generally chatting over when the Marquez incident came up in our conversation. Mrinal da then said though he was initially very tempted by Marquez’s offer, when he thought it over he realized that with his kind/style of filmmaking, a Marquez story would be very difficult to pull through. Being a huge Marquez fan I had by then read everything he had written and so had Mrinal da. Together we went story hopping trying to find a Marquez story suited to his style of filmmaking and found none; he was right.

Had he been around, Mrinal da would have been one hundred years old today. And ‘One Hundred  years of Solitude’ has finally been made into a series, I heard.

Images courtesy: Kunal Sen & Sanjeet Chowdhury.

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