Mamta Shanker & Mithun Chakraborty in Mrinal Sen’s (1976).
Do you know a Hindi actor who received a National Award for his debut film? MithunChakraborty did. Chakraborty was awarded the National Award for Best Actor in 1976 for his compelling debut performance as a rebellious tribal, Ghinua, in Mrigayaa.
Mrigayaa (The Royal Hunt, 1976) is a historical drama directed by Mrinal Sen and produced by K Rajeshwar Rao at an estimated budget of Rs 5.5 lakh. The film runs for 110 minutes.
Both the lead actors, Mithun Chakraborty and Mamta Shankar, made their debut in this film, while Sadhu Meher, who started his career in Sen’s Bhuvan Shome, also played a part as did Mrinal Da’s wife, Gita Sen.
At the 24th National Awards, Mrigayaa won two awards, Best Feature Film and Best Actor. The film also received the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie and was nominated for the Golden Prize at the 10th Moscow International Festival in 1977.
Sen came across Mithun Chakraborty during one of his teaching sessions at FTII, Pune, when Chakraborty was a student. When planning for this film, Sen asked someone to locate a tall dark man with big eyes whom he had encountered in FTII. Chakraborty was 24 when he went to meet Sen hoping to get a role like the one he did in Disco Dancer. Instead, he was cast as a tribal archer.
The film is based on an Odiya short story, Shikar, written by Bhagbati CharanPanigrahi. Set in the 1930s during the rebellion of the natives against British rule, the story describes the lives of a tribal community in the interiors of Bengal. However, while the original story was set in the 1930s, Mrigayaa is set against the backdrop of a rebellion like the Santhal revolt in the 1950s. Sen claimed that the story could have happened anywhereand at any time.
Robert Wright, who played the British administrator, was a senior executive at the Tollygunge Club in Calcutta. Mamta Shankar, who played a tribal girl and Ghinua’s ladylove,is the daughter (and student) of dancers Uday and Amla Shankar and the niece of Pandit Ravi Shankar, the sitarist and composer.
Mohit Chattopadhyay and Arun Kaul wrote the script. Arun Kaul was a noted Kashmiri filmmaker and screenwriter. His film Diksha (1991) won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Film in 1992 as well as the National Award (Golden Lotus) for Best Hindi Film. Salil Chaudhury composed the film’s background score, and KK Mahajan did the cinematography.
The film portrayed the relationship between British colonists and the residents of a tribal village in Bengal against the backdrop of an uprising against the British rulers. The story focuses on the relationship between a British administrator with a flair for hunting and a local tribal, Ghinua, an ace archer and an expert at hunting jungle beasts that destroy the village crops and plantations.
Mrigayaa was shot in the tribal areas near the Massanjore Dam, a hydropower-generating dam over the Mayurakshi River at Massanjore near Dumka in what is nowJharkhand.
The film was set as close to nature as possible. The chirping of birds, the gentle sound of water flowing and the hunting with bows and arrows draw the viewer into the world of Mother Nature, calm and serene. The greedy voyeuristic gaze of the moneylender, eyeing the womenfolk of the village, breaks the peace and tranquillity of the tribal village, making Ghinua rise and revolt to protect his folk from the dangers of the jungle beast, this time a human being. Chakraborty, with his tall, dark and supple body, played the role of a tribal archer perfectly, sprinting and roaring like a lion even when caged.
Mrinal Sen, who brought experimental filmmaking to India and was known for choosing unconventional themes, helmed Mrigayaa. The film’s first screening was held on 11 August, 1976 in Trivandrum as part of a Mrinal Sen restrospective organized by the film society Chalachitra.
Sen was born in Faridpur, which is now in Bangladesh. During his lifetime, he made films in Bengali, Telugu, Odiya and Hindi and was a member of the IPTA. His first film,Raat Bhor, released in 1956, was influenced by the leftist ideology. His film Akasher Niche, a film with overt political overtones, was banned for two months in 1958.
Sen was also a member of the NFDC and the Chairman of FTII. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1998 to 2003. Aside from 18 National Awards, Sen was awarded the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 2008.
After the success of Bhuvan Shome in 1969, Sen made a series of films that cementedhis reputation as a political filmmaker. Interview (1970), Calcutta 71 (1972) and Padatik(1973), now referred to collectively as the Calcutta Trilogy, are notable for their cinematic experiments and strong ideological underpinnings. Sen made extensive use of a non-conventional narrative structure and cinematic techniques (heavily influenced by Jean-Luc Godard, the pioneer of the 1960’s French New Wave) to portray the turbulent and violent times of Kolkata in the 1970s, which make these films solid testaments of the times.
O.P. Srivastava is a Mumbai Based filmmaker & writer.