Retracing the footsteps of Mrinal Sen

Mrinal Sen and four of his film posters. Mrinal Sen's photo courtesy : Satyaki Ghosh
Mrinal Sen’s photo by Satyaki Ghosh  | Film Posters: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons & IMDB

It was yet another Sunday morning when I was travelling with my friend Aritra to visit yet another old mansion in West Bengal. I received a message on Whatsapp. It said that the prominent filmmaker Mrinal Sen is no more. I called back home and informed my mother about the demise of the great man. There was a pause and then I heard her asking Dad to turn on the TV. She sounded upset, which was obvious. After all, he was a relative from my mother’s side. I have heard of Mrinal Sen and stories about him from my Mother before I saw even any of his film.

Though this blog post is mainly about retracing back to the famous shooting locations of four of his films, it would not be very irrelevant to narrate the long-lost connection of my mother’s family with Mrinal Sen.

The Long lost Connection

My Mother Gouri Gupta (Nee Sengupta) had her family roots In Faridpur(now at Bangladesh). My mother had informed that my great-grandmother (on her father’s side) Snehalata Sen (Nee Dutta Gupta) had three sisters Hemlata, Shantilata and Saraju Bala and three brothers Nilratan, Bijayratan and Chittaranjan. Out of them, Saraju Bala was Mrinal Sen’s mother. After the partition of Bengal, my mother’s family came to Calcutta. My mother who is now in her late seventies still recalls how she was literally catapulted through the window of a train while the family was leaving from Bangladesh in a hurry. At Calcutta, they stayed for two years since 1948 in a rented house at 8, Aswini Dutta Road near Deshapriya Park. That was the time when Mrinal Sen visited their house. He was a youth in his mid-twenties and had a good rapport with my maternal grandfather Pramatha Nath Sengupta (son of Snehlata Sen) who was popularly known as “Nikhil Da” in his Mother’s side relatives. My grandfather was a professor at Bangabasi College at that time. Mrinal Sen used to come and gossip with my grandparents. At that time the house was only one-storied.

The house at 8, Aswini Dutta Road where Mrinal Sen stayed for a short while

I also came to know from my mother that after her family left the house at 8, Aswini Dutta Road, Mrinal Sen stayed in that house for a brief period before shifting to his more known residence at Motilal Nehru Road. His wedding reception took place at 8, Aswini Dutta. From my childhood, I have a heard of an interesting anecdote regarding the reception. At the venue, just before the reception, my mother looked in amazement as Gita Sen, the newly wedded bride was dressing up all alone by herself. Then Gita Sen looked at the bewildered face of my mother and said with a smile “You must be very amazed to see a bride dressing all by herself, without any help”. My mother narrated me that Gita Sen had dressed up in a simple saree and only put some chandan on her face. At that time the house was only one storied and any festivities happened on the terrace of that house. At present, the house in that address is three storied and hardly resembles the one which stood there in the late forties and early fifties. Even after my mother’s family shifted from their Aswini Dutta road to Bagha Jatin, Mrinal Sen’s mother was a regular visitor to their new residence. Then, with the passing of time, the connection between the families was cut off.

I have met Mrinal Sen twice, both in a professional capacity while I was employed in Apeejay Surrendra Group between the years 2003 to 2007. There was some event happening at Oxford Bookstore involving him. The interaction was extremely brief and purely professional. Mrinal Sen was 80 plus at that time. The circumstance of the meetings was not apt for me to remind him of the old family ties and someway I did not think it would be very relevant after so many years.

Retracing the footsteps

Mrinal Sen’s films were mainly about artistic depiction of social reality, yet many of them had some unique locations. As he once said in an interview “As I look back into my career, I see ruins play an important role in my career, perhaps unknowingly.” Despite Aurora Studio’s old studio being in a ruined state at Narekeldanga, he filmed Ekdin Achanak over there because he felt he was having some sort of exclusiveness over there.

I am trying to look into some famous ruined locations chosen from his four films among which one have been restored, while the rest are more or less in perilous conditions than before. Many remember them as the shooting locations of the film, but most are not aware. There is a common saying that Satyajit Ray literally “discovered” Jaisalmer and Nimtita Rajbari. Well, the locations I am about to narrate, out of them some were also almost “discovered” by Mrinal Sen as I doubt whether any films were shot in these locations before he ventured in.

1. Film: Genesis (1986)     Location : Kuldhara, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Film Poster of Genesis

Kuldhara is a small village at Jailsalmer with several broken down mud houses and a temple. The village is abandoned since long. Till recent times Kuldhara is a favorite tourist spot for people believe in ghost stories. Even haunted trails from Jaisalmer are being arranged to this place. It is under the Archeological Survey of India. The government has built up some mud houses around to promote more tourism which some feel is ruining away the charm of the ruined village.

In the stories and blogs written over Kuldhara, hardly anybody mentioned Kuldhara as the shooting spot of Genesis. Now that Mrinal Sen has breathed his last, many have started remembering Kuldhara as the shooting location of his epic film Genesis. The place was also in news some 7 years ago for the shooting of a film. The shooting of Agent Vinod was to take place at Kuldhara village. However, on complaints of possible tampering with this archeologically important location the authority imposed a ban.

The making of the film Genesis involved the French Government, which subsidized it up to 1 million franc (Rs 15 lakh). Mrinal Sen and his art director scanned about 30 villages before settling on Kuldhara as the location of the film. Three mud house was made carefully.  A newspaper report of 1986 made by Sreekant Khandekarin says that the budget of the film was Rs 80 lakhs which is Mrinal Sen’s costliest film date. His earlier most expensive film was Khandhar at a budget of Rs 12 lakhs. The film had to be made without any kind of background sound, even chirping of birds. It was testing time for both the director, actors and the whole unit.

The abandoned village of Kuldhara at Jaisalmer. Genesis was filmed here in extreme conditions. Photo courtesy : Wikimedia Commons

The film was never released in India because I believe that the then Government believed that the basic Indian culture is being shown in a poor light with a two-man-one-woman community theory as shown in the film.

The popular story is that the village named Kuldhara in Rajasthan was deserted overnight by the wealthy Paliwal Brahmins after Salim Singh, the Diwan of the Maharawal of Jaisalmer had not so good intention for the elder daughter of the Kuldhara village chief. The legend goes that the Paliwal Brahmins vanished in a single night without leaving any clue about their whereabouts. Malathi Ramachandran even wrote a fiction named “The Legend of Kuldhara” to give her thoughts as to what happened to the local residents.

Nobody stays in the village as the curse of the village is supposed to cause death or trouble to anyone who stays there in the night. Like Bhangarh, this is supposed to be another ghostly town.

New constructions in Kuldhara. Photo courtesy : Wikimedia Commons

A report by Tej Bahadur,Aalok Pandya and Raghuveer Singh which came out in Current science magazine considers that the villagers may have migrated in the year 1825. There was an earthquake in the area, but since it occurred in 1819 that cannot be the reason of migration of the village population. The report also says highlights the following points.

1. “It is illogical to mention that the earthquake selectively hit and caused devastation in only Paliwal villages, while hundreds of villages in the vicinity were not affected”

2. “Interestingly, not even a single instance has been reported of similar devastation of this scale in the neighboring villages.”

3. “We observed that the walls are still in contact with each other over the entire street and with their adjoining houses, which is not possible in the case of damage by an earthquake.”

The report concludes that exorbitant taxes and extortion threats, the policies of the then notorious Salim Singh were the obvious reason for the migration of Paliwals. It also says that in all probabilities, the Paliwals migrated overnight to places in the neighboring provinces especially Jodhpur. The villages in Jodhpur state where the Paliwals settled down after their migration are well identified. The report has been contested upon by Ashit Baran Roy and others arguing that the earthquake-related destruction features in the poorly constructed stone-block houses of Kuldhar and other Paliwal villages were similar to those destroyed during the Latur earthquake in the recent past, and at about 4000 years ago site at the historical Mohenjodaro. They believed that many people may have been buried under the heavy blocks of rocks, and very few could have survived the fatality. These deaths may have given rise to the ghost stories.

In short, it is believed that dead bodies may still be buried underground the village of Kuldhara. So the legend of ghost stories continues and will continue. After all, Mrinal Sen himself found the place eerie while shooting especially during the night stay.

2. Film : Antareen ( 1993)  Location : Cossimbazar Boro Rajbari alias Sripur Palace, Berhampore, West Bengal

Poster of Antareen. Photo courtesy : IMDB

Mrinal Sen wrote the script of Antareen based on a short story by Manto. Initially, the shooting location was scheduled to take place at Banowarbad Sonarundi Rajbari. In the 1902 published book ‘A history of Murshidabad District (Bengal): with biographies of some of its noted families’ edited by Major John Henry Tull Walsh (Civil Surgeon of Murshidabad) it is mentioned that the founder of the Banwaribad Raj family was Nityananda Dalai (Dalal), born 1752. While at Delhi, Emperor Shah Alum employed him in the Imperial service and gave him the title of ‘Rai Danishmanda’ as a reward for his literary merits. Nityananda also succeeded in bringing about a reconciliation between the Emperor and his son after a misunderstanding arose between them. At this, the Emperor was highly pleased, and made him “Mir Munshi ” in the Imperial Court. The Emperor further invested him with the high-sounding title of “Maharaja Amir-ul-Mulk, Azmat-Dowlah, JogodindraBahadur, Sefadarjang,” and promoted him to the office of Hapta Hazari, with the privilege of ”Nahabat Sadth”. At present only a queen of this family exists in ailing health condition. The palace is in ruins and a part of the house has been converted into an old age home.

Sonarundi Rajbari. This is where Mrinal Sen first thought of filming ‘Antareen’

The location of the shoot was almost finalized when at the last moment, Mrinal Sen decided to do the filming at the Cossimbazar Boro Rajbari. Unlike the Choto Rajbari which is accessible to the public, the entry to the Cossimbazar Boro Rajbari is restricted to the outside world; it is difficult to guess the location unless someone mentions it. There is only one single hint in the film about the location. The scene when Anjan Dutt enters the mansion is a close shot so that the exterior cannot be guessed. However, the pillars and the gateway give away the location. Many houses have such big pillars at their entrance in West Bengal, but none of them has an Iron door with a small half entrance at the entrance of the house. The similar looking entrance can be seen at Itachuna Rajbari, minus the grand pillars. There have been several modifications in the house since Mrinal Sen shot the films. Small Doors besides the main doors have been converted in the ugliest manner into disproportionate windows

Cossimbazar-Boro Rajbari front view
Still from the movie Aatareen. Note the pillars and the Iron door on the back

The interiors of the Rajbari are colossal. Thankfully historian Rana Safvi had a chance to visit the interiors from whom I got some photographs. The house was not in good shape when Mrinal Sen visited. It has worsened over the years. From the interiors, you can make out that the mansion is much bigger in size than the Choto Rajbari. A pity that this mansion was not restored and turned partly into a museum and partly residential. I don’t think the first floor was accessible, but from the photograph, I could easily recognize from the long shot the first-floor long balcony where Anjan Dutta stands in the film. The Iron grill design and the pillars in the backdrop are unmistakable. Also, the long corridor in the ground floor shown in the film still exists, but in further bad condition.

Cossimbazar Palace interiors. Photo courtesy : Rana Safvi
Cossimbazar Palace interiors. Photo courtesy : Rana Safvi
Cossimbazar Palace corridors. Photo courtesy : Rana Safvi
Similiar kind of Corridor shown in the film Antareen . Screenshot from youtube for demonstration purpose

Coming to the history of the shooting location, Boro Rajbari belonged the Nandy family who migrated to a place named Sripur at Cossimbazar from a small village named Shijna, presently under Manteswar Police station at Burdwan. The family had a long connection with Silk business and had silk trading ties with the English. Cossimbazar is the site of the first English factory established as early as 1652. The French and the Dutch also carried on trade and established their factories here. The first of the Nandy clan to settle at Cossimbazar was Kali Nath Nadi of Shijla in Burdwan, who came and settled at Sripur, near Cossimbazar. His grandson Babu Krishna Kanta Nandy founded the Cossimbazar Raj Bari. He rose to fame under the favour of Warren Hastings. Hastings was Commercial Resident of the East India Company at Cossimbazar. At that time Siraj-ud-Daulah was the Nawab Nazim of Bengal. In order to extort money from him, the Nawab ordered his arrest. Hastings was sent a prisoner to Murshidabad. However, Hastings escaped just as the Nawab turned his back and marched towards Calcutta. A furious Siraj ordered his re-capture. The terrified Hastings then turned to Krishna Kanta Nandy popularly known as Kanta Babu for help. Not only Kanta Babu saved him by giving him shelter in his house but arranged for his safe passage to Calcutta.

Kanta Babu’s help did not go in vain. On his appointment as Governor of Bengal in 1772, Warren Hastings sent for Kanta Babu, and employed him as his Diwan. He was made superintendent of several important zamindaries. He marched with When Hastings against Raja Chait Singh, of Benares. On his return, Hastings gifted Kanta Babu a jaghir in Ghazipur, and obtained from the then Nawab Nazim the title of “Maharaja Bahadur,” for his son Lokenath. Kanta Babu received as a present the Marble Hall of Chait Singh at Benares. The carved stone from Chait Singh’s palace was later taken and incorporated into the palace of the Maharajas of Cossimbazar.

The descendants of the Nandy family were known for their philanthropy. Harinath Nandy, grandson of Kanta Babu donated huge sum during the formation of Hindu College. Harinath’s son Krishnanath, was educated with great care. He lived a carefree life. He voted for a statue of David Hare, towards which he contributed the largest subscription. Krishnanath was known to be extravagant who spend 41 lakhs in 4 years. He is even known for having the editor of Bhaskar sentenced to two years imprisonment. The editor had attacked the Raja through his publications for his freestyle mode of living. He was married but had no child.

Krishnath died an untimely death at a very young age. He took his own life on October 31st, 1944. Before that he made a ridiculous will. In his will, he bequeathed the bulk of his estates to educational purposes, granting his Rani Swarnamoyi a monthly allowance of Rs. 1,500, and withholding the permission to adopt a son and heir. The will was contested and the Rani alias the queen won the case.

The Rani was no one else but the famous Swarnamoyee Devi, who for her charitable work has been often referred to as Baroness Burdett Coutts of Bengal. She held the reigns of her estate steadily after her husband’s untimely demise. In 1871, the lady received the title of Maharani. She was also promised by the British that the title of Maharaja should be given to her nephew and heir, the present Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandy. In 1875, The British kept their word by bestowing the title of Maharaja to Manindra Chandra for services rendered by Swarnamoyee Devi during the famine of the preceding year. Apart from building the Baharampore College, she gave money for building a hostel for the lady students of the Calcutta Medical College.

Swarnamoyee Devi died in 1897 to be succeeded by Manindra Chandra Nandy. Swarnamoyee started a water works for providing pure water to the residence of Baharampur which was completed after her death by Manindra Chandra Nandy. In 1902, the Berhampore College was renamed to Krishnath College. The College was built on the structure of Oxford University. Manindra Chandra Nandy was famous in philanthropy too keeping in trend with the family. Manindra’s son Srischandra (1897-1952) was the last Maharajah of the family who was popular in the fields of fine arts, literature, sports, and educational activities. His son Dr. Somesh Chandra Nandy had outstanding contributions in the field of history and historical activities. He was alive when Mrinal Sen shot this movie as his name is mentioned in the credits of the film under acknowledgment section.

Although a great family, the Cossimbazar Baro Rajbari lies in ruins with the interiors in utter neglect. None of the family members stay there anymore. Only an old caretaker couple stays there. Stories of this mansion being targeted by land sharks are ongoing at Baharampur.

3. Akaler Sandhane (1980)        Location: Sukharia Biswas family house and temples

Akaler Sandhane Poster. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Akaler Sandhane was my first movie of Mrinal Sen viewed in a cinema hall. That was my first film of Smita Patil viewed in a cinema hall too. I saw the film when I was 16 and it was something which I have never seen before. It gave me a feeling of the reality of the world as I stayed in a protected atmosphere in Mecon’s office colony. The ending gave me Goosebumps as it still does today. There were other memorable scenes too, like the one when Smita Patil shows the photographs of famine year after year and all looks the same and the one where Sreela Majumdar shouts in anguish forgetting the difference between acting and reality. I saw Pather Panchali much later, that too in a DVD.

Probably the first time I saw a terracotta temple in celluloid was Akalaer Sandhane. At that time I had no idea as to what terracotta art is all about. It took me around 10 years more to actually see a terracotta temple in real life. Anyways, at that juncture of my life heritage played little role. However, the house created an impact on my mind and in the back of my mind, I often pondered about it.

My childhood memories of the film came back when accompanied by my good friend Rangan Datta I landed at the station of Somra Bazar in the year 2010. It was a winter morning and we walked to the village of Sukharia which was about 20 minutes walking distance from the station. Rangan had been working on owners of Sukharia Zamindar house, the Mitra Mustafis. He gave me a brief of their family history as we walked along. We first visited 1813 built Ananda Bhairavi temple. The temple was 25 pinnacled, a very rare format of Bengal temple architecture. I had already seen 25 pinnacled temples by that time at Ambika Kalna the earlier year. However, the uniqueness of Ananda Bhairavi temple was that it had six temples flanked in two rows on its either side. Five temples of each row were Aatchala (eight sloped roofs) and one in each row was Pancha Ratna ( five pinnacled). As I stood in front of the temples, something steered in the back of my mind. I felt I have seen this scenario before. However, I could not recollect when or where I have seen these temples. Next, we entered the dilapidated mansions of the Mitra Mustafi family named Radha Kunja. As I entered the house and stood into the courtyard, again that déjà vu feeling came inside me. I felt I have seen this house somewhere, although I could not locate it in my memories. The corridor looked very familiar and the enclosure in the middle with several bent iron rods looked very familiar too.

It was not until three years later when I was writing an article for Outlook Traveller Magazine, I realized that I have seen the house and the temples in a film which was none other than Akaler Sandhane. I got a DVD of the film, compared the scenarios which tallied. I had located a ruined mansion where Mrinal Sen had filmed one of his famous masterpieces. In fact, this was the first ‘ruined location’ of his film which I visited personally.

Ananda Bhairavi temple as seen in Akalaer Sandhane using a crane in all probabilities. Print screen from DVD for description purpose.
Sukharia’s Ananda Bhairabi temple shot from ground

Coming to the history of the family, original surname of the family was Mitra who is spread in three places, Sukharia in Hooghly district, Ula Birnagar. The family originally resided at Ula Birnagar in Nadia district. Rameswar Mitra of Ula was a Revenue Accountant/Auditor in the court of Shaista Khan and Murshid Kuli Khan, Nawabs of Bengal. He received the title “Mustaphi” from the emperor of Delhi Aurangzeb in recognition of his services rendered to the State in the Revenue Department.

In the later period, the family spread up. The fourth son of Rameswar Mitra Anantaram came to Sukharia in 1712 while the eldest son Raghunandan settles at neighboring village of Sripur in 1708. Anantaram’s grandson Bireshwar had built up the Anandamoyee temple in 1813. As per family history, the house Radha Kunja was built by Rameshwar’s second son Ramnarayan between 1713 -1730. Later Anantaram’s 4th son buys the total Sukharia area among other places from Maharaja of Burdwan. Though the mansion is crumbling, Anandamoyee temple with its cluster of temples is in better shape. However, repeated painting on the temple has robbed its glamour to some extent. Two other temples name Hara Sundari and Nistarini temple have been repainted too.

Exterior view of Radha Kunja, Sukharia
Interior view of Radha Kunja, Sukharia
Corridor of Radha Kunja, Sukharia
Corridor of Radha Kunja, Sukharia as shown in the film. Printscreen from DVD for demonstration purpose

The mansion is crumbling every day. I wonder how Mrinal Sen and his crew stayed in this premises during the film shooting. From the film, it appears the mansion was in bad shape during the shooting of Akaler Sandhane. My senior friend Kamal Banerjee reminded me that it may be not entirely irrelevant to mention here that during the shooting of Akaler Sandhane, Mrinal Sen stumbled upon some old film reels in the house of Mitra Mustafi, which turned out be the reel of 1931 silent film Jamaibabu directed by Kalipada Das.

Mrinal Sen saved the only existing reels of the rare film. Will Radha Kunj be saved? Or will the mansion will ultimately collapse because whenever I visited the place it looks in more pathetical shape than before.

4. Khandhar (1984)

Khandhar poster. Photo Courtesy : Wikimedia Common

Based on a short story “Telenapota Abishkar” by Premendra Mitra, Mrinal Sen created another of his epic film Khandhar. The filmed was shot mainly at two locations; one was Kalikapur Rajbari in Burdwan district near Shantiniketan and second was Bawali Rajbari in South 24 Parganas. The amusing part is I have people having heated arguments over the shooting location of the film. One is vouching for the first location whiles the other arguing over the other. Both were arguing and both were right. However, the filming was done in actually four houses in tota

I find Khandhar to be one of the best films of Mrinal Sen, if not the best. I regret not able to see it in a movie hall as the film was a visual treat to anybody loving old architecture. Thankfully there is more silence in the film than dialogues which makes it so memorable. The cinematography of K.K. Mahajan is awesome and so is Mrinmoy Chakraborty’s editing. The way the location of the two houses is mixed into one is unparallel. You need to be well versed with both the location to understand it. And I repeat – thankfully there is so much silence in the film.

Location A. Kalikapur Rajbari, Burdwan, West Bengal

The shooting many films have been done at Kalikapur Rajbari since last 7 years. That includes – Arekti Premer Golpo( 2010), Phande Poriya Boga Kande Re (2011), Elar Char Adhyay (2012), Meghnadbad Rahayasa (2017), Guptadhaner Sandhane (2018) and Rasogolla (2018). Even Sandip Roy filmed a short film for TV in his series of Satyajiter Goppo named Chilekotha in the late nineties. However in no film other than Khandhar have seen the house so extensively filmed, like it’s almost every nook and corner with intrinsic details is important details. In the beginning of the film the main courtyard of Kalikapur Rajbari is shown over for 5 minutes as Nasiruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapoor and Annu Kapoor chat in that area. The visual of that 5 minutes is completely mesmerizing, literally transports you to the area. As I said I regret not viewing this movie in a cinema hall.

The history of Kalikapur Rajbari is about Sadgop Zamindar Paramananda (NOT Parameshwar) Roy and his huge mansion with seven parts built for his seven sons including a Durgadalan with a Nat Mandir. The mansion was built in 1761 Shakbada i.e. 1819 as per Jaggeshwar Chowdhury in his book ‘Burdwan: Itihas O Sanskriti – Volume 3’. Out of the seven mahals built for seven sons, only two is suitable for living. At present only the lone descendant of the family of Lajpat Roy stays in this huge mansion. There is twin Shiva temple just outside the mansion which has exquisite terracotta work on them. Paramananda Roy’s son Kailashpati Roy also had built a huge palace like Radhaballabhji temple in which the deity could not be established due to family feud. The Radhaballabh idol was given to poet Nilkantha Mukhopadhyay at Dhabani village where daily worship of the deity was performed. The ruins of the temple still exist close to the Durgadalan. There are several terracotta temples in the nearby village of Moukhira too.

Kalikapur Durgadalan Top view during Durga Puja
Kalikapur Durgadalan Top corner view on a ordinary day
Kalikapur Durgadalan as shown in Khandhar. Printscreen from DVD for demonstration purpose

Apart from the Durgadalan area, one can take a stroll around the palace to get a feel. The adjacent wing or mahal is fit for staying and so is the part of a mahal just beside the Durga Dalan. There is a modern temple built between the Durga Dalan enclosure and the later mentioned mahal. Rest of the palace is good for photography but absolutely negative when it comes to staying. One of such abandoned Mahal has a life-size stucco women’s face on a false window on its outer wall. On a rainy day, the face can look very real in the low light.

Kalikapur Rajbari abandoned Mahal
Batayanbartini alias Lady in the window still waiting for her loved ones

When I visited the mansion during last Durga Puja, one member mentioned to me that with the money received from Film shooting, they could able to repair a portion of the broken ceiling in the Durga Dalan enclosure which gives one a vantage point to take a straight shot of the courtyard from an elevated spot. This was some sort of refreshing news in the melancholy I experience whenever I visit the palace other than during Durgapuja.

Location B. Bawali Rajbari, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal.

Out of all the four houses where the film was shot, the interiors of Bawali Rajbari suited to the needs of interior shots of the film. The interiors of the Bowali Rajbari were much spacious. There was a single shot of inner courtyard in the whole film. Overall, I believe Mrinal Sen wanted to show the ruined house as vast and colossal as possible to portray the decay to a large extent.

Bawali Rajbari’s Courtyard
Bawali Rajbari’s Courtyard as shown in the film. Printscreen done from DVD for demonstration purpose
The roof shot from Bawali Rajbari with Radhakanta temple in the background. Printscreen done from DVD for demonstration purpose
Radhakanta Temple low angle shot with the ruined Natmandir in front

At present, the Bawali Rajbari has been taken over by Ajay Rawla and have been turned into a heritage hotel. The original family members of the Bawali Mandal family may have been having surname as Ray. Their earliest ancestors were Basudev Roy. His grandson Shovaram was bestowed upon the title Mandal. Shovaram’s grandson Rajaram was employed under the king of r. Shovaram was also put in charge of 50 villages. The Mandal house at Bawali was built during the beginning of 18th century. Out of all the temples in the village, the oldest is Radhakanta temple which was built by Rajaram’s grandson Harananda Mandal in 1771.

The Radhakanta temple is visible in the film from the rooftop of Bowali Rajbari when Sreela Majumdar is seen conversing with Shabana Azmi. Once there were terracotta plaques on it but nothing remains. In its front, there is a roofless Natmandir. Once there was a huge Rasmancha in the front which has collapsed long back.

Location C: Lord Sinha House, Raipur, Birbhum, West Bengal.

I have never been to Lord Sinha’s ruined mansion at Raipur. I would have missed it as many of the portions of the house resemble Kalikapur Rajbari. However, there is a well inside one of the courtyards which is the unique spot of the house. The well was shown in the movie from which I identified the third house where the film was shot was none other than the Lord Sinha’s House at Raipur. I checked with the film credits and found that Lord Sinha’s house is indeed mentioned there.

One of the shots in the film which shows Lord Sinha’s House with the well. Printscreen from DVD for demonstration purpose

Why did Mrinal Sen shoot the film at Lord Sinha’s house when he already had had two unique houses to shoot at? It is not mentioned anywhere, but I guess that the house of Lord Sinha was in the most pathetic condition of the all the four houses and to display the decay of a colossal house and the ruins, shooting at this house was required. In short, there were more collapsed structures in this house than the other two and that I guess was essential for the film.

Who was Lord Sinha? I think this everyone knows, but there is no harm mentioning some information about him in this post. The name Lord Sinha refers to Satyendra Prasanna Sinha, who was an outstanding lawyer and a notable statesman during the British era in India. Out of his all accolades, it is important to note that he was first Indian to become a member of the Viceroy’s Council and the first Indian to become a member of the British ministry. Lord Sinha was knighted in 1915 and in that same year, he became President of Indian National Congress. Other than these he was made Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India in 1919 and was envisaged with the status of Baron Sinha of Raipur in the Presidency of Bengal. Satyendra Prasanna Sinha hailed from Raipur and his father Sitikantha Sinha belonged to a family of zamindars there. The founding member of the Sinha zamindar family was Lalchand , who originally hailed from a Uttarararhiya Kayastha family of Chandrakona in Paschim Medinipur district in all probabilities during the early 18th century.  In the book “The structure of Hindu Society” by Nirmal Kumar Bose, it is mentioned that  Lalchand had brought 1000 weavers and settled them in various pockets of Mirzapur and Raipur and other villages as because hand weaven clothes were in high demand was exported to England.  In 1793 when John Cheap, the commercial agent of East India Company settled down at Supur to conduct Indigo trade, Lalchand’s son Shyamkishore was employed under him. He supplied huge quantity hand weaven coarse cloth to the agency from these weavers and earned considerable amount of commission. From the weaving business they amassed so much amount of money that when the ruling family of Rajanagar Zamindars were in dire straits, they sold their zamindari rights to the Sinha family. The Sinhas become zamindars or land lords of the area from mere weaving businessman.

Shyamkishore had four sons  – Jagmohan, Brajamohan, Bhubanmohan and Manamohan.  While the first three sons were involved in managing zamindari and office work, the  youngest son  Manamohan  was more interested in arts and music than zamindari. Manamohan had four sons. Out them Sitikantha was the father of Satyendra Prasanna Sinha. Sitikantha was fluent in both English and Persian.

As it is widely known Bhuban Mohan Sinha gave the required land to built up the Viswabharati University after taking token money from Debendranath Thakur. Bhuban Mohan Sinha had developed a small village in the Bolpur area and named it Bhubandanga. It was at a close proximity to present day Shantiniketan.

The ancestral property of the man who represented India in The House of Lords, the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom lies in ruins and the coming years may very well collapse altogether. Ghost stories are popular in the locality about the house.

Location D: Vijay Manjil alias Burdwan House, Calcutta, West Bengal

The Burdwan Raj family donated their original palace in Burdwan Town to house Burdwan University. At Kolkata, the only townhouse of The Mahtabs was Vijay Manjil alias Burdwan Rajbari on Diamond Harbour Road. The house has been distastefully painted yellow in recent times after it is given out in rent for wedding celebrations and shooting of films . Located at 10A Diamond Harbour Road, The house was built up Bijay Chand Mahtab in 1905. The plot was acquired by his father Aftab Chand in 1883. The house was essential to built as the Mahtabs had no residential house at Kolkata. They owned a mansion at Chinsurah. Whenever they had any business at Kolkata, they used to visit their residence at Chinsurah and reach Kolkata in their private boat. With the rise of engagements at Kolkata it was needed to build a residential mansion at Calcutta. Although built for the nobleman, in 1978 the house gave shelter to several residents of shanties and many homeless in the banquet hall of this house when torrential rain waterlogged Calcutta created flood like situation.

Shabana Azmi in a fantasy sequence shot at Bijay Manjil alias Burdwan Rajbari. Printscreen from DVD for demonstration

Mrinal Sen shot a single scene at Vijay Manjil. Towards the end of the film, Shabana Azmi is seen running down the grand staircase in a glamorous dress with a big smile on her face. A surreal scene, a fantasy scene, but nevertheless it was an important scene in the movie. Unfortunately, that portion of the house remains closed even during marriage ceremony and entry is given only for film shooting purposes.

I guess none of the family members stays at Vijay Manjil. As mentioned earlier, the outside of the building has been painted in bad taste. The two gateways of the mansion still stand on Judge?s Court Road looking out of the place. I read a report in 2005 in The Telegraph that the descendant of the family who lives in that house is Karuna Devi, great-granddaughter of Maharaja Aftab Chandra Mahtab. I am not sure if she stays there anymore.

This is not an exhaustive list of “ruined shooting locations” of filmmaker Mrinal Sen. If I find more information I will update them on the list.

Special Thanks:

1. Himadri Shankar Chakraborty
2. Rana Safvi

References :

  1. Bonedi Kolkatar Gharbari , Debasish Bandopdahyay,  Ananda Publishers, 2001
  2. A history of Murshidabad District (Bengal): with biographies of some of its noted families’ edited by Major John Henry Tull Walsh (Civil Surgeon of Murshidabad), Jarrold & Sons, London , 1902
  3. The Musnud of Murshidabad (1704 – 1904), Purna Chandra Majumdar , Published by Saroda Ray, Omraoganj, 1905
  4. Dakkhin Chabbish Pargana Jelar Purakirti ( Antiquities of South 24 Parganas district), Sagar Chattopdhay, Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of West Bengal, 2005
  5. Bardhaman: Itihas o Sanskriti, Tritio Khanda  (The history and culture of Burdwan district. Volume 3 ), JajneswarChaudhuri, Pustak Bipani, 1994
  6. Hooghly Jelar Purakirti (Antiquities of Hooghly district), Narendra Nath Bhattacharya  Published by Information and Cultural Department, Government of West Bengal, August  1993
  7. Mrinal Sen’s Genesis marks the beginning of ‘French connection’ for Indian films,  Sreekant Khandekarin, India Today, Jaisalmer , January 31, 1986
  8. Mejobou of Raja Santosh Road , Soumitra Das, The Telegraph,  7th May , 2005


  • Sukalpa Sinha

    Information on Lord SP Sinha is incorrect. His father’s name was not Bhuban Mohan Sinha. Please rectify it and a humble request….please collect genuine information, verify it and then publish.

    • Thanks for pointing out the error. I have corrected the mistake and added some more information about the Sinha family. Please do check and let me know if anything needs to be added or modified. Readers like you are an asset for me who helps me increasing the quality of my blog posts.

  • Bengal has a lot of architectural marvels that are historically important for the broader indian culture. thank you for bringing it to the knowledge of common man of India. Else politicians will never have allowed us to know ahead of Taj Mahal and Lal qilla.

  • sugata sinha

    i have worked as a directorial assistant in ANTAREEN and stayed at Cossimbazar Palace for two weeks. it was around 1993. we celebrated 70th Birthday of Mrinal Sen at this location.

  • Sonali

    Very nice and a very well researched piece. Your love for history and curiosity for exploration is immense. Thank you so much for sharing it with us……

  • As usual extremely informative and useful blog… Hats off to your knowledge and research Amitabha da

  • Subhabrata Ghose

    This is indeed a gem of a blog. Keep it up Amitabha-da. Expecting a published book from your side some time soon.

  • Great to read your post after ages. This is such an elaborate post that I am in awe. Firstly great to hear about your familial connection with Mrinal Sen. I enjoyed that part the most in this post. It reminded me of my own family stories of migrating from Faridpur and living at a rented place in Dhakuria. I never knew Khandhar was shot in four locations. Hope to read more posts from you.

    • It feels good to have dedicated followers of my blog like you. Even I did not know Khandhar was shot in four locations before I decided to write this blogpost.

  • Thank you for sharing your wonderful story.. Keep sharing your amazing stories about bengal… I often read your blogs…. Regards Subhadeep

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