Feb 12, 2012 (Calcutta Tube/ IBNS): Actor Mithun Chakraborty talks about the upcoming Bengali movie ‘Nobel Chor’ directed by Suman Ghosh and his long journey as an actor. Read the interview at Calcutta Tube.
Over his nearly four-decade long career, Mithun has broken every rule in the Bollywood book. When he came to Mumbai in a third-class sleeper in a Howrah-V.T. train, no one would have given him a passing glance. He had neither the looks of an Amir Khan nor the charisma of a Rajesh Khanna. He did not have the golden honey voice of the Big Bachchan or the bloodlines of Kapoors. He was distanced from the Bengali bhadralok persona. His Hindi was atrocious. His voice had an unpleasant grate. He was not rich. Where is he now?
You have one of the widest ranges in your repertoire as an actor over 30 decades. How do you switch on and off from a character like the one who are playing in Housefull 2 to the one you have just done in Suman Ghosh’s Nobel Chor (where he plays a poor farmer, Bhanu, who circumstantially gets involved in the theft) ?
It should not be difficult for an actor who has been in the profession for nearly forty years. It comes with long practice and with experience. Practice, for me, is the bottom line. If I cannot switch on and off from one role to another, I have no right to call myself an actor, do I? Besides, for a totally commercial film like the Golmaal series for example, there is practically no homework. I speak the same lines in similar situations but maybe, I use a different approach. Let me tell you. We have approximately five storylines that cover every kind of film within the mainstream. One just changes the permutations and combinations to give a certain slant to a given script to make it a little different from the others.
Isn’t it frustrating for an actor when some of his best films remain in the cans or are not seen by the masses such as Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Kaal Purush and the late Samir Chanda’s Ek Nodir Golpo?
As an actor, I can do nothing about it even if it is frustrating. Therefore, for mainstream films, I now give the highest priority to the prospective commercial viability of the film while saying ‘yes’ to a project. I make exceptions in film that are challenging such as Ek Nodir Golpo or Nobel Chor if the script pulls me. I am in a position to pick and choose. What more does an actor want?
How do you interpret your role?
I first look at the framework the director gives me. Then I add my own inputs without diverting from the model the director has provided me with. Within that framework, I play around with dialogue, costume, tag-line, make-up and so on. For the role of Bhanu in Nobel Chor, I had to become a poor farmer who finds Tagore’s missing Nobel Medal but neither recognizes it nor knows its value. Shukno Lanka gave me the chance to retrace my struggling days. I portrayed a marginal man who once nourished dreams of making it big. Be he reconciled himself to remain a junior artiste. In C-Kkompany, I play a funny mafia don called Dattu Satellite who has a crooked walk.
You are known to be a very fussy actor. Will you explain?
Let me correct that. I am an extremely irritating actor for the director. I barrage him with so many questions about the history, geography, emotional and social mapping of the film and the character I am to portray. My questioning does not seem to stop. It is the only way I can concentrate and focus on the character. I believe it is vital for an actor to know where the character is headed in the film. Directors familiar with my way do not mind. I am sure I must be driving the others crazy.
How did you prepare your ‘look’ for Bhanu?
The ‘look’ is conceived by the director for most films. I make suggestions. For Bhanu, I told Suman that not all peasants are skin and bones. Quite a few have a paunch. He agreed. I began to eat a lot of rice and developed a nice little paunch. I close-cropped my hair, threw a gamchha around my neck, wore very simple clothes, drawing on Surjo Santhal, a real life character I met many years ago. I carry a simple jhola on my shoulder. I draw from my memory of people even from the remote past when I feel it fits into the character I am playing in a given film.
Pick five of your memorable performances.
My three National Award-winning films are at the top – Mrinal Sen’s Mrigaya, my first film, Tahader Katha directed by Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Swami Vivekananda in which I portrayed Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Other than those, I would like to mention films like Disco Dancer, Pyar Jhutka Nahin, Hum Paanch and Mujrim. They established me firmly as an actor. Working with Aparna Sen in Rituparno Ghosh’s Titli was a wonderful experience.
What motivated you to invest in business interests away from films?
My priorities have changed. I do not want my sons to go through the painful struggle I had to suffer. That is why I have invested outside the industry. Many still feel Mithun knows nothing about acting. He is at best, a disco-dancer. I do not bear any grouse against them. I consider them my well-wishers. They compel me to take up challenges. When a section of the audience rejects me as an actor, it makes me angry but inspires me to take up any kind of challenging role.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I don’t, nor do I want to know. I am a man of today. I have learnt and accept that my today is made up of actions and deeds and that is equal to my tomorrow. I believe in this dictum and live by it. I spend my little spare time with my four-legged children and my winged friends in my private zoo. I am an ordinary man and never pretended that I am not.
– Shoma A. Chatterji / Trans World Features (TWF)