Mithun Chakraborty: Shukno Lanka is a story of forgotten dreams (Interview)

Mithun Chakraborty and Angana Bose
Mithun Chakraborty and Angana Bose

November 2, 2010 (Calcutta Tube): Bollywood and Bengali Film legend Mithun Chakraborty (born Gouranga Chakraborty) is a National Film Award-winning actor, social activist and entrepreneur. Chakraborty made his acting debut with the art house drama Mrigaya (1976), for which he won his first National Film Award for Best Actor. During the 1980s, he had earned a huge fan following as a dancing star and went on to establish himself as one of the most popular and leading actors of India famous in Bengali and in Hindi cinema, in full-blast mainstream masala and in off-mainstream films that go to international film festivals.

Have you cut down on your Bollywood assignments to concentrate on Bengali cinema?
Not at all. Don’t you remember the Leftist leader Manik Dasgupta, the ‘people’s newspaperman’ in Mani Ratnam’s Guru? I am very much a part of Bollywood and Tollywood. I cannot give up either because is Bollywood has given shape to Mithun Chakraborty, Tollywood  has given me birth and added meaning to my life, metamorphosing me from Gauranga to Mithun. When I was too busy in Hindi films, I could take on only a few roles here and there. Later, I felt Bengali cinema pulling me and I am now doing both so long as the comfort levels are good.

You won the National Award for Mrigaya, you first film. How do you back on the achievement?
The first feeling the experience gives me is one of deep gratitude towards my mentor, Mirnal-da who placed his faith in me and drew the best out of me. The second feeling is the surprise I felt when I learnt about the award. But over time, I won two more National Awards. One was for my performance in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Tahader Katha and the third was the Best Supporting Actor for playing Sri Sri Ramkrishna Paramahamsa in the film Swami Vivekananda. I have played every role that an actor can conceive of from a disco dancer to a boxer to jallad to God. It has been a long journey indeed and I look back on the years happily, despite the struggle in the formative years.

[ReviewAZON asin=”B0044FDPA4″ display=”inlinepost”]But you have never played a junior artiste before Shukno Lanka have you?
No, I hadn’t until Gaurav (Pandey), the director approached me with the script. It is not exactly a mainstream film but I play a character I have never played before. My role in Shukno Lanka is very challenging. It has given me the rare opportunity to retrace my struggling days. My name is Chinu Nandy, a marginal man who once nourished great dreams of making it big. With time, he reconciles himself to remain a junior artiste in Bengali films. He has no illusions left, much less – dreams. But his life changes when an internationally renowned Bengali director approaches him and asks him to play the lead in a film.

What is the story all about?
According to Gaurav, Shukno Lanka is a story of forgotten dreams, of fears and reconciliation, and finally of living the magic called life. Award-winning Bengali filmmaker Joy Sundar Sen and young European actress Isabella meet in Berlin, and gradually develop a bond of mutual respect and understanding. At a bookstore in Berlin, they chance upon an anthology of short stories by Indian filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak. As Joy Sundar flips through the book, one of the stories – Paraspathar (The Philosopher’s Stone) – begins to resonate in his mind. Faced with his own morality, brought more sharply into relief by the youth of Isabella, he makes up his mind that Paraspathar will be his next film. The character I play accepts his fate hoping someday he could add as much flavour to movies as dry red chillies would to a curry. And when destiny actually opens the doors for him, what comes along is a strange unimagined path. Chinu has just two kurtas, one loose pyjama and a pair of chappals. There is no stirring dialogue Gaurav effectively stripped me of any starry airs he might have observed in me, and reached out to touch the actor inside me. I loved it because, as an actor, we do not really get the opportunity to act.

You have one of the widest ranges in your repertoire as an actor over 30 decades. How do you manage to switch on and off from a character like the one you play in Guru to the one you play in Rehmat Ali?
It is not difficult for an actor who has been in the profession for more than three decades. 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, there is practically no homework to be done. I speak the same lines in similar situations but maybe, I use a different approach. To be frank, 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. I have a tagline in Bengali commercial films and they have done wonders to the box office value of the films. I have one in this film too; (laughs) Naamer aage Rehmat, pawre Ali, Sare jannat Bajaye Taali. The audience loves these tag-lines.

Two of the most outstanding performances in your entire career in Bengali films in recent times, namely,: Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Kaalpurush and Samir Chanda’s Ek Nodir Galpo did not find favour with Indian exhibitors and distributors. Ek Nodir Galpo did not have even a commercial release. Don’t you feel frustrated when films like these do not reach the audience?
Of course I do feel frustrated and disappointed. But it is a part of the entire ball game in films. As an actor, I cannot do anything about it. This is the reason why the prospective commercial viability of a film is the main criterion before accepting an assignment. This is the reason I say ‘yes’ to films like Rehmat Ali which had commercial prospects. A film like Rehmat Ali gives me tremendous satisfaction because it will reach out to the masses, to a huge audience. What more does an actor want? True that at times, with the best of strategic planning, things fail to work out. But the aim must be commercial success and mass acceptance.

How do you interpret your role?
I first look at the framework the director gives me and the script contains. 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. I am a very irritating actor. I keep on asking too many questions till I am satisfied with the answers. I have to be very clear-cut. If a director is not familiar with my approach to work, he can go crazy. When you play a certain character, you have to be in it. I cannot move on  until I know where the character is going in a film. There has to be uniformity throughout the film.

How do you react to failure?
Simple – I don’t. I have a very positive attitude towards everything in life. I do not carry the hang-ups of a flop just in the same way that I do not get sucked into the vortex of success if my film is a box office hit. I don’t know what the future holds and I don’t 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. The past is a burden that you carry. I don’t think it helps you improve upon your mistakes. The present and the future are what count. I don’t believe in living in the past

Pick five of your memorable performances.
I cannot forget my three National Award-winning films. Other than those, I would like to mention films like Disco Dancer, Pyar Jhutka Nahin, Hum Paanch and Mujrim. These gave me an actor’s status and made me very popular. Working with Aparna Sen in Rituparno Ghosh’s film Titli in which I play a famous Bollywood hero stuck in the hills because his car conked out was a wonderful experience.
Shoma A. Chatterji

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