Life has not been too kind to Mithun Chakraborty. Personal problems, troublesome relationships and wrong political choices have plagued this indomitable spirited artiste forever. In a career of 45 years, he has done more than 275 films. A majority of them have been out-and-out bilge. When I asked him once what the point was in doing films like Gunda, Jallad, Zakhmee Sipahi and The Don(not to be confused with Shah Rukh’s Don) Mithunda patiently enlightened me on how much money these so-called C-grade films had made. “Much as I’d like to do only the films that challenge me as an actor I cannot run my kitchen on Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Tahader Katha and Goutam Ghose’s Gudiya. You have to understand that at the end of the day, I’m a hero of the masses. They love me for Gun Master G-9 and Disco Dancer, not Swami Vivekananda and Sagar Sangam”. In an interview he did with me in 2014 right after he was nominated into the Rajya Sabha, Mithunda said to me, “I’d like to say one thing very clearly. I am now two people. One is an actor, and I’ll never quit being an actor. As long as I get good roles I’ll do them. If I take on bad roles my fans would be deeply offended. I’ve to play characters that justify my presence. The second Mithun Chakraborty is the man who has been given this responsibility by Didi (Mamta Bannerjee). Just as the characters I play have to justify my presence I’ve to make sure my role in the Rajya Sabha is not a let-down. I am no stranger to social causes. For the last twenty years, I’ve been the chairperson of the Mazdoor Union. I am also the president of the Artistes Union, etc. In Bengal, I’m the vice-chairman of the artistes’ forum. I always fought for the down-trodden and the underprivileged. I’ll continue to do so. I have a trust which has educated 3,500 students, most of them girls. I fund the trust from the paid public appearances I make, cutting ribbons, etc. I do these things only so my trust can carry on with its endeavour. I’ve never spoken about this. I want to carry my responsibility as a citizen forward by using the money that I get as a Rajya Sabha member to help the needy. I want to use the Rajya Sabha funds for the collective good. Pehle toh bahot paisa kamata ttha toh bahot logon ki madad karta ttha. Ab kam kamata hoon to kam logon ki madad karta hoon. I want to make sure that the funds from the Rajya Sabha are put to optimum use.”
Forever trying to do the right thing I’ve seen Mithunda give measured correct performances in films that did not belong to him , for example in Mukul Anand’s Agneepath where his South Indian coconut seller act was a riot. I have seen him make a smash hit out of terrible films like Disco Dancer and Pyar Jhukta Nahin. I have seen him dance fight and cry. He has never let a film down, though the films that he has done have often betrayed him.
A look at his 5 finest performances.
1. Mrigaya (1976): To play the tribal character Ghinua who falls into an uneasy friendship of unequals with a British colonist, Mrinal Sen asked Mithunda to go bareback throughout the film. Among the many firsts that Mithunda has to his credit he is also the first and only hero to remain clad in a dhoti throughout the film. But Mithunda’s main challenge was to make Ghinua a metaphor of the brown/bronze servility during the British Raj. He not only portrayed an embodiment of the conflicting emotions of the time, he also brought out the sheer tragedy of an individual grappling with his growing disenchantment with his loyalty towards his benefactor. The performance won Mithunda the first of his 3 National awards for best actor.
2. Hum Paanch (1980): A remake of the renowned Telugu director Bapu’s Kannada hit Paduvaaralli Pandavaru. Hum Paanch had Mithun Chakraborty steal the show from the entire stellar which included Shabana Azmi , Sanjeev Kumar and Amrish Puri. Mithun played Bheema, Amrish Puri’s Man Friday, a slave to his master’s every whim and desire, until Bheema explodes in protest. Mithunda later told me he had a lot of tapped anger in him which he used in this film. This the most effective portrayal of tribal angst after Om Puri’s Aakrosh.
3. Tahader Katha (1992): Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s paean to the homeland and to those who gave their life and blood to its freedom . Mithunda is emphatically moving as Shibnath an aging freedom fighter lately released from jail after many years , he cannot come to terms with the changed moral values of a society in a fiscal flux. Mithunda projected his character’s fractured connectivity with his environment effortlessly. The performance won him his second National award for best actor.
4. Prem Pratigyaa (1989): Mithun and director Bapu shared a tremendous kinship that imbued their films together from Hum Panch to Parmaatma with a special hue. Of all their collaborations Prem Pratiggya stands out for being the single-most romantic film of Mithunda’s career. He played a goonda in love with a selfrighteous dabbewali Madhuri Dixit.Mithun’s romantic scenes with Madhuri simmered with an untapped passion. This actor knows how to cloak his hurt and wounded pride while surrendering unconditionally to the feelings that underline the emotion of love.In 1989 Mithunda had a staggering record-breaking 17 releases in Hindi including Agneepath for which he won a Filmfare award for best supporting actor.
5. Swami Vivekanand (1998): No, Mithunda didn’t play Swami Vivekanand , though he wished he did. He was cast as Vivekanand’s guru Ramkrishna. Though the film went horribly wrong Mithunda’s performance stood out. He won his third National award for this film. Strangely this is the only biographical character this underrated actor has played in his entire career.
Image Source: youtube/prabhukrupahikelam/bollywoodclassics/cinemeasofindia/raregems/gautamhalder, spotboye archives