Not too many actors have earned the distinction of bagging the national award for best actor (Silver Lotus) for their first film. Mithun Chakraborty, the original Disco Dancer who set many a trend in a career spanning 40 plus years, achieved this unique distinction. Recently, when he appeared on a dance reality show as a guest, after rumours of his death following his absence from public view for nearly a year, judge Shilpa Shetty said he was the first Indian actor to enjoy international stardom.
Few know that the award for his role as a tribal youth in his maiden film Mrigaya, actually became a hurdle for his entry into commercial cinema. He spent days on the pavements of Mumbai and even thought of surrendering his national award to get a break in a commercial movie. He once said that his struggle was so harsh that if he talked about it, people would find it depressing. He recalled an instance when he was very hungry and had no money and he asked a journalist for a meal at Mumbai’s Fairdeal restaurant in return for an interview.
Believe it or not, many heroines refused to act opposite this tall, dusky guy with unconventional looks. But Mithun’s indomitable spirit and positive attitude turned the tide in his favour. From an impoverished 26-year-old, Mithun went on to become the heartthrob of the nation, win three national awards, establish a business empire with a chain of luxury hotels and hotel management colleges, and become the top income taxpayer of the country for several years. His detractors got tired of writing him off. When it was thought that Mithun was a spent force, he, much like the proverbial phoenix, bounced back and came up with a great performance in the surprise superhit The Tashkent Files. On his birthday today, Sunday POST looks at Mithun’s roller coaster ride in the film industry and his Odisha connections.
—-Mithun’s Odisha connection
Odisha has often played an important role in the life and career of Mithun, often dubbed the Indian Michael Jackson. The world came to know about Mithun after he bagged the national award for best actor in Mrinal Sen’s Mrigaya in 1976. The plot of the movie set in the 1930s was based in Odisha, and the original story Shikar from which the film was adapted was authored by legendary Odia writer Bhagabati Charan Panigrahi.
Mithun visited the state in the 1990s during the shooting of the Bangla film Tahader Katha (Their Story) and stayed for over two weeks in Baripada. The movie directed by Buddhadeb Dasgupta fetched him his second national award in 1992. He was a superstar at that time but stayed in a government circuit house during the shoot. His simple lifestyle and humility attracted plenty of media attention.
After getting his second national award, Mithun shifted base from Mumbai to Ooty where he ran a chain of hotels and a parallel film industry called Mithun’s Dream Factory. He starred as the hero in more than 120 small budget films for B and C class centres in the next 10 years. Eventually, he lost interest and decided to do some meaningful films. In the meantime, he signed an Odia film E Jugara Krushna Sudama which was a blockbuster in Odisha. His Odisha visit once again proved lucky for his career. Soon after, he returned to the big league and signed a big budget film Elaan with Vikram Bhatt. Though it didn’t click, his return to mainstream cinema was well received in Mumbai, the city that he shunned about a decade back for unknown reasons.
Later, he starred in Mani Ratnam’s Guru (2007) and Kalpana Lajmi’s Chingaari (2006) and received critical acclaim. Zor Lagaa Ke… Haiya! (2009) won multiple international awards while Chal Chalein (2009) was appreciated for its bold subject. Phir Kabhie (2009) with Dimple Kapadia won as many as six awards in as many categories at the Los Angeles Reel Awards. He was also a part of many Rs 100 crore grossers like Golmaal 3, Housefull 2, Entertainment, Kick, and Khiladi 786.
Meanwhile, the injury he suffered while jumping from a helicopter during the shooting of Luck (2014) troubled him and he kept out of public view for over a year till May 2019. His absence resulted in many rumours about his health. However, ending all speculation, Mithun appeared at Puri Srimandir in the last week of May to fulfil a vow and for a darshan of Lord Jagannath, the actor told the media. Soon after his Odisha visit, The Tashkent Files not only became the surprise hit of the year, Mithun signed a horror flick and appeared on a dance reality show, announcing his arrival again on the film scene.
—-Path to stardom
Mithun’s name still spells magic in countries like Japan, Egypt, Tanzania and South Africa. He is more popular than Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai in Russia and Kazakhstan. But fame did not come to him overnight. In the initial years, the struggle was so intense that he almost quit. He was close to actress Jaya Bhaduri during his FTII days. Tired of running from one production house to another for a meaty role, he once requested her to hire him as the secretary of her superstar husband, Amitabh Bachchan. Jaya not only admonished him for his lack of confidence, she assured him that he would make it big someday, Mithun wrote in one of his books and added that the incident was a turning point in his career. Recalling that incident, Jaya Bachchan, during the shooting of Ganga Jamuna Saraswati, told the media that if there was someone in the industry who could take the position of her husband in future, it was Mithun, the Disco Dancer star narrated in his book.
Mithun’s career graph is a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. While award winning movies like Mrigaya, Tahader Katha, Swami Vivekananda, Agneepath, Shukno Lanka, Nobel Chor and Ekti Nadir Golpo and Guru adorn one end of the spectrum, there are potboilers like Hatyara, Gunda, and Yamraaj at the other end. He has also been part of Bollywood hits like Disco Dancer, Hum Paanch, Pyar Jhukta Nahin, Daata, Prem Pratigya and Ghulami.
“It’s a film that flops but not the talent. I divide the films I do into three categories. Some I do for myself that fetch awards; some I do for my loyal fans and some I do only for money without bothering about the script,” the actor once said.
A chemistry graduate from Kolkata’s Scottish Church College who used to emulate and imitate Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Fred Astaire, Mithun has so far appeared in more than 350 films, including many regional language films. He ruled the 1980s as the most bankable star and achieved his peak in the year 1989 when he had 19 releases to his credit. In many cases, his own movies began affecting each other’s business as the viewers were confused about which movie to watch first.
Jitendra Gochhayat, an ardent Mithun fan from Jagatsinghpur who now stays in Kolkata, says, “In my growing up years, I used to identify with the hero who could beat up ten goons at a time. It was a bonus if he could dance. Amitabh could fight well but his dance movements were awful. Jumping Jack Jeetendra could dance, but he was not a convincing fighter. Dada could do both very convincingly.”
—-A great survivor
In the late 80s, Mithun was mobbed by fanatic youngsters, middle-aged men, housewives, children and also Bollywood producers and directors. The success of Pyar Ka Mandir, Jeet Hain Shaan Se, Charanon Ki Saugandh, Daata, Illaka, Mujrim and Prem Pratigya established that if there was any star after Amitabh who can pull the crowds to the theatres, it was Mithun. Even Amitabh loyals like Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra and Ramesh Sippy were influenced by Mithun’s charisma. He not only survived the onslaught of star-comebacks (Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha), star-proteges (Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and Chunkey Pandey) and star-sons (Kumar Gaurav, Sanjay Dutt and Sunny Deol), he outpaced them.
Mithun’s days of struggle are now part of folklore. Few actors have gone through such trying times. For several years now, Mithun has been funding many organisations that work for the downtrodden people and has quietly helped many people in need. He took home a kid abandoned in a street dustbin and adopted her as his fourth child. Dishani, his daughter, will soon make her debut in the Hindi film industry after being trained in the US. The actors who worked with him vouch for Mithun’s humility. This reporter had an appointment to meet him for 10 minutes when he was in Bhubaneswar for a shoot back in 2002. However, the star spent over three hours sharing many events of his life. Mithun’s recent appearances on television indicate that he still has a lot of fire left in him.
—–Little known facts about Mithun
He was a teacher to many popular actors including Anil Kapoor, Gulshan Grover and Mazhar Khan in Roshan Taneja’s acting school
He was a winner of a state level wrestling championship in West Bengal
Disco Dancer was India’s first Rs 100 crore grossing film
He was part of a group of dancers in Helen’s troupe in the name of Rana Rez
The singing and dancing sensation of the 80s has a comic book superhero based on him called Jimmy Zhingchak, Agent of DISCO
Among his many pets, he has about 35 dogs at his Mumbai home and twice the number at Ooty and he calls them his four-legged sons and daughters
He was the highest IT payer of the country in 1986, 1988, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 and was felicitated by the department
According to the Limca Book of Records, he is the only actor to have played the lead roles in 249 films. From a total of 63 Hindi movies released in 1989, Mithun had the lead role in 19 movies, accounting for 30 per cent, the record book said.
He starred in more than 100 films for two consecutive decades from 1980 till 2000
His name featured again in the Limca Book of Records for doing 26 films as hero with one director TLV Prasad without a break between 1992 and 2005
—–Top stars say…
Mithun Da’s concern and love for all is legendary – he slit his chest and took a pledge on his blood for my well-being during my Coolie mishap. How can I forget that? – Amitabh Bachchan
Dada is my style icon. There is a huge phase of Mithun Chakraborty when I was growing up. He used to wear all those bling clothes and I was crazy about him – Akshay Kumar
I am a mad fan of Dada. Perhaps he is not aware I used to watch him shoot on Juhu beach till 2 am when I was a newcomer in Mumbai. – Shahrukh Khan
I am a huge fan of Mithun Da and have grown up watching his films. I often get speechless when I meet him – Aamir Khan
When a newcomer entered the industry, he/she was taught the ‘Chakraborty shot’ which was very famous. Dada used to work four shifts a day and was known as a one-take artiste. He has a huge fan base of girls in Russia who still die for him – Salman Khan
Mithun Da was my inspiration to become an actor and it was only when I saw his acting in the national award-winning film Mrigaya, I realised the desire to get into acting and become like him – Irrfan Khan
Mithun Chakraborty is the most underrated superstar of India. National award winner, one-man industry, highest taxpayer of the country and a gem of a heart – The Tashkent Files director Vivek Agnihotri
If anyone can take the position of my husband in the industry in future, it is Mithun – Jaya Bachchan during the shooting of Ganga Jamuna Saraswati
BIJAY MANDAL, OP