DISCO DANCER: Mithun who burst into Bollywood as a hero in ‘Disco Dancer’ went on to make films like ‘Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan’ with Rishi Kumar and ‘Do Anjaane’ with Amitabh Bachchan. Seen here with his son Mahakshay and Suneil Shetty
Mithun Chakraborty is one of the few Bengalis who made it big in Hindi cinema. Ironically he was once considers a naxalite during his students days in Kolkata and there was his reward for his capture
By Ali Peter John
I DON’T know whether Mithun Chakraborty will allow any journalist or writer to write his biography or whether he himself will write his autobiography in the near future but having been a very close witness to Mithun’s story right from the beginning, I have a strong feeling that a book about him can make very interesting reading for all generations.
Whenever a biography, autobiography or a biopic about Mithun becomes reality, it will have the following script. Some might think it doesn’t sound real, but I have seen him going through all of it.
Somewhere in the very early ‘70s a young man from Calcutta is branded a Naxalite and is wanted by the police dead or alive. He runs away from the city and lands in Pune where he seeks admission to the Film and Television Institute of India, (FTII) to do a course in acting. His Hindi is very poor and English even worse, but he proves his prowess as an actor and wins the Gold Medal for acting.
He doesn’t have any reason to stake his claim to be a star in Hindi films, but luckily celebrated Bengali filmmaker, Mrinal Sen, on a talent spotting visit at the FTII, sets his eyes on him and casts him as the hero of his film in Hindi, “Mrigayaa” which he shoots in Calcutta with Mamata Shankar, daughter of Uday Shankar, as leading lady. The film shows Mithun in his best form and he goes on to win the National Award for his very first film.
His next stop is Bombay. He tries to make the best of the recognition his film and his performance gets him. He carries his Gold Medal and goes from studio to studio and office to office but no one is willing to take him seriously. He has to struggle and the struggle is very grim for him. He has no place to live in and knows nothing about where his next meal will come from. He manages to make friends with people who offer him support in the form of a place to sleep and sometimes lunch or dinner.
A journalist from a leading Hindi magazine called Mayapuri approaches him for an interview because of his Gold Medal and he tells the journalist that he has not eaten anything for two days and that he would give him an interview provided he bought him some food. The journalist buys him a plate of “usal paav” which is the only meal he can offer him with the money he has. Mithun never forgets the gesture of the journalist.
His struggle to find work continues but he continuously fails to succeed. When he sees a bleak future ahead of him, he changes his name to Rana Rez and takes part in shows done by the great dancer of the time Helen. It is during these shows that some filmmakers notice his skills as an amazing dancer. He finds two bit roles in films like “Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan” with Rishi Kapoor as the hero and “Do Anjaane” with Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha in one of their best films together. He now finds a place to live on Pali Hill with Dulal Guha , the director of “Do Anjaane” and finds two very good friends in the director’s sons, Gautam and Putul and a sister.
His life and career take a big turn when a director called B Subhash signs him to play the lead role in “Disco Dancer”. Before the film can start he finds work in an action film of a very small kind. But it is the unexpected and unbelievable success of “Disco Dancer” that makes him an overnight star. The film is a golden jubilee hit and is also a big success in Russia where Mithun is accepted as a star from India, next only to Raj Kapoor who ruled the heart of every Russian in the fifties.
There is no stopping Mithun Chakraborty now. He leaves all his contemporaries and rivals behind and gives a massive complex to ruling stars like Dharmendra, Jeetendra and even superstar Rajesh Khanna. The young man who once never knew where he would sleep or what he would eat now has a huge apartment in a building called Garden View which is bang opposite one of the offices of Subhash Ghai who is now known as the ‘Showman’.
Mithun goes from success to success and buys a huge place at Madh Island which was his holiday home and where he had more than 15 kennels for dogs he brings in from different parts of the world. He has an entire staff to look after the dogs, including dieticians and veterinary doctors. When this writer asked him why he showed so much affection for his dogs, he did not hesitate for a moment and said, “I believe that dogs are more faithful and grateful than human beings”, passing a very big judgement on human beings in that one statement.
He is soon known by politicians like Bal Thackeray who he called “Daddy” and comrade Jyoti Basu in Calcutta, the same city in which he was once wanted as a dreaded Naxalite and where he is now loved by one and all. He has risen to the status of being the highest individual tax payer in the country. His story had reached an unbelievable position, more like fiction than fact
Like every big man, he too gets into trouble with some politicians in Bombay which forces him to shift his base to Ooty. He gradually builds an empire of his own in the hills of Ooty. His prime position is a 5-star hotel in which he also has his residence where he lives with his wife, the one-time actress and third wife of Kishore Kumar, Yogeeta (Pinky) Bali, and their two sons and adopted daughter (who they had found wandering in the streets of Calcutta).
Mithun runs a parallel film industry in Ooty and asks all filmmakers interested in making films with him to shoot only in Ooty and other places in the South. He discovers a number of directors and actresses from the South, and his films give opportunities to several character actresses and villains from Bombay to make money.
He lives and rules in Ooty, but he never forgets his responsibilities as the leader of the artists and the Cine Mazdoor Employees Union. He works out a plan to take every artist, small or big, on a massive show in America which helps in raising a huge sum of money to be used for the welfare of the industry.
He finds recognition as a good actor in films made by the filmmakers from the South. His role in G. V Iyer’s “Swami Vivekananda” wins him his third National Award. His performance in the Hindi film, “Agneepath” wins him the Filmfare Award for the best supporting actor. Amitabh Bachchan wins his first National Film Award for Best Actor for the same film.
It is in the interest of his son Mimoh (Mahaakshay) who is interested in acting that he gradually shifts back to Mumbai when the weather which was against him finally cleared. All his attempts and all his goodwill fail to make Mahaakshay a success story. On the contrary, Mithun finds more interesting roles to play in films and reality shows to do on TV. One of his lines from a reality show, “Kya baat, kya baat” makes him a star all over again.
He is always a grateful man and remembers all those who have played a small part or a big part in the success story that he is and will now always be known as. Among those he is eternally grateful too are Jawahar Kaul, a one-time hero of Vijayantimala who was his manager, his makeup man Siraj, who he gave opportunities to turn producer, and Vijay Upadhya, his friend from the Calcutta days. He is the MP of the Trinamool Congress headed by Mamta Banerjee.
If Mithun does go ahead with a biography or autobiography, will he have the courage to reveal all the romantic escapades he has had with some of the most beautiful women? Will he accept the truth that he had married Sridevi during the shooting of Rakesh Roshan’s “Jaag Utha Insaan”?
Before I end, I must tell readers this interesting story. The greatest showman Raj Kapoor was discussing the next film of the RK banner with his sons Randhir and Rishi. Randhir quietly recommended the name of Mithun who was at the peak of his career and Raj Kapoor shouted back, “That purple hero, I cannot imagine him as the hero of my film”.
Indeed, I cannot think of a title that would suit the story of Mithun’s life better than “That Purple Hero”.
(Mumbai-based Ali Peter John is a veteran film journalist who worked for Screen, the film weekly of the Indian Express Group, for over 40 years, and has seen the highs and lows of tinsel town.)