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'Disco dancer' Mithun Chakraborty turns 49

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
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View Elaan Movie StillsActor Mithun Chakraborty, who became the face of Bollywood films inspired by disco music in the 1980s, turned 49 Thursday.

Since the debut in 1976, Mithun's career has been a fast paced one - probably as fast as the "disco dancer" could kick and fly across the air in his heydays.

To many it may seem surprising that Mithun began his career as a "serious" actor. His first release was Mrinal Sen's "Mrigaya" in 1976.

In this fascinating study of colonial camaraderie, Mithun was cast as Ghinua, a tribal who shares a passion for hunting with his colonial ruler.

"Mrigaya" fetched him the first of his two National Awards as best actor. The second came in 1992 for another Bangla film, Buddhadev Dasgupta's "Tahader Katha".

But in the 16 years between the two movies, Bollywood had made sure Mithun had lost his reputation as an actor of substance.

Stationed in Ooty, where he has a hotel, Mithun insisted that filmmakers from Mumbai come and shoot at his adopted home. In turn, he offered them huge discounts on hotel bills. The bargain was not quite attractive for many filmmakers.

The 1990s saw Mithun starring in a series of what are called "C grade" action films such as "Cheetah", "Jallad", "Bhagyadevata" and "Zakhmi Sipahi". The mediocrity of Mithun's cinema in this phase was assuaged by their success in the so-called interior film pockets of the country.

"These were films made within a certain budget. The producers always recovered their money," Mithun argues to this day.

Mithun never cared to go by the rules of career management. As long as his producers and distributors recovered their investments, it mattered little that the films didn't win awards.

What mattered was that Mithun could still get his fans to come and watch him no matter how shoddy the production quality or who his co-star was.

In a career span of nearly 30 years, Mithun has been paired opposite almost every actress - from the top-ranking Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit to the not so famous Shantipriya and Madhoo.

Some of his biggest hits in the 1970s were opposite the now-forgotten Ranjita Kaur.

But his biggest successes ever were in B. Subhash's "Disco Dancer" and Vijay Sadanah's "Pyar Jhukta Nahin". However, "Dance Dance" couldn't encore the success of "Disco Dancer".

Though quantity always superseded quality in his career, there's no doubt that Mithun is one of the adventurous possibilities of Hindi cinema hyphenating the Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan eras with his action-musical repertoire of hits aimed to please the frontbenchers.

Today, after having paid the price for his Ooty outing, Mithunda - as he is popularly called - is trying to rediscover the sensitive actor within himself. The sensitive acting that has been reflected in many of his Bangla films.

So far his varied comeback attempts in Vikram Bhatt's "Elaan" (as a villain) and Vinay Sapru-Radhika Rao's "Lucky" (as a comic foil) have been pretty disastrous.

Perhaps Buddhadev Dasgupta's forthcoming "Kaalpurush" will help Mithunda regain the stature as a serious actor, whose fan following once stretched from Bihar to the Soviet Union.

Rahul Bose, who plays Mithun's son in "Kaalpurush", is full of praise for his co-star.

"I thought Mithunda came from a different sensibility. I thought of him as the popular mass hero. But he's actually an extremely cinema literate man and a very talented actor," Bose says.

Mithun Chakraborty's 10 Best Films:

1. "Mrigaya" (1977; directed by Mrinal Sen)

2. "Sitara" (1980; directed by Meraj)

3. "Hum Paanch" (1980; directed by Bapu)

4. "Jaag Utha Insaan" (1984; Directed by K. Vishwanath)

5. "Ghulami" (1985; Directed by J.P. Dutta)

6. "Pyari Behna" (1985; Directed by Bapu)

7. "Agneepath" (1990; Directed by Mukul Anand)

8. "Tahader Katha" (1992; Directed by Buddhadev Dasgupta)

9. "Yugandhar" (1993; Directed by N. Chandra)

10. "Titli" (1999; Directed by Rituparno Ghosh)


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