How Mrinal Sen Spotted The Actor Behind Mithun Chakraborty’s Flamboyance

An excerpt from Rupa Publication’s Mithun Chakraborty: The Dada of Bollywood, authored by film journalist Ram Kamal Mukherjee
How Mrinal Sen Spotted The Actor Behind Mithun Chakraborty’s Flamboyance

Mithun Chakraborty: The Dada of Bollywood is a biography of the National Award-winning actor, known for his flamboyance, charisma and electric, Presley-esque dance moves. Capturing his life from three essential lenses – personal, professional and political, the account is penned by renowned film journalist, Ram Kamal Mukherjee. His previous books include Hema Malini's biography, Beyond the Dream Girl (2017), Hema Malini: Diva Unveiled (2005), Sanjay Dutt: One Man, Many Lives (2019), Long Island Iced Tea (2016) and Muktakash (2019).

Below is an excerpt from the actor's early life as a fresh graduate from Film And Television Institute Of India, Pune, where the acclaimed director Mrinal Sen spotted him and envisioned him as the lead of his upcoming film, Mrigayaa (1976). The film went on to launch Chakraborty in the Hindi film industry, earning him a National Award for his performance.

Even as it took the young man on a circuitous route to Bollywood stardom, destiny had something else in store for Mithun in Calcutta. Legendary filmmaker Mrinal Sen (Mrinal babu or Mrinal da to most) had first spotted Mithun at the film institute's passing-out ceremony in 1974. He had observed a dark, young man with curly hair and a great physique fooling around with the other students. He was boisterous, genial and had a certain energy about him as he went around pulling pranks on his mates. Sen's first impression was that Mithun was a bit of an upstart and was surprised to see that nobody from the institute was admonishing him for his brazen behaviour in front of eminent personalities. Sen got to know his name and also that he was Bengali. Hrishikesh Mukherjee spoke highly of him to Sen.

Sen was at that time planning the movie Mrigayaa, which was based on the novel Shikar by the Odiya writer Bhagwaticharan Panigrahi. The director was looking for someone who would fit the character of the young tribal man Ghinua in the film, and all of a sudden he realized that this carefree boy from Calcutta, whom he had seen at the film institute a year earlier, fits the character perfectly. He sent a long telegram to his cameraman K.K. Mahajan: 'Track down a young man of Pune institute, passed in '74. Tall, dark, well built, Bengali, name starts perhaps with M. Catch him and ask him to send me a photograph as early as possible. A portrait without any make-up. Must be very recent.' Within two weeks, Sen got a photo of the young man. And yes, he was right. He had found his Ghinua. A few days later, Sen had an unannounced guest at his home in Motilal Nehru Road, Calcutta. Mithun didn't wait for the director's revert and instead came straight to his home.

Flashing his famous smile, Mithun said: 'Mrinal da, ami eshe gechi. Ki korte hobe bolun. (Mrinal da, I am here. Tell me what needs to be done.)' He had long hair and wore a colourful, flashy dress. Sen told him clearly what his character was and that the film had no song-and-dance sequence. The actor would also have to cut his hair short.

'I still laugh at my stupidity,' Mithun says whenever one asks him about the time he turned up at Mrinal Sen's house unannounced. 'I am not ashamed that I went there personally to meet him. But thank god that I did, because the kind of photographs I had mailed him would have given Mrinal da the shock of his life. When a common friend from FTII told me that Mrinal Sen is looking for a male lead for his Hindi film and he wants to see my photo, I did exactly what any newcomer in those days would do. I got myself clicked (the photos were horrendous) and smartly posted them. But when I came to know about his body of work, I knew that these portfolio photographs would never get me the role. So, I decided to meet him personally.'

Mrinal Sen corroborated. '…Mithun tried to impress me with his curly hairdo and side burns and for some strange reason kept mentioning that he danced with Helen on stage. Yes, we signed Mithun for the lead, but there was yet another shock waiting for him at the shoot. A day before the shoot, I called an Adivasi barber and got his hair cropped.'

Mithun is full of gratitude for Sen even today. 'If Mrinal da had not considered me, nobody would have come to know of me. He is the guru of my acting career. We used to stay in Mayurakshi Bhavan and the rehearsal went on for long hours, till Mrinal da was satisfied. He used to tell me, "Mithun, try to get into the character. Till you become Ghinua fully, you can do nothing." The surroundings of Taldungri village, the environment and the villagers' kindness slowly but steadily prepared me as Ghinua.

Edited excerpts from Mithun Chakraborty: The Dada of Bollywood by Ram Kamal Mukherjee with permission from Rupa Publications.

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