I am the chosen one

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 26.03.11
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Just back from his hectic early morning shoot, Mithun Chakraborty looks sleep-starved and tired as he settles down on the verandah of his cottage on the outskirts of Santiniketan.

The shoot for Suman Ghosh’s Nobel Chor is keeping him on his toes all day and as you wonder if the man would want a quick nap, Mithun rises and heads to the kitchen. To rustle up some chicken curry and rice for our lunch! And before leaving, he promises to treat us to mutton curry and dal at night!

At the dinner table, Mithun is in his elements. He has sent the flavours of Mutton Rogan Josh wafting all around the room. Cooking is clearly his stress-buster. Ladling out the curry, Mithun starts to open up — scanning his life, moving back and forth.

Over to Mithun...

It looks like you are enjoying your stay in Santiniketan...

Yes, I have never been to Santiniketan before... only once, I think... a long time ago to promote Rituparno Ghosh’s Titli.... This film, Nobel Chor, is shaping up very well. Suman is a very good director. I have been observing him and he is doing a great job. I play Bhanu, a farmer who stumbles upon the Nobel medal one day. Thereafter the film revolves around how Bengalis react to this incident.

Nowadays you do only one Bengali film a year and you are rarely in Calcutta. How do you explain your huge fan base in Bengal?

Who said I am never in Calcutta? I have lived here all my life, not physically maybe, but I have lived here forever (looks wistfully into the distance). No matter what, Calcutta will always remain my birthplace. At heart I am still very much the north Calcutta boy.

What was this north Calcutta boy like?

I was this typical north Calcutta boy who loved football. I wanted to become a great footballer and join Mohun Bagan. I was quite a good player. A renowned khep player (on hire per match), I used to be paid Rs 5 for quarter-final matches, Rs 10 for semi-finals and Rs 25 for finals. It used to take care of my pocket money. I also wanted to become a political leader... but after working as a junior artiste, I felt like taking up acting as a profession. Baba wanted me to become an engineer. I had even picked up the admission form for an engineering college. But it didn’t happen. I also learnt wrestling at one point.

But destiny had written something else for me. That’s why I am drawn to occult science. I want to know how it could happen, how my life could become what it is today. How can a north Calcutta boy from a blind lane become world famous? I had no background, not much education, I couldn’t speak English or Hindi. I still consider myself a misfit at big parties. I don’t party because everyone wears a mask and I can’t stand that because I have no mask. That’s why I always stress that you don’t need a godfather. You yourself are the magician, god and teacher. Start believing in yourself and your life will be sorted out.

How did the journey from Jorabagan to Bollywood begin?

I started doing street theatre in Calcutta when I was very young. Then I got involved in politics but I don’t want to talk about that phase. I was forced to leave Calcutta, don’t ask me why. I left for Bombay in the Seventies. I thought I would stay there for sometime and then come back (looks wistful, again)... Look, I don’t want to talk about all this now. What’s the point? I don’t want to look back at my past anymore. Besides, I have talked about all this many times. It’s very boring. A north Calcutta boy who rode a bicycle... tar toh ekta swapno dekhar seemabaddhata thake (his dreams are limited). Did I ever dream that one day I would have a Mercedes-Benz and an Audi? I would say I am the chosen one.

Were there moments when you felt like giving up, in your early days in Bombay?

I have had very, very painful days in Bombay.... Days when I went totally blank. There was a phase in Bombay when I had no friends, I didn’t know anyone. I would go knocking from door to door for work but nobody offered me anything. I had no goal, I roamed about aimlessly on the streets. But I stuck to what I had, even as a junior artiste in film after film. I never lost the perseverance to stay put, fight and stick around. That’s why I have always maintained a low profile.... History is always painful, you know. History cannot be written without pain. If you win without trouble, it’s called victory. If you win with trouble, it’s history. That’s my life’s mantra.

Do you consider Mrinal Sen your mentor as he gave you Mrigaya?

People don’t know that my debut film wasn’t Mrigaya (1976). I was a junior artiste in Do Anjane (starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha) but it released after Mrigaya. I have spent the worst days of my life in Bombay. The period 1970-1972 was the darkest. I had shifted to Bombay to try my luck in films but I got no work. Then I joined the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. My classmates were Ranjeeta, Tom Alter... Shabana Azmi was a year senior to me while Naseeruddin Shah was a year junior. Right after I passed out, Mrinalda (Sen) chose me for Mrigaya. And I won the National Award (for best actor). I travelled to many festivals with Mrinalda, including Russia.

I respect Mrinalda a lot. He is my god because god gives you a chance and he gave me a chance. But I never had a mentor. Mithun has no godfather. I may owe it to Mrinalda for Mrigaya but the next two National Awards (Swami Vivekananda and Tahader Katha) were because of my actions and my deeds.

But why do you think a National Award-winning film couldn’t get you work in Mumbai?

What difference does it make in Bombay, tell me? Do you think they need actors in Bombay even today? They look for brand ambassadors! But you achieve superstardom only when you stick on. Only a star who is an equally good actor can be a superstar. Otherwise you are either a star or an actor. If you can hold on for a long time, you become a megastar. And if you can hold on even further, you become an icon, a legend, a religion. In Russia they say Mithunism is a religion. They consider Mithun to be their religion.

How do you have such a fan following in Russia?

I really don’t know. It’s like a legacy that the mother has passed on to her daughter. Last time I visited Russia I was surprised how even a 20-year-old girl was also a Mithun fan! I don’t know why. It could be that they respect me for my struggle. Maybe they like my dark complexion (smiles)! When I went to Russia after Mrigaya, I saw my pictures were being sold for five Kopeks. I was a nobody then. The craze doubled after Disco Dancer (1982) released. Russians-ra ‘Mithun Mithun’ kore moriya hoye gelo. And it still continues. Specially among women. Seventy per cent of my fans are women!

You’ve been quite a ladies’ man in your heydays, haven’t you?

Oh yes! I have dated many women but I never speak about them. We are great friends now.

Yet you have had a rock-solid marriage?

Yes, that’s because I have always told all my women, ‘Listen I am a happily married man and after hearing this if you still want to be my best friend, you are welcome’. You know, the problem arises when you want to give a name. My women friends were my best friends. Besides, they could always see the kind of respect I have always had for Pinky (wife Yogita Bali). I never made friends outside marriage, saying ‘oh I have such a horrible marriage’! That’s bad. Pinky is the best wife on earth. She has sacrificed everything, even her career, to take care of my home and my children. For her, the world revolves around her four kids. Also, she never questioned me about anything and no matter what, I have always gone back to her. I could never imagine life without her.

Any mistakes that you have gone on to regret?

I won’t say that I have not made mistakes. I am, after all, a human being. I may have done something on the spur of the moment, which was perhaps wrong. I repent it now. But when we make a mistake we don’t realise it just then.

How do you look at the ups and downs in your life?

My life has never been a bed of roses. I am not an overnight star. I have got everything after a lot of struggle. So I cannot recall any moment of either happiness or anguish that I can cherish or sulk about. Everything has happened very slowly in my life, but it has been a very concrete and solid foundation. I have had lots of ups and downs. A lot of downfall actually. There was a time when all my films would flop. But I am like a phoenix... when you think I have given up, I will rise again. Whenever you had written me off, I rose....

Penguin, apparently, will assign somebody to write a book on me. The title has been decided — The Black Moon. But I don’t know who will write, neither am I interested. I don’t consider my success story to be extraordinary. I may have reached the peak of the mountain but there are others too.

Despite your stardom, you are always very accessible...

I am like this only! It is also a negative point. People take me for granted. They say ‘Oh Mithun toh... hoye jabe’. See, we actors are the loneliest people on earth. That’s why I like to be me. I like to mingle with people. Aami intellectual noi. I am not fake. I can’t walk around with an attitude and stay aloof. I am a very down to earth person. Stardom hasn’t changed me.

But doesn’t it take away from the enigma of a superstar?

If it’s genuine then the enigma will remain. Whatever I have achieved today is because of what I am. I was always like this and the stardom has remained... maybe not the enigma but people’s love and respect has remained. They have accepted me the way I am. Though I am different with my women! Meyeder shamne aami different. Baghinir sathe bagh hoye jai (I am different with women. In front of a tigress I become a tiger)! I have too much of the animal instinct in me (laughs out loud).

What do you love playing the most — a romantic hero, an action hero or a comedian?

Being an actor, I enjoy every role. Why do you think I am here for so many years? That’s because I have convinced you that I can do every role. Otherwise, after so many years, I would have been a bore on screen. But you still continue to love me, which means I must have touched your heart somewhere for so many years.

Which film do you consider a milestone in your career?

Disco Dancer maybe. But there are other films too. The names have become history and I know that as long as the film industry will remain, my name will be written in golden words.

You do Tollywood, Bollywood and also television. Why do you still need to work so hard? Not for money for sure...

Yes... sometimes I do wonder why I work so much. The need will never end, you know. Need is greed. After necessity everything becomes luxury. But amra ei luxury ta ke necessity boley chaliye jachhi. The past seven days have got me thinking. How many times will I lie to myself and call it a necessity? Now the time has come to call it quits. I will work but maybe once in a while if a role really touches me.

With age stars often cut down on masala films and focus on serious projects. But you have continued to do both...

That I won’t do, neither do I believe in it. A film is a film, it’s an entertainment medium whatever the genre is. Masala potboilers entertain a certain section of the audience, while there are other films that a select audience would enjoy watching at Nandan. I want to do both kinds of cinema, for the masses and for the niche audience. Baatelay aami nei. Aami ekdom raw north Calcutta-r maal! Besides, I have done films like Shukno Lanka and then there’s Samir Chanda’s Ek Nadir Galpo which has had standing ovations at many festivals.

You are doing Goonda Fatakesto, the sequel to Minister Fatakesto. How does a minister become a goonda?

Because you need a goonda to rule this state (West Bengal)!

Where do you feel most at home — Calcutta, Mumbai or Ooty?

Well, I love Ooty (where he owns the Monarch Group of Hotels) during summers. Bombay is my workplace and I come to Calcutta for some great adda with friends. But I am most attached to Ooty. I have lived there for 14 years. It’s a place where I feel very secure because I have secured the future of my children.

We now live in Bombay’s Madh Island. My parents live with me in a separate bungalow. That’s my residence. I have 66 dogs and a variety of birds, from kakatua to macaw and pigeons. I am very attached to Julie, my kakatua.

MITHUNISMS

Rate yourself as a husband on a scale of 10:

Seven on 10. The minus three is for all the dalliances I had! (Chuckles.)

Favourite co-stars:

Padmini Kolhapure and Ranjeeta. They are my lucky charm and I am very close to them though I have worked with the maximum number of heroines, including Madhuri Dixit (Prem Pratigya).

Favourite food:

Biulir Dal, Alu Posto, Begun Bhaja and bhaat.

Favourite pastime:

I cook. The four-five hours that I get after shooting, I like to be me. Pack-up to me means switching off and then whether I will romance or dance or have a woman by my side who can hold me tight is up to me! Whenever I am home I have to cook something for my children... even if it’s a dal. I cook a dal, which I have named panga dal. My kids love it. Served hot with chapatis, it’s the best thing!

Best friend in Bollywood:

Nobody except Salman Khan. I love him a lot. We can call each other at 3 in the morning and chat!

If you will ever try Botox:

I might. I think my chin is sagging. But the day I try Botox I won’t hide it from people.

People who’ve inspired you:

‘Inspired’ means people from whom I have learnt. Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire. I used to emulate and imitate them.

If you would try your hand at direction:

Yes. I want to direct a film some day.

Mithun chops veggies for Mutton Rogan Josh

When Mithun donned the chef’s apron...

For lunch, Mithun made chicken curry and rice. He chopped tomatoes, sliced green chillies, poured dollops of ghee and made an out-of-the-world chicken curry, which he served with overdone rice. “Have this chicken curry with overcooked rice and it’s easy on the stomach. Every night the liver has to work doubly hard because of the three pegs that I down!” he quipped.

Dinner was a far more elaborate affair. Despite a hard day at work, Mithun was all energetic. On the menu were Mutton Rogan Josh, rice, soft rotis and dal. The mutton was succulent, rich and tender and the dal was awesome! To round it off, Mithun suggested we try the ‘kancha tentuler chutney’. Tangy and spicy, it added a zing to the dish. “I hope everyone enjoyed the meal. Whoever wants the recipe can call Mithun,” he laughed.