In this story we share the journey of a man from ‘Richard III’ to Aguntuk or The Stranger which he left for the world to cherish. We salute Utpal Dutta whose birth anniversary was on the 29th of March.
Job Charnok landed in the shores of Ganges. He came for a purpose. But what he did not know that one day a native Bengali would rule the world of English theater in India. This story is about the man who with his exponential knowledge of English literature, and his shipshape ability in acting won the hearts of so many.
This multi talented person was also one of the best known actors in Indian cinema. Besides acting in stage and frames, he was an accomplished director. He was also well known as a play-writer. These stories can be heard till date from the many fortunate ones who have seen him live on stage. He remained a radical figure in Bengali theater and Indian cinema for more than 40 years.
So who was this man? One can call him Monomohon Mitra, others Bhuvan Shome, few shivers while calling him Maganlal Meghraj many may call him Hirok Raja, and the list goes on. Yes, he is none other than the legendary Utpal Dutta.
Dutta’s career as an artist started way back in 1947. His performance in ‘Richard III’ left the audience in awe. Amongst others in the audience that day, were Geoffrey Kendal and Laura Kendal. They were so impressed that they immediately hired him for performing Shakespeare’s plays across the country. Armored with great appreciation from the audience, Dutta marched ahead to rule the stage.
After the Kendal family left India for good, Dutta started writing and performing Bengali theater. Acts such as Kallol, Manusher Adhikar and Louha Manob were just to name a few. These acts expressed his Marxist ideologies and spoke about the socio political situation of the country during those times.
In later years in his documentary ‘In search of Theater’ he spoke about the history of theater in Eastern India. The video of this documentary is attached for you to view.
Dutta believed that theater is an important weapon of political propaganda. He felt in order to make it effective, it has to be popular. He rejected the idea of intellectualized theater and believed it would be a waste of time. If the audience is restricted to a few intellectual people than the whole purpose of the play is useless as it would drive out crowd instead of attracting them. Watch this video which expresses these thoughts.
His career as an artist was a perfect blend of art house productions as well as commercial movies. His performance in movies like Janna Aranya, Bhuvan Shome, Calcutta 71 etc are considered real gems and remain popular till date. This elite actor had the capacity to single handedly light up a scene with his presence. His witty, humorous, strict and grumpy performance will remain irreplaceable. His work in commercial movies like Gol Mal, Naram Garam, Kirayadar etc shows his humongous ability to entertain his audience.
Utpal Dutta was a straight forward man. He was a fearless critic. He did not hesitate to express himself in his own cynical way. Satyajit Ray was labeled as a product of “Indian Renaissance” when awarded the Bharath Ratna. Utpal Dutta immediately criticized the Government of India for distorting history by calling it “Indian Renaissance” instead of Bengal Renaissance. Listen to his criticism in this video.
Dutta, who will long be remembered as an actor per excellence, was also a professor of inexhaustible fund of acting yarns. His ability to improvise in a character and his unique style of acting is bench mark in itself. His contribution in Saptapadi as Othello’s voice remains one of highest viewed clips. Listen to his master’s voice in this video.
His last movie before his death was Aguntuk (The Strainger) which was also the last movie of the maestro Satyajit Ray. Dutta plays the role of Monomohon Mitra, the anthropologist. The movie speaks about the complete ruthlessness and hypocrisy of so called civilization. It was released not only in India but also in France and England. It was an immediate box office hit. This popularity was because of the amazing direction and an equally amazing acting. Watch this clip from the movie.
Just 15 months after the release of Aguntuk internationally, Utpal Dutta left this mortal world on the 19th of August 1993, leaving behind his works for us to cherish today and for days to come. We bow down to Thou Greatness Oh Mighty One.