Utpal Dutt, whom the Hindi film viewers largely remember for his famous comical acts in cult comedies such as GOL MAAL, LAKHON KI BAAT, RANG BIRANGI, SHAUKEEN and many more was actually a multifaceted personality with some lesser discussed but astonishing capabilities, more known to the Bengali films and theatre audiences. Putting it honestly, it’s really a pity that the Hindi belt mostly knows this great thinker as a mere comedian saying “Achhaaaaa” in his own impeccable style in all those entertaining comedies and only a few really know about his great insightful works and background of an eminent theatre activist, film-maker & writer in Bengal.
Living his given creative years between 1920 and 1993, Utpal Dutt was not only a remarkable actor but was also an inspirational writer-playwright and director too beginning his ‘Little Theater Group” as a contributing step towards the growth of Modern Indian Theatre in the late 40s. Later his writings and plays started depicting the political state of the world/country full of Marxist ideologies and revolutionary ideas challenging the system itself, for which he even had to go underground and was also jailed in those evolutionary years of Indian theatre history of the last century.
As an actor, Dutt acted in over 100 Bengali and Hindi films in his noteworthy career and gave many splendid award winning performances in classics like Mrinal Sen’s BHUVAN SHOME (1969 – National Award for Best Actor), plus GOL MAAL, NARAM GARAM, RANG BIRANAGI & SAHEB (winning Filmfare Awards for Best Comic Actor & Supporting role). The Sangeet Natak Akademi awarded him the reputed Fellowship for Lifetime Contribution to Theatre in the year 1990 and apart from the plays, Utpal Dutt also directed more than 6 Bengali films and one Hindi project too in the mid-80s.
As a prolific writer, he wrote numerous articles, reviews & seminar papers in a career span of around four decades and at present his five compilation books are available for all interested friends, published by Seagull Books of Kolkata with the following titles:
1. Towards a Revolutionary Theatre
2. Three Plays: Hunting the Sun, The Great Rebellion, Nightmare City
3. Rights of Man
4. On Theatre
5. On Cinema
Now from the above five, one book which tells you a lot about the astonishing knowledge, a keen eye and the impressive analytical vision this creative man possessed in his powerful identity is the book ‘On Cinema’ in particular, which introduces the reader to a completely different Utpal Dutt who has an amazing understanding about all kinds of cinema & its maestros known in the other parts of the world too. And a person who has got a lot to talk about the personal, social and moral responsibilities of a creative artist, other than just enjoying the riches coming along with the success achieved in his respective field.
The book is a collection of his fiery writings on cinema, few brutally truthful reviews of important films, personal letters to Ray, some insightful pieces on Sen’s MRIGYA & GENESIS along with two individual chapters on Chaplin’s autobiography and Kurosawa’s cinema to sum it all. In addition the compilation also has the telefilm script by Dutt titled “In Search of Theater” probably written in the early phase of his career. The writings are deep, thoughtful and potent enough to generate a new respect for the veteran, especially in the case of Hindi film viewers who just know the actor Utpal Dutt as a mere comedian with some exceptional gifted skills and hilarious mannerisms.
In fact at times such is the passionate honesty in his chosen words that it surprises you about how rebellious he used to be in his seminars and public meetings without any fear of a controversy or any government action against him for his expressed thoughts. For instance the following excerpt would clearly convey the same taken from the time period when Ray was given an OSCAR by the Academy of Motion Pictures in 1991 in the hospital itself.
“The Government of India, as usual, woke up later, after a night of revelry, discovered a genius in Calcutta and hastened to confer something called the Bharat Ratna upon him – only because the Americans gave him the Oscar. Of course, Ray had previously won every prize the film world has to offer – at Cannes, at Venice, at Berlin………….!
But an American award is a different thing altogether. So the game of sharing in Ray’s glory began in great haste in New Delhi, and, since the man was already in Coma, it was safe to heap the Bharat Ratna on him. Men in coma cannot refuse awards.”
(In a seminar on Ray in Delhi in 1992)
In another chapter Dutt even goes further and says,
“In this country especially – a bunch of unscrupulous and thoroughly cynical tycoons control all resources, all production, all circuits of distribution and profits. They claim to entertain the masses, and the morality of their means is no consequence to them whatsoever. If opium gave them easier profits, they would trade in opium.
That’s the way they speak, openly and unashamedly. If a film is a hit, it’s a good film. And if a Ray film flops or a Benegal film doesn’t do business at the box office, then those films are bad films – period.
In Bombay they make films as a factory makes soap and sells it, wholesale or retail. The masses want them that way, they say. In reality, they have manipulated the masses into a state of cultural prostration.
You have to see the shit they churn out to believe it – pardon my expression”.
(In a keynote address at Delhi’s International Film Festival of India in 1979)
This was the original UTPAL DUTT, the true artist........ and I bet almost ninety percent of the Hindi movie watching population would be unaware of this more important and powerful persona of the thinking actor-writer-director, who flawlessly played Bhawani Shanker, the moustache loving employer of Amol Palekar in GOL MAAL.
However I am sure after reading this article, no one (among the Hindi films viewers) would ever treat the veteran creative genius as a mere comedian alone in the future.
(Note : Coming next another rare article about the unique relationship between Utpal Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan illustrious career…….So Stay Tuned)