buxom damsel is in grave danger of being assaulted by a gaggle of ruffians. Suddenly, a bottle rolls on the ground and a man appears on the screen. The hooligans ask, "Who are you?" In a voice that would make the blood of tigers turn cold, he says: Dikhne mein bewada, daudne mein ghoda, aur maarne mein hathoda
. (I look like a drunk, run like a horse and strike like a hammer.)
What follows is carnage in which the evil men are reduced to their constituent sub-atomic particles. As the camera zooms in on the Man, the crowd rises as one, whistling and cheering, swinging their sweaty shirts in the air like rotors of mini-helicopters, while coins rain down on the screen.
The Man. The legend. Mithun Chakraborty. The star of all the stars.
Of course there are people who pooh-pooh Mithunda as a has-been, a reject from the Mumbai film industry who, after a moderately successful run in the mid-'80s as a disco star, vanished into obscurity and B-moviedom. With no disrespect to the Aamirs and Shahrukhs and Amitabhs, if they are stars then Mithunda is no less than the sun. Just as the progress of the privileged few cannot be 'India Shining,' the adulation of the urban yuppie crowd cannot be the sole criterion for superstardom. The SRKs and Aamirs may have their fan-base in the air-conditioned climes of the multiplexes, but the heart of India's cinema-loving public beats in the small towns and villages, the mobile theatres and the old dilapidated single screens, suffused with the smell of humanity and phenyl, where hardworking men, after a day's toil and sweat, sit down for some entertainment on bedbug-ridden seats, under creaking fans. And do you think they really care about the three Dil Chahta Hai
friends who go to Goa in a Mercedes and "break up" over some trivial issue?
They do not. They want to see themselves projected on the screen, only in superhuman form. They do not want twists, turns or unpredictability. They have enough of it in their daily lives. What they desire instead are bone-crunching punches, blood-curdling lines delivered with attitude and, most importantly, simple, familiar plots of revenge that end with the downfall of the rich and the mighty.
Koi shaque: Always Shankar, the coolie
Mithunda understands that. That is why, over the last decade, he has delivered, with monotonous regularity, everything the consumer wants. As an engineer myself, I cannot help but be in awe of the philosophy of Mithunda's movies. Each of his films is based on the product-line paradigm, which means that a few basic structures (plots) are extended with minor variations (such as the villain's name or the heroine's weight) and quickly sent to market, with mere weeks elapsing between product conception and release. This, together with massive reuse, both in terms of artifacts (many Mithun movies have the same unifying background music, like the Star Wars theme) and locations (many of his movies are shot in Ooty, where Mithunda owns a luxury hotel), keeps costs low and profit margins high.
While deconstructing Mithunda's superstar charisma is like trying to analyse love, certain aspects of his movies are worth analysing to understand his surefire formula for success.
Firstly, the identity issue. Whether it's truck driver Suraj or Shankar, the coolie who works in an airport, Mithunda symbolises the dreams and aspirations of the common man. He is never a Vicky who owns stud farms in South Africa and races $1,50,000 cars, or a Sameer who organises events in Manhattan. Even when he goes 'international' as he did with Gunmaster G9, India's answer to James Bond, he is still very much one with the masses.
Secondly, the plot, the basic template of which remains unchanged. Whether he plays an honest police officer or a member of the working masses, Mithunda loses his parents to the evil men (usually Thakurs or the mafia) within the first 30 minutes. A horrible fate then befalls his sister just before the interval. With an hour of the movie left, he metamorphoses into an avenging angel. The only suspense that is then left is—in which order will he kill the villains and how far will their body parts fly. Needless to say, for people daily being ground under the wheels of society, the possibility that there actually exists a world, even though it be just of light and shadows on an old off-white screen, where the common man gets retributory satisfaction by pulverising wicked men, makes them fight on for yet another day.
And then, of course, come the villains. For years, Mithunda has fought the scum of the earth—be it the brave Ballu Bakra, the lusty Bullah, the slimy Lucky Chikna, the foul Ibu Hatela, the powerful Takla, the redoubtable Dr Shiva of the evil Shiv Shakti Organisation and his bionic minions who fight with calculators strapped to their wrists. Not one of these servants of death have escaped Mithunda's ire as he has dispatched each one of them to their makers with thunderous dialogues like Main tujhe Hatela se Katela bana doonga. Now, how can you translate that in English?
Did I say 'dialogues'? This forms the very basis of Mithunda's star appeal—no one can quite deliver an earth-shaking line like this man does. It doesn't need to be very profound, all he has to say is Do, chaar, chhe, aath, dus. Bas. (Two, four, six, eight, ten. That's enough.) to make the villains wet their clothes and the audience jump up in their seats. Add to this Mithun-da's trademark moves, like where he uses his finger to bore holes in walls on which he then hangs his cap or how he kills a poisonous snake by letting the snake bite him (watch Ma Kasam to understand the reason).
Lest we forget, Mithunda is not just about the Aeee salaas and the disco twists. This is a man who has three National Awards for acting to his credit, can effortlessly fit into mainstream Bollywood, as he did recently in Guru, and still has a massive following in the countries that constitute the old USSR. Straddling the world of commercial, art and lowbrow cinema with the same elan with which he thrashes evil men and lifts overweight actresses, Mithun Chakraborty is the real superstar. Doubt that at your own peril!
Arnab Ray won the Indibloggies Indian Blog Of The Year 2006, and writes at http://greatbong.net