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The Big Buck Opera’s Three-penny Star

Mithun Chakraborty’s formula of filmic success indicates an alternative market within the mainstream

The Big Buck Opera’s Three-penny Star

There might be a yawning aesthetic gulf between Satyajit Ray’s filmic legacy and that of fellow Bengali Mithun Chakraborty-in that order perhaps. But the fact of the matter is that among the non-tax paying provincial and rural audiences, Mithun is a god. All his films record 100 per cent attendance during the first week of release. Following the advice of an astrologer Mithun has decided not to shoot in Mumbai. Based in Ooty, the super-star shoots only in the south. Among his conditions to the producers is that he will give 30 shifts for a film by which time it has to be completed. Take it or leave it. Last year 14 producers took it. The year before that Mithun starred in 12 films. This year, 10 are in the offing. On an average a Mithun film costs between Rs 75 and 80 lakh. Half this amount is fee. Incidentally, he remains one of our highest tax payers.

Roughly 25 to 30 prints of his films are in circulation in each of the six territories. Each territory is sold at Rs 18 to 25 lakh. This is the reason why Mithun is one of the most cashable stars though he is situated on the periphery of the mainstream. He has a dedicated following in those parts which constitute Gandhi’s real India. Here they do not miss any of his films.

Making a film with Mithun is markedly different from shooting with other stars. He offers ‘sops’. Since a Mithun film has Ooty as the base, he has bought all the equipment needed for the shoot. Producers can take them on hire at a very generous discount. Hamid Ali, who has made three films with Mithun, says, "Dada (Mithun) has everything we need. All we have to do is go there and shoot. We don’t have to carry equipment." He adds, "Senior artistes stay at his Hotel Monarch at 30 per cent filmi discount."

With such deals, coupled with the fact that just about any man can visit Mithun with a script, it’s no wonder that he starred in 14 films last year, sometimes doing three shifts a day. With Mithun turning out to be the Laloo Prasad Yadav of the industry, very rarely do distributors lose money. Yet last year was particularly bad. But for two films, Dada and Sanyasi Mera Naam, the others did poorly at the box office. Of course, this hasn’t stopped him from signing 10 films slated for this year.

Beyond the urban belt, in cinemas that run on subsidised power, slapstick humour in funny costumes wears Mithun’s face.

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