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'Mithun is still Jimmy to millions'

By ROSHMILA BHATTACHARYA
June 16, 2022 13:24 IST
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'I was in China and when they learnt I had made Disco Dancer, they started singing Jimmy Jimmy, Aaja Aaja.'

IMAGE: Mithun Chakraborty in the song I Am A Disco Dancer from the film Disco Dancer.

Back in 1982, they made history with Disco Dancer.

To this day, Mithun Chakraborty's name remains synonymous with that of the film's producer-director, Babbar Subhash.

On the actor's 72nd birthday on June 16, B Subhash, in conversation with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, takes us on his journey with Mithun Chakraborty that spanned eight films, many of them blockbusters.

'I was impressed by Mithun's looks, style and the way he spoke'

Producer Ram Dayal had signed me to direct Taqdeer Ka Badshah and it was at his office that I met Mithun for the first time.

Coincidentally, I also met Bappi Lahiri, who had come with his father Aparesh Lahiri, on the same day, at the same office.

While Bappiji was signed as the music director, Ram Dayal was in two minds about Mithun.

He was toying with the idea of casting Raj Kiran in Taqdeer Ka Badshah.

I insisted on Mithun, pointing out that there was something distinctly different about him that set him apart while Raj Kiran was the typical chocolate hero.

I was impressed by his looks, style and the way he spoke.

Eventually, Ram Dayal was convinced and Mithun went on to do the film.

'I told Mithun I'd make him an overnight star with Disco Dancer'

IMAGE: Mithun Chakraborty with B Subhash.

We bonded from day one.

We started while the title track was shot at Poonam Hotel in Worli (south central Mumbai).

I was wowed by his dance moves.

I also liked the fact that he was always punctual and respectful towards the senior actors, Pransaab and Amjad Khan.

One day, when we were shooting at Sood Bungalow in Versova (north west Mumbai), my assistant who had gone to tell him the shot was ready, returned to inform me that Mithun wasn't feeling well.

Concerned, I went to his make-up room and found him upset and depressed.

In response to my gentle prodding, he confided that despite working so hard, he hadn't reached where he wanted and was feeling demoralised.

To cheer him up I told him I'd make him an overnight star with Disco Dancer, a subject which had been playing on my mind for a while.

Instantly, his eyes lit up and he started plying me with questions.

That afternoon, my regular publicist Jagdish Aurangabadkar swung by.

On Mithun's urging, I asked him to put out that B Subhash was producing and directing a film titled Disco Dancer with Mithun in the titular role and Bappi Lahiri as the music director.

The news made it to the front page of Screen weekly magazine.

Distributors started chasing me for the film's rights and generous cheques.

It was time to get serious.

'Mithun loaned me money for the climax shoot'

IMAGE: Mithun Chakraborty in Disco Dancer.

Disco Dancer was my first film as a producer.

By the grace of God, the shoot went off smoothly.

Encouraged, since there wasn't an auditorium big enough for my vision, I decided to shoot the climax on a lavish set erected at Filmistan Studio.

I filled it up with hundreds of screaming and cheering junior artistes.

It was a 10 am to 10 pm schedule, and every evening, I would be parked near the studio gate where the telephone was installed, arranging money for the daily payouts.

Mithun noticed this en route to his make-up room and one evening, called me to his make-up room.

He handed me a bundle of Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000 notes, saying it would help me pay for the next day's shoot.

When I protested, telling him the arrangements had been made and I would just have to pick up the money after 'Pack-up', he pointed out that it was already late and a detour would make my day longer.

'You've been functioning like a one-man army, managing everything on your own. Let me help you this one time,' he urged.

Would you believe, I had to pay Mithun his installment during that schedule, and instead of asking for it, here he was giving me money!

Of course, I returned the loan, but I will never forget the heartwarming gesture.

'Smita shot for Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki with a fractured foot'

IMAGE: Smita Patil and Mithun Chakraborty in Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki.

Disco Dancer opened on December 10, 1982, and was a blockbuster.

Immediately after its release, Pahlaj Nihalani signed Mithun and me for Aandhi Toofan, a lavishly-mounted revenge drama, also starring Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha, Shashi Kapoor, Danny Denzongpa, Meenakshi Seshadri and Raj Kiran.

I also announced a second production with him, another revenge drama, Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, which rolled a day after Disco Dancer released.

Mithun would marvel at how casually I was taking my success, pointing out that another director would have been sitting in his chair, bragging, after such a huge hit, but I was on my toes, doing my work.

Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki had two leading ladies, Smita Patil and Salma Agha, opposite Mithun, who was playing a double role of father and son.

Just before the climax shoot, Smita fractured her leg and when I went to meet her at her residence, I found it plastered up.

As I was leaving, Smita asked, 'Aapka bahut nuksaan hoga na (You will face a lot of losses) if you cancel this schedule?'

I told her I wasn't worried about money, but with busy actors like Mithun, Amrish Puri and her, I wasn't sure when I would get combination dates again.

The next morning, she got the doctor to cut the cast and flew out to Mysore.

Overwhelmed, I had a doctor drive down every couple of days from Bangalore to check on her.

I had arranged for a duplicate to stand in for her in the scene where Amrish Puri slaps her and she falls, but she insisted the girl wasn't getting the emotions right and shot it herself despite a fractured foot.

When she was leaving to catch the flight back, I told Smita that being I was a self-made man, I had no obligations to anyone, but after what she had done, I would be eternally indebted to her.

She smiled and said there was one way I could repay the debt, by casting her in a glamorous role, giving her songs and dances.

She was tired of doing dark, deglam roles.

Having seen the chemistry between Mithun and her, I decided to repeat them in Dance Dance, giving Smita what she wanted.

'Their drunken scene is one of the finest performances I've seen'

IMAGE: Mithun Chakraborty and Smita Patil in Dance Dance.

Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki exploded in the theatres on November 23, 1984, Aandhi Toofan arrived four months later, on March 22, and both were huge hits.

By then, Mithun had become a very busy star and while he gave the nod to my Dance Dance, he requested that I start the film after seven-eight months.

By then, he pointed out, he would have wrapped up his other commitments and could give me all the dates I wanted.

While waiting for him, I quickly made and released Adventures of Tarzan with Hemant Birje and Kimi Katkar in December 1985. It was another superhit.

When we finally started Dance Dance, watching Smita and Mithun, I would tell myself I was fortunate to be working with such phenomenal talents.

Mithun had won a National Award for Mrigaya. Smita had two National Awards, for Bhumika and Chakra.

There was one scene in my film, where learning that her brother had taken to drinking heavily and was neglecting his career because she was unhappy in her personal life, she goes to meet him.

His delight turns to shock when he realises that she is drunk.

He berates her and she reasons that if he can drink because she is depressed, so can she.

Chastised, he smashes the bottle and promises never to touch a drop of alcohol again.

She shares that she is pregnant and is hoping her husband, played by Shakti Kapoor, will transform.

It was a long, intense and difficult scene, but they did it in one take and it is one of the finest performances I have ever seen.

'The blast on the Commando set made Mithun's ears ring'

IMAGE: Mandakini and Mithun Chakraborty in Commando.

After Dance Dance, which opened on May 15, 1987, Mithun and I moved to an action film.

I was inspired by Clint Eastwood's 1968 film Where Eagles Dare, one of my all-time favourites.

It revolved around two assassination bids, both foiled, but one taking the life of a cop.

Commando had a lot of action scenes, but Amrish Puri, Danny Denzongpa, Shakti Kapoor, Mithun, Hemant Birje and I had a blast shooting them.

Only once did I see Mithun upset, when a blast triggered on the set left his ears ringing.

He berated the action director for not warning him in advance.

'Bappiji, Mithun and I were a package deal'

IMAGE: Dimple Kapadia and Mithun Chakraborty in Pyar Ke Naam Qurban.

I believe the reason for Mithun's long-lasting success is that he is a full package -- he can sing, dance, emote and do action with ease as befits a great actor.

So, after Commando in '88, I started a romantic action film with him, Pyar Ke Naam Qurban, also starring Dimple Kapadia and Mandakini.

We flagged off 1990 with this hit.

By then, Bappiji, Mithun and I were a package deal, delivering hit after hit, and Mithun had blind faith in me.

When he went on shows abroad, the organisers would take me along.

Once, when we were in London, I ran into four-five young boys in the washroom, who instantly recognised me, shouting excitedly, 'Woh dekh, Mithun ka guru'!'

'Mithun played a character with dark shades who preaches against sex'

IMAGE: Mithun Chakraborty in Classic: Dance of Love.

After that, Mithun shifted to Ooty and I got busy with Divine Lovers starring Grease 2 actor Maxwell Caulfield.

We reunited only 15 years later for Classic: Dance of Love.

Mithun played a character with dark shades who preaches against sex, but then is ruled by lust.

It was an interesting film, but the audience wanted youthful energy, song and dance from Mithun and me.

My distributors told me that the disappointed audience was saying, 'Classic: Dance of Love wasn't a B Subhash film, bas unka naam daal diya hai in the credits.'

That day, I promised myself that I would now only approach Mithun when I had a subject that would bring back the old magic.

A few years ago, I was working on a film titled Wadiyan set against the backdrop of terrorism, which might have brought us together.

But then I dropped the project, and the search continues.

'Mithun is still Jimmy to millions of his fans across the world'

IMAGE: B Subhash.

Mithun has evolved as an actor, proving his phenomenal versatility with films like Tashkent Films and the recent Kashmir Files, picking up two more National Awards for Tahader Katha and Swami Vivekananda.

But he's still remembered for Disco Dancer.

I was in China around five years ago and when they learnt I was the maker of this iconic film, they started singing Jimmy Jimmy, Aaja Aaja.

I know there must be times when Disco Dancer's amazing popularity must make even Mithun wonder, but that's the way it is.

It is his link with successive generations of film-goers.

I was told by one that he learnt to dance by watching Mithun.

He is still Jimmy to millions of his fans across the world and while I don't have a role like Disco Dancer to gift him yet, I wish him health, happiness and wealth on his birthday today.

I pray that he will continue to dash from one studio to the next with the same energy and enthusiasm.

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ROSHMILA BHATTACHARYA