When we talk about the greatest actors that Bengal has ever produced, one of the names that can’t be missed is that of Utpal Dutt. A stalwart with exemplary characters narrated on the screen and a luminary with immense contribution to modern theatre, actor Utpal Dutt has given performances that are considered as benchmarks for actors.
Actor Utpal Dutt, the Thinking Performer of Bengal
Dutt’s impact as an actor has been felt in movies, both in Tollywood and Bollywood. He has portrayed different kinds of character roles with finesse. The diabolical Maganlal Meghraj in Joy Baba Felunath and the tyrannical diamond king of Hirak Rajar Deshe reflect his unbelievable skills in front of the camera as the quirky Bhavani Shankar in Golmal, and the lovelorn oldie in Shaukeen do. Of course, Dutt showed his class portraying the lead roles in movies like Bhuban Shome, Padma Nodir Majhi, and Agontuk.
While the rest of India knows Utpal Dutt for his reel characters, Bengal knows the authority that actor Utpal Dutt had on the stage. He began his theatre life with the portrayal of Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s life on the stage. Over time, plays like Angar and Kallol became his most notable works on the stage. He also formed numerous theatre groups, starting from his days in the college. For his enormous contribution to the world of theatres, Sangeet Natak Akademi awarded him a lifetime fellowship.
But Utpal Dutt was more than an actor. He was a thinking performer.
There was a time when a Marxist rally would remain incomplete without Dutt’s street plays. Utpal Dutt strived to reach the masses with his work, and his theatres changed the minds of people to favour Marxism. And his Marxism was for the common man, and not just for the intelligentsia and the academicians. A huge follower of Joseph Stalin, Dutt’s plays often reflected the influence of the Soviet revolutionary. His work also captured the effects of colonialism in Bengal, and the exploitations of the common people.
He didn’t stop at modern theatre which has its roots in England. He went back to the historical performance arts of India, and revived Jatra, using the platform to promote his ideologies in rural Bengal. Dutt translated Shakespeare’s works for the Bengali stage, and even taught himself other languages, including Russian, to translate the classics in those languages into Bangla plays. Meanwhile, he never quit his profession as a teacher; he imparted education to young minds as an English teacher in South Kolkata’s celebrated South Point School.
As we celebrate the 90th birthday of actor Utpal Dutta, we can say that he has left behind a legacy. As a performing artiste, he thought about the equity for the exploited, about colonial hangover and revolt; and most importantly, he channelled his creativity to send a message across to the mass.