National Film Award winning veteran actor Prabir Mitra, once a regular presence in Bangladeshi films, has proven his excellence by poignantly portraying characters, which often appealed to the conscience of the cinemagoers in the decades of the 1970s and 80s. Karoby Shihab of New Age met with the actor who recounted his journey to stardom.
Prabir Mitra was born at his maternal uncle’s home located in Chandpur on August 18, 1941 to the couple Gopendra Nayaran Mitra and Omiabala Mitra.
He is the eldest among four.
Right after his birth, Prabir Mitra fell sick — he came down with chickenpox. His mother had to struggle a lot to cure him and travelled far desperately seeking a cure for the disease. Later, she, along with her infant son, returned to Mitra Bhaban, the ancestral home of Prabir Mitra, which is located at Kotwali Road, Dhaka.
‘Though we used to live in the main city, my original home is in Shakta, Keraniganj. We used to visit our Shakta home during the durga puja and other festivals,’ the actor informed.
Prabir Mitra’s father Gopendra Nayaran Mitra was a businessman, his grandfather Hari Prasanna Mitra was a businessman with considerable social clout. Mother Omiabala Mitra was a modest woman who used to look after the whole family and her four children.
Prabir Mitra has finished his school-level education from Pogose School Dhaka.
‘I was never a meritorious student. My family had to give a lot of effort to ensure my education. I was rather a sports person. I enjoyed different types of sports rather than reading academic books,’ said the veteran with a smile.
He was the captain of various sports teams. He was very good at playing cricket, football and badminton.
At one point in his life, Prabir Mitra got involved in stage play all of a sudden when he was a student of class seven or eight.
The school officials were looking for students with experience in acting as they were set out to arrange a stage drama based on the story ‘Dakghar’.
Prabir Mitra’s friends forced him to take part in the play. So, later he agreed and joined the rehearsal. He played the character of a warden in that very first stage drama. That was the beginning, according to Prabir Mitra.
Later, some school students formed a theatre troupe and started regular rehearsal at Northbrook Hall situated at Farashganj road in Old Dhaka. Northbrook Hall is also known as Lal Kuthi.
Young Prabir Mitra did not give up his sports life. Rather, he continued to pursue two disparate passions with equal zeal.
He later played at Dhaka’s first division cricket in the 60s. Simultaneously, he played at the first division hockey for the Fire Service team. He also played second division football for Kamal Sporting club.
After finishing school, he secured admission in Jagannath College, presently known as Jagannath University, to complete the intermediate level education. Later he obtained his degree from the same institute.
Since he did not pay much attention to academic learning, he had all the time to busy himself honing his acting skill.
After finishing his education from Jagannath College, Prabir Mitra enrolled in the Institute of Statistical Research and Training of Dhaka University.
Meanwhile, he had the luck to meet one of the key persons belonging to the film industry. During his theatre days, film director H Akbar used to guide him and they became very close.
‘Chaurangi, Beauty Boarding and Café Corner, were three places where we used to hang out with friends. Once H Akbar invited me to visit him where he was shooting a film,’ said Prabir Mitra harking back to his early youth.
The year was 1969. He went to the movie set where shooting was on at the request of H Akbar. Once he was there at the shooting of the film Jolchhobi, the director asked Prabir Mitra to play a role since an artiste was absent from the site that day.
Prabir Mitra agreed and he made his debut in the silver screen in the role of a doctor.
Farooq, Kabori Sarwar, Anwer Hossain and others acted in the film. The screenplay and the story were written by another talented veteran actor, ATM Shamsuzzaman.
ATM Shamsuzzaman and Prabir Mitra were friends since their schooldays. However, the film was released on March 22, 1971. Three days later the Pakistan junta had carried out operation searchlight, the traumatic beginning of the atrocity aimed at cleansing the nation of its patriots.
Since March 25, Prabir Mitra’s family left for Kolkata, India. The actor took shelter at his home in Keraniganj. Later he also had to move to India to save his life and stayed there for the next two years.
At that time, an overriding sense of uncertainty gripped the actor.
‘We were faced with very hard days in India. I was so worried about my future. Later in 1973, I came back to Bangladesh,’ said Prabir Mitra.
After coming back, he found wreckages only. Everything was destroyed during the liberation war. He had to start from scratch.
Prabir Mitra re-launched his acting career at this point of history. In the film ‘Jibon Trishna’ he played the role of a blind brother of actress Suchanda.
Khondokar Nurul Alam was the music composer of the film. Suchanda and Prabir Mitra lip-synced a song titled ‘E adhar kokhono jabena je,’ which was rendered by Nilufar Yasmin and Mohammad Abdul Jobbar. The song was a super hit at that time.
Gradually, Prabir Mitra’s natural acting ability won him many fans and he started playing lead roles. In few films, including Titas Ekti Nodir Naam, Chabuk and others, he came off as an excellent actor.
Titas Ekti Nadir Naam, directed by the legendary Ritwik Ghatak, was based on a novel of the same name. It was released in 1973.
Interestingly, there was a story behind how he got involved in the film. Sarkar Kabiruddin was first selected to act in the film. But, for some reason he could not do the film. Later the team of the film started looking for an actor who would play the role and actor Farid Ali suggested Prabir Mitra’s name as he thought he would be suitable for the character.
Ritwik Ghatak took a screen test in his own idiosyncratic way and selected him for the film.
‘Working under the supervision of Ritwik Ghatak was a great experience. I have learnt a lot while working in Titas Ekti Nadir Naam,’ said Prabir Mitra.
He often used to appear in movies as a supporting actor. He became very popular among the film enthusiasts portraying an honest, struggling brother, a kind-hearted friend, etc. People started to praise him for his acting skill and accepted him in real life as if he was the virtuous men he so passionately portrayed in films.
He has acted in almost 300 films.
I always tried to depict the character in the most perfect manner. It doesn’t matter which role I played, I tried to make sure to give my best effort. If I was to play a cart puller, I used to study the posture and the dresses of a real-life cart puller to ensure that portrayal was realistic,’ said the legendary actor.
He has acted in hit commercial films like Mayer Dabi, Dulari, Boro Bhalo Lok Chhilo, Biyer Phul, Akash Chowa Bhalobasha, Madhumita, Dohon, Bhalobashlei Ghor Badha Jay Na, Princess Tina Khan, Sweet Heart, Talak, Maan Shomman, Rani Keno Dakat and Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula and more.
Prabir Mitra’s personal life had been untrammelled by unpleasant events. It revolved around the strong bond he developed with his wife.
He got married to Selina right after coming back to Bangladesh following the liberation war. She was a Muslim girl, and Prabir Mitra is a believer of Hinduism. Their love could not be defeated by religious differences.
Prabir Mitra’s wife later took the name ‘Ajanta Mitra’, but she never converted.
The couple gave birth to one daughter and three sons, namely Ripa Mitra, Mithun Mitra, Nipun Mitra and Akash Mitra.
The children grew up as Muslims like their mother. The family celebrates festivals of both religions.
Prabir Mirta used to be very busy as he took acting as his profession. He could not spend much time with his family. Ajanta Mitra, his wife, used to keep complaining.
‘I feel so lonely after my wife passed away. She was my lifeline and at the home her absence is most obvious. It has been years without her,’ said Prabir Mitra with his eyes tearing up.
‘My eldest son, Akash Mitra also passed away in 2012. He was very close to me. The incident gives me a lot of pain,’ he added again with an emotion-chocked voice.
The veteran actor would soon be 80 years old. He is affected with various diseases like arthritis, osteoporosis and few others. He walks with the support of a walking stick.
Once he used to visit Bangladesh Film Development Corporation in Tejgaon. He enjoyed spending time with his co-artistes. But nowadays he has to pass his time being confined to his home in Shegun Bagicha, Dhaka.
‘I don’t have any contact with any of my co-artistes. This hurts me a lot. Actor Kayes called me few years back and said that he misses me. I wished to meet him but I failed,’ said Prabir Mitra.
‘I won’t meet him ever again. He has already passed away. I can still recall the last conversation we had over phone. His voice still haunts me,’ the actor added.
What does he do to spend his time?
‘Time flies by. I don’t have much to do as I am sick and there is difficulties in movement. I watch television sometimes, sometimes I read the paper.’
The veteran actor has become a grandfather. His grandchildren often keep him busy.
At this age, Prabir Mitra still harbours a desire to be back in the film industry if he is able to fight the sickness.
His last film ‘Sweetheart’ was released in 2016. After that, he could not work anymore. He mentioned about another film titled ‘Briddhyassram’, the film was stopped midway.
People say that the 60s’ to 90s’ was the golden era of Bangladeshi film industry. Many talented writers, directors, music composers and actors dedicated their whole lives to it. Those who associated themselves with the industry enjoyed the pleasure of creation. They did not think much about the honorarium they used to get. Over the years, the film industry passed through a sea change, which certainly makes Prabir Mitra sad.
What does the veteran actor think about the present film industry?
‘As I don’t have connection with the people of the industry anymore, I don’t know the real story. But I think the industry is being affected by lack of devotion. People don’t love their profession anymore. Most of the artistes are running after money,’ he replied with a hint of sorrow.
He thinks people don’t prefer to go to cinema halls because they don’t find the desired story on the screen.
‘During our times, writers used to take a lot of time to write the scripts. I think screenplay and story are the souls of a film. But, nowadays nobody likes to spend much time on a particular work as they believe in multitasking. This tendency is not acceptable. But nobody cares,’ Prabir Mitra gave his opinion in the light of the past.
He also mentioned how junior artistes used to respect the seniors in his times.
‘Young actors and actress used to be very cautious while acting in a sequence with me. They tried to give their best. I got huge respect from them,’ he remembered.
Artistes of his times used to appreciate his acting skill. Apart from respect that he used to command, they used to love him as well. Most of the young artistes used to be very keen to share screen with the powerful actor.
The legendary actor Prabir Mitra has won Bangladesh National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film Boro Bhalo Lok Chhilo in 1982. Along with this, he was honoured with many other awards, displayed at the showcase placed in the corner of his living room at his home.
Prabir Mitra often faces a lot of questions from his fans and well-wishers about his comeback. People miss him on screen.
At the end of the interview, the actor thanked his fans for supporting and giving unconditional love throughout his life and he asked them to pray for him so that he can recover and come back in the arena he once reigned over, once again.
Photos by Sony Ramany
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