As the dancing star turns 67, we take a look at how Babbar Subhash's musical drama made Mithun Chakraborty a favourite across Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Mithun Chakraborty, Disco Dancer who rocked the USSR – Birthday special
Mumbai - 16 Jun 2017 8:45 IST
Updated : 17 Jun 2017 0:51 IST
With each passing year, Indian cinema gets more exposure internationally. But a major chunk of the international audience still comprises the huge Indian expatriate population spread across the globe. Even today, locals in Europe, America or Australia are not quite as familiar with Indian stars and their films. However, Mithun Chakraborty is different.
Like Raj Kapoor before him, Mithun Chakraborty enjoyed great popularity in the erstwhile Soviet Union. While the communist state disintegrated more than 25 years ago, Chakraborty is still revered by people in its successor states like Russia, the Ukraine, and Georgia.
What makes Chakraborty's following in Eastern Europe and Central Asia special is that his popularity there coincided with his rise in Hindi cinema. Chakraborty had bagged a National award with his maiden film Mrigaya (1976), directed by Mrinal Sen. But he achieved stardom with B Subhash’s Disco Dancer (1982), a rags-to-riches story of a street dancer. The film became a rage for its disco music. Bappi Lahiri scored some songs the likes of which had never been heard in Hindi cinema. Lahiri's work struck a chord with many in the Soviet Union as well.
Disco Dancer is said to have drawn more than 60 million viewers in the Soviet Union. The film reportedly grossed Rs72.4 crore in India and the Soviet Union. As Indians, it is always fascinating to see Indian stars being revered by foreigners, particularly in regions where Indian cinema has had limited penetration.
Disco Dancer, though, wasn’t an exception as locals in the Soviet Union became Mithun Chakraborty fans for life. His films were screened across the belt with Russian subtitles. Today, there are dedicated fora for Mithun Chakraborty fans in Russia. His songs from Disco Dancer have been performed by local artistes on reality shows and at nightclubs. 'Jimmy Jimmy' is an all-time hit in this respect, but the Disco Dancer title track comes a close second. Take a look at a few such videos:
What is common in all these videos is that the moment the music begins to play, it sends the audience into a frenzy and even the judges cannot hide their delight. And this is not just in Russia but across the former Soviet Union, in countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as well.
Baimurat Allaberiyev, an ethnic Uzbek from Tajikistan, became an internet sensation by singing 'Goron Ki Na Kaalon Ki' and 'Jimmy Jimmy' in a warehouse. The 2008 video recorded on a mobile phone got over a million views on YouTube. Allaberiyev has since shifted to St Petersburg in Russia and is an entertainer there.
Then we came across a video where a young man and his little brothers are crooning 'Goron Ki Na Kaalon Ki'. One user described them as Uzbek brothers Kharamon and Dostonebk Ulomjon, though we could not verify this.
We spoke to a Georgian woman, Brola Gvari. She had uploaded a video of Mithun Chakraborty’s visit to Georgia in 2013. She regrets not having been able to meet her hero. She, too, saw Chakraborty for the first time in Disco Dancer. Though language was a barrier, Gvari took time out from work to speak about her admiration for the Indian star.
"The year was 1987. I was 17 then. I’m a full-blooded Georgian. I didn’t have any Indian friends, but this was said to be a very popular Indian film playing in our theatres then. After this film, my love for Mithun Chakraborty increased. He is the most talented and brilliant actor,” she said.
Asked whether there was any specific reason to like Chakraborty or the film, Gvari said, “I liked the whole movie, and his magnificent dancing. All the songs are very good. The composer Bappi Lahiri is also very talented.”
Gvari isn’t alone. Surf the internet and you would find many East Europeans and Russians who are Chakraborty fans. In fact, Gvari is part of a forum dedicated to Chakraborty. It’s in Russian but can be translated into English. Apart from pictures of the man, the members have shared various news interviews, trivia and other content. The language barrier, however, makes it difficult for an Indian to reach out to these fans.
Remarkably, Gvari has seen Chakraborty’s Bengali films, too. She said, "In Mithun I love his great talent and his good heart. You may not believe it, but I saw almost all movies with his participation. Some of his movies in Bengali were not translated into English/Russian, yet I have seen a few.”
We spoke to another East European fan of Chakraborty. For the Ukrainian Astra, however, it was not Disco Dancer but another Mithun-Babbar Subhash film that drew her to the actor.
“Probably 80% of Ukraine knows Mithun," said Astra. "I love Mithun since 2010. The first film I watched of Mithun was Pyar Ke Naam Qurban (1990). He looked beautiful!"
Russian Natasha is a die-hard Mithun Chakraborty fan and has watched many of his films. "Mithun Chakraborty is the best actor in the world," she wrote. "He is an amazing person and a handsome man. I love him since [I was] 12 years old when I watched Disco Dancer. I like his other films too, such as Sitara (1980), Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye (1983), Dance Dance (1987), Swarg Yahan Narak Yahan (1991), Dalaal (1993), Gudia (1996), Ek Nadir Galpo (2008), Veer (2010) and many more."
Natasha asked us to wish Chakraborty on his birthday. She wrote, "I wholeheartedly congratulate him on his birthday. His beautiful eyes and charming smile can never forgotten. Mithun forever in our hearts!"
It is hard to explain this admiration for Chakraborty from fans who hardly understand the languages he performed in. Then again, maybe it can't be described in words. Chakraborty's popularity only proves that language, colour or creed are immaterial. All that matters is the heart.
The actor turned 67 today (16 June). Age has slowed him down, but it is staggering to see that Chakraborty continues to enthral fans across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Here’s wishing the star a very happy birthday.