Utpal Dutt

Last updated

Utpal Dutt
Utpal Dutt 2.jpg
Dutt on a 2013 stamp of India
Born(1929-03-29)29 March 1929
Died19 August 1993(1993-08-19) (aged 64)
Other namesUtpal Dutta
OccupationActor, director, playwright
Years active1947–1993
(m. 19601993)
ChildrenBishnupriya Dutta
Awards Full list

Utpal Dutt ( Loudspeaker.svg listen  ) (29 March 1929 – 19 August 1993) was an Indian actor, director, and writer-playwright. He was primarily an actor in Bengali theatre, where he became a pioneering figure in Modern Indian theatre, when he founded the "Little Theatre Group" in 1949. This group enacted many English, Shakespearean and Brecht plays, in a period now known as the "Epic theatre" period, before it immersed itself completely in highly political and radical theatre. His plays became an apt vehicle for the expression of his Marxist ideologies, visible in socio-political plays such as Kallol (1965), Manusher Adhikar, Louha Manob (1964), Tiner Toloar and Maha-Bidroha. He also acted in over 100 Bengali and Hindi films in a career spanning 40 years, and remains most known for his roles in films such as Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome (1969), Satyajit Ray’s Agantuk (1991), Gautam Ghose’s Padma Nadir Majhi (1993) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee's breezy Hindi comedies such as Gol Maal (1979) and Rang Birangi (1983). [1] [2] [3] [4] He also did the role of a sculptor, Sir Digindra Narayan, in the episode Seemant Heera of Byomkesh Bakshi (TV series) on Doordarshan in 1993, shortly before his death.


He received National Film Award for Best Actor in 1970 and three Filmfare Best Comedian Awards. In 1990, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance and Theatre, awarded him its highest award, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship for lifetime contribution to theatre.

Early life and education

Utpal Dutt was born on 29 March 1929 in Barisal. His father was Girijaranjan Dutta. He graduated with English Literature Honours from St. Xavier's College, Calcutta, University of Calcutta. [5]


Though he was active primarily in Bengali theatre, he started his career in English theatre. As a teenager in the 1940s, he developed his passion and craft in English theatre, which resulted in the establishment of "The Shakespeareans" in 1947. Its first performance was a powerful production of Shakespeare's Richard III, with Dutt playing the king. This so impressed Geoffrey Kendal and Laura Kendal (parents of the actress Jennifer Kendal), who led the itinerant "Shakespeareana Theatre Company", that they immediately hired him, and he did two year-long tours with them across India and Pakistan, enacting Shakespeare's plays, first 1947–49 and later 1953–54; and was acclaimed for his passionate portrayal of Othello. After the Kendals left India for the first time in 1949, Utpal Dutt renamed his group the "Little Theatre Group" (LTG), and over the next three years, continued to perform and produce plays by Ibsen, Shaw, Tagore, Gorky and Konstantin Simonov. The group later decided to stage exclusively Bengali plays and to eventually evolve into a production company that would produce several Bengali movies. He also remained an active member of Gananatya Sangha , which performed through rural areas of West Bengal. [6]

He was also a founding member of Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), an organisation known for its leftist leaning, but left it after a couple of years, when he started his theatre group. He wrote and directed what he called "Epic Theatre", a term he borrowed from Bertolt Brecht, to bring about discussion and change in Bengal. His Brecht Society, formed in 1948, was presided by Satyajit Ray. He became one of the most influential personalities in the Group Theatre movement. While accepting Brecht's belief of the audience being "co-authors" of the theatre, he rejected orthodoxies of "Epic theatre" as being impractical in India. [7] He also remained a teacher of English at the South Point School in Kolkata.

Soon he would turn to his native Bengali, producing translations of several Shakespearean tragedies and the works of Russian classicists into Bengali. Starting in 1954, he wrote and directed controversial Bengali political plays, and also Maxim Gorky's Lower Depths in Bengali in 1957. In 1959, the LTG secured the lease of Minerva Theatre, Kolkata, where most notably Angar (Coal) (1959), based on the exploitation of coal-miners was showcased. For the next decade the group staged several plays here, with him as an impresario, and he still is remembered as one of the last pioneering actor-managers of Indian theatre. He also formed groups like Arjo Opera and Bibek Yatra Samaj. [5]

Meanwhile, his transition to films happened while performing the role of Othello, when famous filmmaker Madhu Bose happened to be watching, and gave him the lead in his film Michael Madhusudan (1950), based on the life of the revolutionary Indian poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Later, he himself wrote a play on the fragmented colonial psyche of Michael Madhusudan Dutt, and the ambivalence of swaying between "colonial" admiration and "anti-colonial" revolt. He went on to act in many Bengali films, including many films by Satyajit Ray. [2]

Dutt was also an extremely famous comic actor in Hindi cinema, though he acted in only a handful of Hindi films. He acted in comedy movies, the most notable ones being Guddi , Gol Maal , Naram Garam , Rang Birangi and Shaukeen . He received Filmfare Best Comedian Award for Golmaal, Naram Garam and Rang Birangi. He appeared in Bhuvan Shome , (for which he was awarded the National Film Award for Best Actor), Ek Adhuri Kahani and Chorus, all by Mrinal Sen; Agantuk , Jana Aranya , Joi Baba Felunath and Hirak Rajar Deshe , by Satyajit Ray; Paar and Padma Nadir Majhi , by Gautam Ghose; Bombay Talkie , The Guru , and Shakespeare Wallah , by James Ivory; Jukti Takko Aar Gappo , by Ritwik Ghatak; Guddi , Gol Maal and Kotwal Saab by Hrishikesh Mukherjee; Shaukeen , Priyatama and Hamari Bahu Alka directed by Basu Chatterjee and Amanush , Anand Ashram and Barsaat Ki Ek Raat by Shakti Samanta.

Utpal Dutt also played the main villain characters in some of the major successful Amitabh Bachchan starrers such as The Great Gambler, Inquilaab (film) and the bilingual Hindi/Bangla movie Barsaat Ki Ek Raat. In fact, Utpal Dutt was the Hero (main lead) in Amitabh Bachchan's maiden venture Saat Hindustani.

He balanced successful parallel careers as an extremely serious theatre playwright and director in Bengal alongside doing hilariously comic roles in Hindi cinema. He is the greatest dramatist in progressive Bengali theatre of the 20th century.

"Revolutionary theatre is essentially people's theatre, which means it must be played before the masses,.."

Utpal Dutt [7]

Dutt was also a lifelong Marxist and an active supporter of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), [8] and his leftist "Revolutionary Theatre" was a phenomenon in the contemporary Bengali theatre. He staged many street dramas in favour of the Communist Party. He was jailed by the Congress government in West Bengal in 1965 and detained for several months, as the then state government feared that the subversive message of his play Kallol (Sound of the Waves), (based on the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946, which ran packed shows at Calcutta's Minerva Theatre), might provoke anti-government protests in West Bengal. The play turned out to be his longest-running play at the Minerva. Manusher Adhikare (Of People's Rights) in 1968, staged as a documentary drama, was a new genre in Bengali theatre before, though it turned out to be his last production of the group at the Minerva, as they soon left the theatre. Thereafter, the group was given the name the "People's Little Theatre"; as it took on yet another new direction, his work came closer to the people, and this phase played an important role in popularising Indian street theatre, as he started performing at street-corners or "poster" plays, in open spaces, without any aid or embellishment, before enormous crowds. The year also marked his transition into Jatra or Yatra Pala, a Bengali folk drama form, performed largely across rural West Bengal. He started writing Jatra scripts, produced and acted in them, even formed his own Jatra troupe. His jatra political dramas were often produced on open-air stages and symbolised his commitment to communist ideology, and today form his lasting legacy. [9]

Through the 1970s three of his plays; Barricade, Dusswapner Nagari (City of Nightmares) and Ebaar Rajar Pala (Now it is the King's turn), drew crowds despite being officially banned. [1] [5] [10] [11]

He wrote Louha Manab (The Iron Man), in 1964 while still in jail, based on a real trial against a pro-Stalin, ex-Politburo member by supporters of Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow of 1963. It was first staged at Alipore Jail in 1965, by the People’s Little Theatre. His stay in jail unleashed a new period of rebellious and politically charged plays, including Tiner Toloar (The Tin Sword), partially based on Pygmalion , Dushapner Nagari (Nightmare City), Manusher Odhikare (Rights Of Man), based on the Scottsboro Boys case, protests against the racial discrimination and injustice of the Scottsborough trial of 1931, Surya-Shikar (Hunting the Sun) (1978), Maha-Bidroha (The Great Rebellion) (1989), and Laal Durgo (Red Fort) (1990) about the demise of Communism, set in a fictitious East European country, and Janatar Aphim (Opiate of the People), (1990) lamented on Indian political parties exploiting religion for gain. [4] In all, he wrote twenty-two full-length plays, fifteen poster plays, nineteen Jatra scripts, acted in thousands of shows, and directed more than sixty productions, apart from writing serious studies of Shakespeare, Girish Ghosh, Stanislavsky, Brecht, and revolutionary theatre, and translating Shakespeare and Brecht.

He also directed a number of films such as Megh (1961), a psychological thriller, Ghoom Bhangar Gaan (1965), Jhar (Storm) (1979), based on the Young Bengal movement, Baisakhi Megh (1981), Maa (1983) and Inquilab Ke Baad (1984).


Dutt in 2013 stamp of India. Utpal Dutt 2013 stamp of India.jpg
Dutt in 2013 stamp of India.

Forty years after the staging of the classic play Kallol which entails the story of the mutiny of Indian sailors against the British on the Arabian Sea, for which he was even imprisoned, was revived in 2005, as Gangabokshe Kallol, part of the state-funded "Utpal Dutt Natyotsav" (Utpal Dutt Theatre Festival), on an off-shore stage, by the Hooghly River in Kolkata. [12]

The Last Lear , the 2007 English film based on his play Aajker Shahjahan, on an eccentric Shakespearean actor, and directed for the screen by Rituparno Ghosh, later won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in English.

Personal life

In 1960, Dutt married theatre and film actress Shobha Sen. Their only daughter, Bishnupriya Dutt is a professor of 'Theatre & Performance studies' at the 'School of Arts & Aesthetics' at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. [13]


On 19 August 1993, [5] Dutt died due to a heart attack right after he returned home from the S.S.K.M hospital, Calcutta, West Bengal where he had undergone dialysis. [14]

Awards and recognition


This is an incomplete filmography of Utpal Dutt.



Further reading

Related Research Articles

The Filmfare Best Comedian Award was given by Filmfare as part of its annual Filmfare Awards for Hindi films, to recognise an actor who had delivered an outstanding performance in a comic role.

Mrinal Sen Indian film director

Mrinal Sen was an Indian film director and a nominated Member of the Indian parliament. Sen directed films primarily in Bengali and Hindi. Along with his contemporaries Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha and Satyajit Ray he pioneered the New Wave cinema in India. He has received multiple awards, including 18 National Film Awards. The Government of India has awarded him the Padma Bhushan, and the Government of France has awarded him the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, while Russian Government awarded him Order of Friendship. Sen was also awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. He was the only Indian filmmaker along with Satyajit Ray whose films have been awarded at the big three film festivals namely the Cannes film festival, Venice Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival. Sen was a self described "private Marxist".

Amol Palekar

Amol Palekar is an Indian actor, director and producer of Hindi and Marathi cinema.

<i>Gol Maal</i>

Gol Maal or Hanky Panky is a 1979 Indian Hindi-language comedy film directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and written by Rahi Masoom Raza and Sachin Bhowmick. It was produced by Mukherjee and N. C. Sippy, with music by R. D. Burman. The film won several awards and was praised by critics. It was the highest grossing Hindi film of 1979 and was a super hit.

Anjan Dutt

Anjan Dutt is an Indian film director, actor, and singer-songwriter known for his work in the Bengali alternative music genre anyodharar gaan. As an actor, Dutt began his career in Bengali cinema in the Mrinal Sen film Chalachitro, for which he won the best newcomer actor award at the Venice Film Festival. He acted in Aparna Sen's hit film, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. In 2018 he featured in Swapnasandhani's new play Taraye Taraye, as Vincent Van Gogh, under the direction of Kaushik Sen.

Robi Ghosh was an Indian actor known for his work in Bengali cinema. He is known for his comic appeal, though his versatile acting talent brought him success in various kinds of roles. He is probably one of the earliest character actors of Bengali cinema who focused mainly on method acting. Therefore, he was a regular member of Satyajit Ray films over the years. Till date, he is remembered for his comic roles in different movies. Robi Ghosh was a renowned actor in Bengali theatre and TV as well. He also played a character, Badridas, in the episode Amrit ki Maut in Byomkesh Bakshi, broadcast by Doordarshan.

Jatra (theatre)

Jatra is a popular folk-theatre form of Odia theatre, Bengali theatre, spread throughout most of Odia, Bengali speaking areas of the Indian subcontinent, including Bangladesh and Indian states of Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Tripura As of 2005, there were some 55 troupes based in Calcutta's old Jatra district, Chitpur Road, and all together, jatra is a $21m-a-year industry, performed on nearly 4,000 stages in West Bengal alone, where in 2001, over 300 companies employed over 20,000 people, more than the local film industry and urban theatre.

<i>Bhuvan Shome</i>

Bhuvan Shome is a 1969 Indian Hindi-language drama film directed by Mrinal Sen. The cast includes Utpal Dutt and Suhasini Mulay. Sen based his film on a Bengali story by Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay. The film is considered a landmark in modern Indian cinema.

<i>Naram Garam</i> 1981 film by Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Naram Garam is a 1981 Bollywood film directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The film was produced by Subhash Gupta and Uday Narayan Singh and had music by R.D. Burman. It reprises many actors and actresses from the 1979 hit Gol Maal with the same names. It was also directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and starred Amol Palekar in the lead. Plot elements of this movie have been used in the 1985 Malayalam comedy Aram + Aram = Kinnaram.

Bengali theatre

Bengali theatre primarily refers to theatre performed in the Bengali language. Bengali theatre is produced mainly in West Bengal, and in Bangladesh. The term may also refer to some Hindi theatres which are accepted by the Bengali people.

<i>Amanush</i> 1975 film

Amanush is a 1975 Indian action drama film made in both Hindi and Bengali languages, produced and directed by Shakti Samanta. The film stars Sharmila Tagore, Uttam Kumar, Utpal Dutt and Asit Sen. Both the versions were hits.

Kaushik Sen is an Indian actor of film, television and theatre based in Kolkata. He is the director of the well-acclaimed theatre group Swapnasandhani. He has won the prestigious BFJA awards for best supporting actor for his performance in the Mrinal Sen directed film Aamar Bhuvan.

Samik Bandyopadhyay is a Kolkata-based critic of Indian art, theatre and film.

Bratya Basu Indian actor and Cabinet Minister of West Bengal

Bratyabrata Basu Roy Chowdhury also known as Bratya Basu is an Indian actor, stage director, playwright, film director, professor and a politician. Basu was West Bengal's minister for education till May 2014 and was then assigned the tourism portfolio. He was elected as an MLA, from the Dum Dum constituency in 2011 Assembly Election of West Bengal.

Shobha Sen

Shobha Sen was Bengali theatre and film actress.

Debshankar Haldar is a Bengali theatre actor with a long career in Bengali theatre groups such as Nandikar, Rangapat, Natyaranga, Sudrak, Gandhar, Bratyajon, Sansriti and Blank Verse. Known for his versatility, he played the role of Debabrata Biswas in ‘Bratyajon’'s production ‘Ruddha Sangeet’, Swami Vivekananda in Lokkrishti's Biley and the historical theatrical figure Sisir Kumar Bhaduri in Indraranga's Nisshanga Samrat. Debshankar has also worked in films.

<i>Ma Mati Manush</i> Bengali political slogan

Ma Mati Manush is a Bengali political slogan, coined by All India Trinamool Congress chief and current Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee. The term is translated as "Mother, Motherland, and People". It became very popular in West Bengal during the 2009 General election and 2011 state assembly election. The slogan was widely used by the political party in almost all of their political and election campaigns.

Ajitesh Bandopadhyay was an actor, playwright, activist and director. He along with Shambhu Mitra and Utpal Dutt are considered to be the doyens of Bengali theatre of the post - Independence era.

Shekhar Chatterjee (1924–1990) was an Indian actor and film director.

Satya Bandhyopadhyay

Satya Bandhyopadhyay was an Indian actor, known for his work in Bengali cinema. He acted in over 300 Plays, in numerous plays and performed frequently on the theatre.


  1. 1 2 Inside the actor’s mind Archived 8 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine Mint (newspaper), 3 July 2009.
  2. 1 2 Remembering Utpal Dutt [ permanent dead link ] Shoma A Chatterji, Screen (magazine), 20 August 2004.
  3. The Mirror of Class: Essays on Bengali Theatre by Himani Bannerji Archived 21 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine Frontline (magazine), Volume 18 – Issue 12, 9–22 Jun 2001.
  4. 1 2 Stage On & Off: Man in iron mask Archived 23 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine The Telegraph (Kolkata), 26 August 2006.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Obituary: Utpal Dutt Archived 22 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine The Independent , 21 August 1993.
  6. Utpal Dutt The Columbia encyclopedia of modern drama, Volume 1, by Gabrielle H. Cody, Evert Sprinchorn. Columbia University Press, 2007. ISBN   0231144229. Page 382-383.
  7. 1 2 Utpal Dutt Theatres of independence: drama, theory, and urban performance in India since 1947:Studies in theatre history and culture by Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker. University of Iowa Press, 2005. ISBN   0-87745-961-4. Page 114
  8. Saubhadro Chatterji (11 March 2009). "Poll-bound Bengal turns to artistes". Business Standard. Archived from the original on 16 March 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  9. Rehearsals of revolution: the political theater of Bengal, by Rustom Bharucha. University of Hawaii Press, 1984. ISBN   0-8248-0845-2. Page 55.
  10. Pro-Communist Drama Gets Crowds in Calcutta Archived 22 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine New York Times, 25 November 1965.
  11. Encyclopædia Britannica article on Utpal Dutt Archived 14 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine Britannica.com.
  12. Dutt's Kallol to ride the Hooghly Archived 23 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine The Telegraph (Kolkata), 5 November 2005.
  13. Dutt and his dimensions Archived 7 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine , The Hindu , 26 October 2007.
  14. "Google Groups". Archived from the original on 27 September 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2015.