Utpal Dutt 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. He founded the Little Theater Group in 1947 which enacted many English, Shakespearean and Brecht plays, in a period now known as the Epic theater period. His plays became apt vehicle of the expression for his Marxist ideologies, visible in socio-political plays like, Kallol (1965), Manusher Adhikar, Louha Manob (1964), Tiner Toloar and Maha-Bidroha. He also acted over 100 Bengali and Hindi films in his career spanning 40 years, and remains most known for his roles in films like Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome (1969), Satyajit Ray’s Agantuk (1991), Gautam Ghose’s Padma Nadir Majhi (1993) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee's breezy comedies such as Gol Maal (1980) and Rang Birangi (1983).
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.
Utpal Dutt was born on March 29, 1929 in Hindu kayastha faimily in Barisal. He studied initially at St. Edmunds School, and later completed his Matriculation in 1945 from St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Kolkata. In 1949, he graduated with English Literature Honours from the St. Xavier's College, Calcutta, University of Calcutta.
He was also a founding member of Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), an organization 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 Theater movement. He also remained a teacher of English at the South Point School in Kolkata.
Starting 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 still remembered as one last pioneering actor-managers of Indian theatre. He also formed groups like Arjo Opera and Bibek Yatra Samaj.
Meanwhile, his transition to films happened when while they were performing role of Othello, which famous filmmaker Madhu Bose happened to watch and gave him the lead in his film, Michael Madhusudan (1950), based on the life of the Indo-Anglian poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Later, he himself, wrote a play on the fragmented colonial psyche and 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.
Dutt was also an extremely famous comic actor in Hindi cinema, though he acted only in a handful of Hindi cinemas. He acted in the comedy movies, 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. In Bengali cinema, he appeared in Bhuvan Shome for which he was awarded the National Film Award for Best Actor. He is the greatest dramatist in progressive Bengali theatre of 20th century.
Dutt was also a lifelong Marxist and an active supporter of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and his leftist "Revolutionary Theater" was a phenomenon in the contemporary Bengali theater. 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 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 documentary drama was 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, 'People's Little Theatre' as it took on yet another new direction, his work came closer to people, and this phase played an important role in popularizing 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 symbolized his commitment to communist ideology and today form his lasting legacy.
Through the 1970s three of his plays, Barricade, Dusswapner Nagari (City of Nightmares), Ebaar Rajar Pala (Enter the King), drew crowds despite being officially banned. He wrote Louha Manab (Iron Man), 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.
He also directed a number of films like, 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 died in Calcutta, West Bengal on 19 August 1993.