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Shaoli Mitra: Resounding theatre voice comes to a halt

Thespian Rudraprasad Sengupta is shattered. He is yet to come to terms that eminent theatre personality Shaoli Mitra passed away at 74. “After Swatilekha (Sengupta), Shaoli has left us too. Those who should not have gone are leaving us. Instead me, all of 86, continues to live. This is so painful,” the veteran theatre artiste said.

Shaoli, daughter of legendary theatre personalities Sombhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra, passed away on Sunday at her South Kolkata residence. She was suffering from heart disease. However, the theatre and culture fraternity of Kolkata and even Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee learnt about her death post her cremation.

On May 19, 1997, something similar happened when her father, the veteran Sombhu Mitra died. He wanted his funeral to be completed without letting anyone know. So, his daughter, Shaoli, cremated him at Siriti Mahasmashan, the same crematorium where she was taken on Sunday.  

In the heart of the cine lovers, Shaoli will forever remain as Bangala from Ritwik Ghatak’s Jukti Takko Aar Gappo. Those who had the opportunity to see her perform would never forget this gifted actor, director and playwright in her solo act as Draupadi in Nathabati-Anaathabat. Her portrayal of Amal in Dakghar will be remembered by theatre lovers for ages. She also stunned the audiences in Sitakatha and Bitata Bitangso.

It wasn’t easy to be born to legendary actors like Sombhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra. But Shaoli carved her own niche in theatre.

After spending years in Bahurupi, a popular theatre group founded by the star couple Sambhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra, where she had immortalised the character of Amal, Shaoli founded Pancham Baidik in 1983. Pancham Baidik established a trailblazer repertoire by introducing widely acclaimed plays on women’s emancipation.

Debshankar Haldar recalled Shaoli as a ‘definitive chapter’ in Bengali theatre. “We used to watch her in absolute awe when Shaolidi used to perform. We learnt so much about acting just by watching her perform on stage,” he said.

For Chaiti Ghoshal, her childhood has been lost forever with the death of Shaoli. “It was Shaoli Mitra who introduced me to the stage as the character of Amal in Dakghar. I was nearly 5-6 years old. During break, she used to feed me milk and chocolate. From improving my pronunciation, to draping a saree, I owe my childhood to Shaolidi,” said the actress.

Sudipta Chakraborty remembered how she had asked Shaoli to act in a film, which she had gently refused. The actress had met Shaoli, the recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2003 and Padma Shri in 2009, at her Behala residence last. “It’s an end of an era,” grieved Sudipta.  

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