Hiran Mitra is among the most revered and acclaimed contemporary artistes in India, based in Kolkata. He enrolled to study Fine Art in the Government College of Art & Craft, Kolkata at the age of 14. His paintings are distinctly marked due to their energy and abstract gestures and choreography of the human body, layered washes and sprays and unconventional use of acrylic and industrial paints. He is deeply indebted to his childhood experience of observing folk dance, especially Chhau, which had left indelible marks on his brush strokes. He is also respected for his immense contributions in various other visual forms such as cinema and theatre. His association with theatre began in the 1960s and over the years had turned out to be one of the most influential designers of sets in Bangla Theatre with Teesta Paarer Brittanto considered as a benchmark. He had also worked as an art director in films like Nagmoti (Gautam Chaterjee, 1982) and films by Suman Mukhopadhyay including Herbert (2005), Chaturanga (2008) and Mahanagar@Kolkata (2010) among others. He is associated with Open Window Artist group and has been a part of the Painters 80 Artist group in Kolkata.
Hiran Mitra seems to have strong reservations about the practice and learning of fine arts in India. The entire system is stagnant, outdated and staggering under a colonial hangover, besides degenerating under nepotism and bribery. Talking about his initial training as an artiste, he reflects upon his experience at the Chhau workshops and the practice of documenting the series of moves. It shaped his philosophy where his work doesn’t control the subject but the other way around. This practice of engaging with the continuously changing moments in performing arts, gave his form both an abstraction as well as an access to those tacit realities of ‘in between’ moments. This practice also added a different dimension to his engagement with stage, which resulted in a pioneering stage design in Teesta Paarer Brittanto.
The conversation on stage work recalls Hiran Mitra’s association with Raghunath Goswami and his impact on the three-dimensional aspect. He further discusses in detail about his unique approach to stage design, which begins even before the rehearsals, during the reading of the parts of a play. He keenly observes the detailed transformation that takes place as a play is read, adapted, rehearsed and performed. He documents these transformations in a scrupulous fashion. Only then he is ready to work on his stage design. As he points out, a stage should be a living breathing entity which is born and which also dies. It should never be turned into a spectacular piece of architecture or a museum piece meant to dazzle the audience.
Discussions on stage design cannot be complete without lights. Hiran Mitra considers stage as an interactive space for multiple elements, which work together, light and stage design being chief among them. Personally, he thinks of light in terms of shadows, which actually provide the three dimensionalities to the stage design. Another important factor in this regard in the color palette since it is both dynamic as well as psychological. However, all these are pertaining mainly to proscenium theatre. As for street or ground theatre, the entire approach is different. The important thing to be kept in mind is that it is a separate and distinct form and not something that is lacking or deficient compared to the proscenium form. He cites the example of the legendary Badal Sarkar and how his plays succeeded in creating a space just out of words!