Mischievous tabloid writers sometimes play on the curious spelling and pronunciation of her name. But Bengali actress Parno Mittra, who is one of several characters in X Past is Present, has a fairly interesting body of work in her state’s arthouse cinema that has won her a band of loyalists who swear by their “Parno-di”.
Those who watched Srijit Mukherji’s period drama Rajkahini, featuring 11 women, will remember Mittra as Golaap. The movie is set in 1947 in a brothel through which runs the new border separating Bengal from East Pakistan. A sequence in which Mittra is brutalised by her client has unfortunately become one of the movie’s talking points.
The 26-year-old actress is the epitome of a well-groomed Bengali woman. Educated at an elite convent school in Kolkata, she graduated with honours in English Literature. She says she loves to travel (often solo) and is a regular talking head on matters both important (such as the lack of pay parity in the film industry) and flip (how to choose a bikini for her body type).
Mittra began her career in television around 2006, at a time when Bengali channels were churning out original content. She then graduated to modestly budgeted films that were tailor-made for film festivals.
Her career high came in 2011 with Ranjana Ami Aar Ashbona, helmed by musician, composer, actor and director Anjan Dutt. She plays an aspiring singer who finds herself in an ambiguous relationship with the alcoholic frontman of a popular rock band, played by Dutt. In one of the most striking sequences in the movie, a tottering Dutt, clad only in his underwear, unsuccessfully tries to seduce the young protégé after yet another drinking binge.
Mittra is the latest member of the Bengali adults only girl gang, which includes the likes of Paoli Dam, Sreelekha Mitra, Sohini Sarkar, Swastika and Rii. All of them have appeared in sensationalised roles that demand on-screen boldness, brazenness and even nudity. Four of Mittra’s 10 releases have been rated “A”.
Despite a stellar start to her career, Mittra is yet to crack the big-ticket code. Those who know her well attribute this to her choice of projects, which are mostly low-budget productions made by young filmmakers and featuring an ensemble cast.
Most of Mittra’s films have been directed by Mainak Bhaumik, the hot-shot young director of such titles as Bedroom, Maach Mishti and More and Ami Aar Amar Girlfriends. In Ami Aar Amar Girlfriends, Parno shows off her bikini bod in an all-girl seaside romp that includes Raima Sen and Swastika.
On the other end of the spectrum is Kaushik Ganguly’s award-winning Apur Panchali, which traces the life and times of Subir Bannerjee, the actor who played Apu in Satyajit Ray’s debut. The film allowed Mittra to experiment with a role that was vastly different from the urban sexually active types she usually portrays.She plays Ashima, Subir’s wife.
X Past is Present features a single narrative comprising 11 episodes directed by 11 directors. The plot is about a character named K and his ex-girlfriends, one of whom is Mittra’s character. She features in the segment directed by Bengali journalist-turned-filmmaker Pratim D Gupta alongside singer and occasional actor Usha Uthup.
And in case you are still wondering, it is Parno, as in Paar-No.