A giant of Bengali group theatre, Sombhu Mitra's work is regarded of utmost importance in the history of Indian realist theatre. Though primarily associated with thetare, he has also participated in some significant film productions.
Born on 22 August, 1915, in Kolkata, he was educated in Chakraberia Middle English School and Ballygunge Government High School before joining St Xavier's College. His interest in theatre had already begun as a student and soon he pursued it professionally, making his debut at Rangmahal Theatre. After working in Minerva, Natyaniketan and Srirangam theatres, he joined the IPTA in 1944. This was a significant turning point in his career. He made his directorial debut with Jabanbandi penned by Bijon Bhattacharya and Rabindranath Tagore's Muktadhara. He also co-directed the landmark Nabanna, which changed the face of Indian theatre.
He and his wife Tripti Mitra are widely credited with advancing the realist school of theatre, which had originated with Sisir Kumar Bhaduri. Soon creative differences rose within the IPTA, which led to them breaking away to form the theatre group Bohurupee. The resultant creative autonomy allowed them to stage some significant productions like Ulukhagra, Chenda Tar, Bibhab, Rakta Karabi, Raja and Char Adhyay. In many cases these productions disavowed naturalism and were highly experimental in nature. His adaptations of Ibsen were alos highly appreciated, as were directorials like Baki Itihas, Pagla Ghoda, and Chop, Adalat Cholche (an adaptation of Vijay Tendulkar's acclaimed Marathi play Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe). He also acted in his wife's directorials like Dakghar. He is remembered for his performance as Galileo in Fritz Bennewitz's production of The Life of Galileo.
His film debut came with K A Abbas's Dharti Ke Lal (1946), followed by Abhijatri (1947), Abarta (1949), '42 (1949), Hindustan Hamara (1950), Bou Thakuranir Haat (1953), Maraner Pare (1954), Maharaj Nandakumar (1954), Manik (1961), Suryasnan (1962), Panna (1967), among others. He along with Amit Moitra wrote and directed the Raj Kapoor-starrer Jagte Raho (1956).The film won the Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, while its Bengali version Ek Din Ratre won the Certificate of Merit for the Best Bengali Feature Film. He also directed the film Shubha Bibaha with Moitra in 1959.
He has also written several books like Abhinay Natak Mancha and Sanmarga-Saparya, and has appeared in several radio plays. He has been felicitated with a host of honours like the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowhsip in 1966, Padma Bhushan in 1976, the Magsaysay Award, the Kalidas Samman in 1982-83 and the Desikottoma from Viswa Bharati University in 1989.
The legendary thespian breathed his last on 19 May, 1997.