Vol. 4 Num 194 Thu. December 11, 2003  

Homage to Salahuddin and Sheikh Niamat Ali, filmmakers
Bangladesh loses two great exponents of film art

We have lost two great filmmakers recently. The sad demise of Salahuddin and Sheikh Niamat Ali in a very short span of time left us speechless. It is a blow to us -- film activists, as we are trying our best to create an environment of good films against the vulgar commercial films from the country as well as from abroad. The terms 'Hollywood' and 'Bollywood' do not make jovial tune for us. Both of these filmmakers were creators of quality films and at the same time, film society activists.

Salauddin was born on March 30, 1926 in Noakhali. He was a science graduate. In his student life he was associated with theatre and music. Then he shifted his interest towards filmmaking. He was one of the earliest of the filmmakers who started making films in the then flourishing film industry in Dhaka. His first film was Je Nadi Marupathe (The River That Flows to the Desert), released in 1961. It deals with problems faced by urban middle-class families. Surjasnan (Sunbath, 1962) is his next film. The film is an adaptation from the novel by Alauddin Al Azad. It created furor among the ruling government when it was submitted for censorship at that time as it depicted the struggle against the oppression over the working class. The release of the film was delayed due to the subject of the film. It was one of the best earlier films made in our country and was acclaimed by critics far and wide. Baby Islam's fine cinematography is an added attraction to the film. Salahuddin then turned his attention to a play Dharapat (The Ready Reckoner, 1963) written by Amjad Hossain. This adaptation along with his earlier films deal with the themes and issues related very much to life.

His next film Roopban (The Story of Roopban, 1965) was a milestone in our film history. At a time when there was an influx of Urdu-language films and our Bangla cinema was facing tremendous challenge, Salahuddin came up with a folk-based story to confront it. This film is an adaptation of a popular 'jatra', a folk theatre form dealing melodramatic stories of kings and queens and royal families and conspiracies and so on. Often the 'jatras' deal with mythological, legendary and religious characters. Songs are an integral part of the 'jatras' and popular dance-interludes are an added attraction. The plot revolves around the tribulations of Roopban, who is married to Rahim Badshah ('King Rahim') twelve years younger to her. When she was twelve, she was married to the just-born Rahim. She has to bring him up all by herself like a mother, but she is in reality, his wife. Rahim cannot consider Roopban as his wife, as she is like a mother to him. As a result, when Rahim grew up, he is attracted to Tajel, another woman. Dealing with the 'Oedipus complex', it was really a bold step on behalf of Salahuddin at a time when our film industry was just growing up. He made another film Alomati in 1969. After that he bade farewell to filmmaking. He came back for a short period of time as the directorial advisor to Harunur Rashid, his one-time assistant, in the film Megher Anek Rang (Cloud Has Many Colours, 1976). Salahuddin died in the state of Indiana, USA, on 26th October 2003.

Filmmaker Sheikh Niamat Ali was born on 30th April 1940 in the 24 Parganas, a district in the then undivided Bengal. A graduate of Calcutta University, he was involved with the film society movement there. When he came to Dhaka, he joined the film society movement again and started writing on films. In 1977, he and his co-director Masihuddin Shaker started shooting the film Surjadighal Bari (The Ominous House), the first film made from a government grant. The film took two years to finish due to the budget shortage and finally, it was released in December 1979. The rest is history. The film is the first true international standard film made in the technical framework of Bangladesh Film Development Corporation and it still remains one of our greatest cinematic achievements. It won many prestigious awards worldwide. His next film Dahan (The Affliction) was released in 1985. It incorporates many autobiographical elements, the problems and plights of the protagonist. His last feature film is Anyajiban (The Other Life), released in 1995. He also made several documentary films. It is a pity that he could only make three feature films in a career spanning about two decades. All these three feature films won National Film Awards including the awards for the Best Films. His films also won many international awards for our national cinema, a feat that no other filmmaker could beat till date. He recently submitted a script for a film to the selection board for the annual grant from the Ministry of Information, but he failed to get assurance before his death. Niamat Ali died of cardiac arrest on 24th November 2003 in Dhaka.

We pay our homage to these two great filmmakers who worked in the so-called 'mainstream' framework and made films which speak of life, the kind of films that film activists all around the world uphold and defend. We are really proud of these great sons of the soil.

Sabbir Chowdhury, a film activist, teaches in the department of English at Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka.

Khan Ata and Rowshan Ara in Je Nadi Marupathe (1961)