Vol. 5 Num 36 Fri. July 02, 2004  

Najma Anwar: A grassroots actress
Getting under the skin of her characters

I never thought that The Daily Star would come to my home for an interview,' says a characteristically modest actress Najma Anwar. Yet having agreed to a one to one dialogue, spread across her house in Dhaka and on the way to Sonargaon for a shoot, she took the trouble to explore her life and times for this correspondent.

Some highlights of the interview, given in Najma's words:

'I would describe myself as a stage, radio, TV and film actress. My major performances on stage are Iblish, Shomotat and Nankar Pala. I also manage an advertising agency called Ad Vision.

As for TV, I have done a tele drama Kariman Bewa (2001), based on the true story of a freedom fighter called Taramon Bibi. She is a farmer's wife and the period is the Liberation War. When her husband is killed in the war, she takes up arms and is one of the few women freedom fighters of Bangladesh. This TV play was one of my major works and won the Bangladesh Chalachitra Shangbadik Samity (BACHSAS) award.

I enjoy serious characters but I feel I am popular in both humorous and serious roles. I can perform as a rich lady and even a poor struggling woman equally well. I can do comedy roles such as in Humayun Ahmed's Kothao Keu Nei.

My visits to the villages for shooting are eye openers. For instance, Tawkir Ahmed's film Joy Jatra took me to Taranihat (about 45 minutes from Bogra). I was appalled to see just how backward this region was. There was no electricity except for the college, neither were there any sanitary latrines.

At present, I am working on some TV packages and cinema. I have just finished shooting Joy Jatra, which is set in the Liberation period. It is the country's first film in cinemascope.

Favourite roles
In my stage drama, Iblish, I have played the role of a struggling woman called Atoshi. I am still very fond of this character. Despite losing a child and being thrown out of the house by her tyrannical husband, she perseveres and ekes out a living as a domestic help.

I am struggling, so are you. Only the form of struggle is different. I struggle with my advertising agency, which faces tremendous competition.

Low profile presence in media
I am very choosy about my character and my work. Therefore, people get to see me in very few dramas. Also it has taken me a long time to get where I am today.

I was born in Munishganj, a culturally advanced, Hindu populated area. My father was a professor of Arabic in the Horoganga College. My family was culturally oriented. There were no restrictions such as using a burka. Nor were there fetters in the form of curbs on free movement.

My family came to Dhaka when I finished class six. After Liberation, the group theatre system came into being. Groups such as Nagarik, Theatre, Arannyak and Dhaka Theatre are still the leading organisations in theatre.

I joined Drama Circle, the first modern group, switching to Arannyak in 1981. However for the last seven years I haven't had time for the stage. To work with a theatre group means setting aside time daily for rehearsals which I cannot do.


I have done several films such as Shankhinil Karagar, Dukkhai, Gontabbya Chottogram, Shonkhanad and Hajar Bochor Dhore. The first film won plaudits from the audience but no other recognition. Frankly I don't care for awards but just want to do my best as an actress.

One of my greatest achievements is that I strongly empathise with my struggling characters. So when I go to a village, the people say that I seem to belong to their community.

To do justice to my character in Kariman Bewa, I learnt the Rangpur dialect. Likewise I have picked up the Dhakaiya, Noakhali, Jessore and Barisal dialects. These dialects came naturally to me.

Future plans
I am interested in direction. I have made a TV drama called Shonshar Shokhi, which was aired on ETV. The play won applause from all over the country and ETV gave me a commendation letter for this work.'