"The focus of TV plays today is on glamour"-- Shanta
Theatre audiences in Bangladesh will find it difficult to forget the character of Zinat Mahal in the play Juddha Ebong Juddha, whose husband sacrifices his life during the Liberation War. In agony because of the reinstatement of the collaborators of the Liberation War, she has to take an unexpected decision. As a symbol of protest against the prevailing hostile situation, Zinat Mahal decides to marry a betrayer for whom she lost her husband.
The actress who portrayed the character successfully is Shanta Islam. Born and brought up in Sylhet, Shanta started her acting career when she was studying in Dhaka University. She entered the theatre and television media in 1985. The eminent theatre personalities Ferdousy Majumdar, Pijush Bandyapadhyay and Ramendu Majumdar inspired her to act on stage. They were the regular judges of the drama competitions held at Rokeya Hall of Dhaka University.
But she initially refrained from joining theatre since there was a rule of returning to the hall by evening. In theatre, people have to work late at night for rehearsals. Eventually, she joined the theatre group Theatre in 1983. And interestingly enough she acted in a play with a pseudonym Shanta Islam and from then on that was the name which made her popular. Very few people know her by her real name, Najma Haque.
Shanta's debut performance on television was in the play Abhijog by Zia Ansary in which she played the protagonist against Syed Ahsan Ali Sydney. And her career in theatre started simultaneously with the stage play Juddha Ebong Juddha that won her wide appreciation.
A series of plays on the small screen and stage followed, which made her a prominent name in the cultural arena. In 1987 Deborah Warner of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), England, chose her for the character Miranda of The Tempest when she came to Bangladesh to conduct a workshop.
Among her noteworthy performances are in Agun Mukha by Mannan Hira, which was about underground politicians. Jay Jayanti by Mamun ur Rashid and Mayur Shinghashan are also worth a mention. She received the BACHSHASH award in 2002 for the latter.
Rajkonyar Golpokatha, directed by Shanta, was staged in the United States and Canada in 2004. She will travel to Italy and Dubai to stage the play based on the Liberation War this April.
Among her television performances, Jhumka, Iti Amar Bon, Rupnagar, Manush, Manusher Mukh and Mrityujotsna were highly appreciated. Of late she has been making a drama serial from her own production house Shoumik Telefilms. The drama serial is a comedy about the expatriate Bangalees.
Shanta has acted in many films of alternative genre, such as Anyojibon for which she won the National Film Award. FI Manik's Phul nebo na asru nebo is another of her films that achieved acclaim. She has also written several books on poetry.
Far from resting on her achievements, Shanta is looking ahead.. As she says, "Although I have done a diversity of roles, I am not satisfied yet."