Vol. 5 Num 431 Fri. August 12, 2005  

Celebrating 50 years of our cinema
Remembering Mukh O Mukhosh and Abdul Jabbar Khan

The first 'talkie' made in this part of Bengal -- Mukh O Mukhosh -- was released on August 3, 1956. Thus this year Bangladeshi cinema turns 50.

On this occasion, The Daily Star would like to convey good wishes to the film industry and hopes that our cinema would soon recover from its current slump. We would also like to reminisce on Abdul Jabbar Khan, the trailbazer in our cinema.

Abdul Jabbar Khan decided to make Mukh O Mukhosh at a time when only Pakistani, Indian and Hollywood movies were played at the theatres in this land. Distributors and producers, who were mostly non-Bangalees, didn't believe that locals were capable of making quality cinema. In 1953 at a meeting of cultural activists, a certain movie producer F Dossani remarked, "The climate of this land is not suitable for making films." An aggravated Abdul Jabbar Khan who attended the meeting roared, "Several Indian-Bangla films have been partially shot here, then why would it be impossible to make our own films?" When Dossani further argued, a worked up Jabbar vowed that if no one made a film in the then East Pakistan within a year, he would make movie on his own and prove once and for all that making a movie here was possible.

What started as just a 'challenge' became a milestone in our history. Based on Jabbar's play Dakaat (Dacoit), Mukh O Mukhosh was made. But the journey was not smooth as silk. The actors and most of crew members had no experience in films, the shooting came to a standstill more than once due to floods. It took two years to wrap up the whole shooting process. The negative was then taken to Lahore for editing and printing. Jabbar was given a hard time in Lahore regarding the processing and bringing the final prints home.

Excerpts from Jabbar's journal reads, "I was about to get on board the plane from Lahore when the customs told me I could not take the prints of the movie to East Pakistan. Disheartened, I returned the plane ticket and went to Karachi by train. I didn't want to waste any time and met with the Home Minister of that time, Justice Abdus Sattar regarding the snags I was facing.

"I told him it would be logical for the customs to stop me if I was trafficking the negative to some foreign country but as far I understood, I was just trying to take the negative back to Dhaka which was supposedly a part of Pakistan. Justice Sattar patiently listened to me and asked for the custom collector and told him since I was allowed to bring the negative to Lahore from Dhaka, I should be able to take it back as well.

"After much squabbling, I was assured that I could take the prints and the negative to Dhaka. One good thing out of the nuisance was that I was asked to screen Mukh O Mukhosh at the Azaadi movie-theatre for 200 Bangalee viewers living in Karachi. I was told that apart from some minor problems with the sound, the movie was commendable. I returned to Dhaka the next day."

That was not the end of Jabbar's struggle. At home he faced difficulties as well. Most distributors and movie-theatre owners were reluctant to screen the movie. Their excuse was the movie wasn't 'super hit' material. Eventually Musharraf Hossain Chowdhury and the owner of the movie-theatre Roopmahal came to Jabbar's aid. In the midst of a flood, Mukh O Mukhosh was released. 'Sher e Bangla' A K Fazlul Haque was the chief guest at the premier show of the film.

Today Abdul Jabbar Khan is not among us. Neither are the actors of the film -- Purnima, Ali Mansoor, music director Samar Das and legendary singer Abdul Alim who did the playback for the movie. Actors Aminul Haque, Najma, Saifuddin and the designer of the posters, Subhash Dutta are still alive. These individuals will always be luminous in the history of our cinema.

Ali Mansoor and Zahrat Ara in Mukh O Mukhosh.Courtesy: Bangladesher Cholochchitrer Itihash by Anupam Hayat