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Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Arts & Entertainment

Down memory lane with a veteran artiste

In conversation with Sirajul Islam

Sirajul Islam

The present environment in the country's filmdom has left Sirajul Islam, a veteran actor-director, with little option but to quit films. In the year 2000 he acted in the film Ami Bou Hobo, directed by Hasmat, after which he has not set foot at the FDC Film Development Corporation (FDC).

"Possibly this is one of the very few countries without a film institute, although there is no lack of potential," says a flustered Siraj.

Khan Ataur Rahman, Zahir Raihan, Subash Dutta and others have tried at different times to develop an institute with the help of the producers association, but all in vain."

Siraj's journey started way back in the mid-1940s. He talks of a time when the entertainment world centred on the radio and theatre and the film world was in its infancy.

"It was the time right after Partition when many crossed the border, creating a vacuum in the cultural field. The radio station was the stepping stone for many theatre professionals," he adds.

Theatre in Bangladesh took root in the 60s and progressed in leaps and bounds during the 70s. According to him, there was a spontaneous inspiration to develop theatre in every community, in Dhaka. This was mostly arranged by collecting funds from affluent community members. It was a time when it was unimaginable to think about women practising songs and dance numbers even in the confines of one's household. However, gradually, women took active roles in the cultural field, asserts Siraj.

"The railway institute, then known as Mehboob Ali Institute, situated right beside the present National Medical Hospital, was the hub of cultural activities," reminisces Seraj.

"A raised platform at the Natmondir served as an ideal stage. Despite the humble settings, eminent theatre artistes from Kolkata such as Tripti Mitra, Shambhu Mitra, Sattya Banerjee and others would often come to perform in Dhaka.

"There were no designated rehearsal locations and so rehearsals were often held in different households. Even though the locations were different there was one commonality --the scrumptious khichuri at the end of the final rehearsals!, " continues the veteran actor with a wry smile.

He points out that the theatre groups of the country were divided into main four main groups. The one led by Kazi Khaleq originated at Aga Sadek Road. The second belonged to the secretariat group, comprising government officials. Pathak Mujibur Rahman, Kafi Khan, Enam Ahmed belonged to this group, which originated in the Plassey Barrack.

The third group comprised Al Mansur, Rahima Khala, Abdul Jabbar Khan, Mehfuz and others of Kamalapur. The fourth group originated in the old town, where Narayan Ghosh Mita, Purnima Das and others assembled. Theatre trend was still quite insignificant. Later, initiators in this field Abdul Jabbar Khan, Nurul Momen, Ashkar Ibne Shaiekh and Munier Chowdhury fortified this art form.

Among the 300 or more films in which he starred, Raja Elo Shohorey, (his first feature film) and Sheet Bikel are two of Siraj's noteworthy films. Kena Bechar Pala and Fa(n)sh are his memorable stage plays.

Alongside theatre, there was the Film Development Corporation, better known as FDC. The film industry developed with the efforts of Ehtesham, Mashiuddin Shaker, Salauddin and Fateh Lohani, the torchbearers in this field.

There was little question of idolising any actor. As he says, "We had an original style. However, people would often call me Biswas da, referring to eminent actor Chhobi Biswas. Dr. Rowshan Ara, Nasima Khan, Johorat Ara, Lilly Khan and others were my co-stars. In the film Mishore Konnya I starred with Shameem Ara of Pakistan. That was the only time I had to shave off my moustache and when I returned home late at night after shooting, my wife almost fainted, taking me as a stranger knocking at the door at such unearthly hours."

Having worked in his heyday, Siraj is naturally critical of the current state of affairs--lack of theatre space, unplanned settings, innovation, development of young playwrights and most importantly the lack of initiatives to train and nourish professionals.

Siraj has won the prestigious National Award for the film "Chandranath" in 1985. As he has retired as the director of Department of Films and Publication (DFP), his one dream that remains unfulfilled is to witness the revival of his beloved filmdom.

The article was published earlier.

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