From Insight Desk
Faridur Reza Sagar: Life on the Screen
The television is a very powerful medium of influence and information. And this is especially true for the rural areas of Bangladesh where literacy is low and where people largely depend on the media to be informed and to form opinions. In Nepal for example, community radio plays a similarly important role. This fortnight's Star Insight covers Faridur Reza Sagar, a person who has played an instrumental role in shaping Bangladesh's television industry from its very beginning. His appearance says a lot about him - the white panjabi and pajama, and the consistent smile on his face. He is a man of faith, and prays five times daily. He also performs Hajj regularly. Known as Sagar bhai or simply Sagar to everyone, one would be surprised to know that everyone is welcome, even without appointments, to pay him a visit whenever at his office at Channel i. Even more so, he would gladly receive calls in the dead of the night, even if asleep and very calmly and politely try his very best in answering the caller's query. He has risen to the very pinnacle in the world, and has made a special place for himself in all our hearts.
As easy as it is to reach Sagar bhai, it is as more difficult to pry into his thoughts to extract information about him from his own mouth. Whenever I expressed my wish to write about him, he would say, “By all means. You know everything about me.” He never divulged anything more than that! Seeing him always behind the scenes and the stage, I have come to believe that he feels more comfortable in promoting other people and is not very fond of talking about himself. I found myself in quite a dilemma! How can I write about a person without information about him? I need to get it out of the horse's mouth. I needed a strategy to get Sagar bhai talking, so, I used reverse psychology. Sitting in his office, I told him that Channel i would not go very much further. It worked! He was shocked! He was taken aback and said that I was wrong.
“Then what do you think will happen?”
“By support of the people, of the audience we have come thus far,” he had replied, “and Channel i's audience will only keep growing in the foreseeable future.”
I was not going to give up so easily. I pressed on, “What you just said is very hypothetical. Can you explain in details of what you mean by it?”
“Its simple. Look, we have roughly one crore local viewers and another one crore Bengali viewers living abroad. Besides this huge audience, there's the Channel i crew, you, and others like you and all of their families who are friends and supporters of the channel. Don't you see the huge support backing us all the way? This is exactly what I am talking about. Despite people portraying Bangladesh in a negative manner sometimes, I have personally observed the nation propelling further towards success gradually. This is evident even more so through the twelve years of success that Channel i has come to show along with the daily growth of Bangladesh. Even internationally, it shows the amount of competition that the channel has to go through on a daily basis. This affirms growth of Channel i, which would not be possible if the country was not growing itself on a whole. But, we as a nation have a very negative attitude towards new initiatives. Even when we do take upon a good cause, and make it happen, we tend to give up before seeing it to the very end. It's as if we lack the basic sense of continuity to complete a full circle on any given matter. Even so, I think that we are improving on this attitude, and it will not be long before we come out of this.”
Shykh Seraj and Faridur Reza Sagar
I had more to learn, so I pressed on, “That is all well and good. But, as you have talked about the international competition, the remote is in the hands of the viewer. Definitely this viewer will change the channel if they observe a fall in quality of the matter shown on TV. And thus the audience will start to thin out. In this scenario you will lose all those people providing advertisements needed to run the media channel. How would you say, or rather ensure that this does not happen and quality is maintained consistently?”
“You have definitely observed the changes and improvements brought to the shows aired on Channel i. It's a totally different scenario and environment from when we had begun, and now in present times. And with that our audiences have increased by the numbers. And it's a misconception that the general people tend to have. Media channels are not entirely dependent on sponsors. Yes, they are very important to the industry and an integral part, but the audience and the viewers are actually its lifeblood. We have sponsors and advertisers only because our audience loves us, not the other way around. Think of how you pay for your cable bills on a monthly basis. You do so because you are paying for the international entertainment through the TV set that you watch on a daily basis. It is the same with our channel when viewed on foreign land. The viewers generate the revenue for us by subscribing to our service. Give it a few years; the same will happen here in our country for all our local private channels as well. Those with quality productions will remain in the race, and those lacking them will fall out.”
Talking about the media scene, I tried next to squeeze in some personal questions, but Sagar bhai being the person he is, very coolly set aside any other question thrown at him with his misdirecting smile. He would in no way answer anything further. I knew that Sagar bhai was born on 22 February 1955. I knew that he has been involved with Central Kochikachar Mela, Chander Haat and many other organizations for children since his childhood. I also knew that he has won numerous awards such as the Bangla Academy Award, Agrani Bank Literary Award, the Euro Children's Literature Award, etc and that he is closely connected to the Liberation War Museum, Chayyanaut, etc. But I wanted to know more. I wanted to dig deep within his personality and figure out who he really was.
Finding no other way out, I went to dig up information on Sagar bhai from those that are close to him. I went to Shykh Seraj first. Seraj bhai's first comment came jokingly, “Both Sagar's wife and mine have the same complain, 'You spend more time together than with us!' I think of Sagar from four different perspectives. First, it goes without saying, he is my friend. Second, I see him as the prolific businessman that he is. Thirdly, as a great son to his mother - Begum Rabeya Khatun. You can extract him out of this world, and then ask him to choose between his mother and his whole world; he will choose his mother sacrificing everything else. And finally, but not the least of his character, he is the ever helpful, caring and concerned human being to all of the people around him. It is as if his vocabulary is devoid of the word 'no'. To this day I have never seen him turn anyone away. He has always tried to help them to the best of his capabilities, if not more.”
Seraj bhai continued describing how they became friends, “It was 1975. We had started off with the restaurant business. The shop was titled 'Khabar-Dabar'. That was our start of our long friendship. “One can not really grasp how deep this man can think!”, he continued saying. “The constant attire adorned by him: the simple panjabi and pajama might lead one to think of him as a simpleton. They could not be more wrong! The intellectual mind that he possesses can only be rivaled by his genuine humbleness. Their can truly be no comparison of him as a friend with any other living being.” Jokingly again he said, “He can put me on the spot sometimes. I myself in the past have forgotten many birthdays of my children and my wife. More so, I have forgotten a few of my wedding anniversaries. But Sagar to this day has never failed once to wish us at every auspicious event, and has sent over gifts each and every time.” Relating to other stories he went on saying, “The man is a godsend! He has, god knows how many times, protected my name. The forgetful person that I am, I have on many occasions forgotten to wish those acquainted with our business. But surprisingly on many occasions, I have received thank-you-back notes from these business associates. And to my surprise it had been Sagar at all times to have sent the wishes and gifts to these people on my behalf!”
Siraj bhai wrapped up his thoughts saying, “As a person, Sagar is incomparable. He is the strange man who wants no credit for anything. Rather nothing makes him happier other than to see those that are around him to succeed. That is the reward that he seeks: the success of others around him.”
Imdadul Haq Milon is Sagar bhai's childhood friend and reads all his work. Emdadul Haque says, “I have never seen him write anything else. Not even poetry. I have read all his books and stories ever since I've known him.” Imdadul Haq describes Sagar bhai's writing to follow a simple yet elegant pattern. “Whenever he writes, its as if he is telling a story to an already captivated audience. He has a certain formula that he uses. Sagar's special way of hooking the reader onto his work is done mainly by his beautiful use of Bangla, on which he has a strong grasp. Words are the only things he needs to fully describe any character he has in mind, and the reader can always paint a very vivid picture. A good example is his famous work on the Choto Kaku series of stories for children. Books of the series are read both by children and adults with the same amount of interest. And that goes to show how easily he draws in his audience. Everyone reading his works will find it difficult to put down the book without finishing it first.”
Afjal Hossain, Faridur Reza Sagar & Imdadul Haque Milon
Imdadul Haq added, “Sagar had started of with short stories in the genre, and had slowly spread his wings into literature. He has experimented in the line of work before finding his sweet spot. And thusly, his literature is as rich and exiting to read as his stories. I have never let the opportunity to read any of his new works slip by. I personally think his book: Ek Jiboney Television is unique, as it is one the most accurate portrayals of the history of television in Bangladesh. I have not yet read some other book that is as entertaining or informative.” Imdadul Haq Milon still expects a lot from this gregarious man. He went on saying how the children were being deprived of his literature ever since he has been busy with Channel i, “The place puts him through more work than a person should do on a regular basis! I want to tell him to take things slower, and write more for the children and not deprive them of the stories he has to tell.”
“Khabar-Dabar was the restaurant that had brought us together, and strengthened our friendship”, says Afzal Hossain. “The doors to our adda khana were always open for us friends. Sagar would never allow us to pay bills at his place, and we would feel as if we were at home.” He described Sagar bhai as one of the most responsible he has met. “Every one of us was aloof in our lives, except Sagar. All of us used to take life very easily and allowed things run their course. We would eat, sleep, study, and go about with our daily business without any care in the world. But Sagar was very serious from a very early age. He had taken up a lot of responsibilities in life from very early on, but never to his disliking. Rather, he was the type of person who would take upon any challenge with a smile on his face. He would never be tired, or complain about anything. He was always the happy person who never said no to anything.”
Afzal Hossain added, “He has grown into the type of person who is very precise and knows what he likes and dislikes. If there is any topic in discussion in front of him, and he is not interested, he will not comment on the subject at all. It is impossible to make him talk about things he doesn't want to. But then again, the only things that are not in his interest are futile things in this world that hold no meaning or substance.”
Afzal Hossain pointed out Sagar bhai's personality through his life in the media world saying, “Sagar was the person who has been affiliated with BTV from its start. But he would never be seen up front; always behind the scenes. There were even times when he had taken care of a production single handedly, but never looked for any credit for his works. His humbleness is astounding; I have never heard him tell anyone that they are what they have achieved because of him, whereas there are uncountable people in the industry who owe him such gratitude." Afzal recollected memories and said, “We were both affiliated with Khela-Ghar as youths. Our bond as friends had developed since then through our writings. What I had noticed, and is still evident, is Sagar has always been a simple person who does one type of thing and excels in it. Since the days from Khela-Ghar, he has been writing stories for children. He never stopped doing so. He never even tried to do anything else. I have never seen him even try writing poetry or divert away from his genre.
“I have heard a lot of criticism about Sagar's works in the film industry. I have even heard people say that the movies are not well produced or even good at all. But I will always defend him saying that, at least he is trying to do things that people have not yet done. He is always experimenting with new things to show to people and is producing works that do have entertainment value. Yes, not all his works are good. But then again, he does have quite a few that are excellent.”
Afzal Hossain ended with saying, “Over time we all have climbed up the ladders of life. Each of us have excelled and made our places in society. Looking upon each of us, Sagar is the one that has been the most successful. But this success has never gone to his head in anyway. He is still the person that he was when we had started off as friends; the same old humble, polite person that he has always been.”
Kona Reza, Sagar bhai's wife says she is proud to be his wife. Kona Reza reiterated what Siraj bhai had to say about the relationship Sagar bhai shared with his mother, “Through all these decades of my life, I have never seen anyone else to be so fond of his mother. The amount of time he spends with her and the amount of care she takes of her, I don't think it could be possible for anyone else. I am surprised at how he does it!” She reminisced about how they had met, “I remember him having a small advertisement firm back in 1984. It was July that I had auditioned as a model at the firm. I met him there then and had noticed something special about him. It was how he talked to people; how he treated everyone with respect and the strong personality that he still possesses. That had attracted me towards him. Time passed, and we married each other in September of the same year.”
Faridur Reza Sagar with his wife, Kona Reza
Kona Reza continued describing how good a husband and father Sagar turned out to be, “Talking about romance, he has never forgotten one single birthday or our wedding anniversary. In fact he used to buy me a gift on every 27th day of every month, as September 27th is our wedding anniversary. And now, he buys me and the children gifts on the same date every month. Our daughters Meghna and Mohona wait excitedly every month to turn 27 days old for their share of the gifts. I am surprised, even to this day, how can a man keep doing such things? My head starts to spin thinking of taking up such a cause myself! I couldn't have done it! It's not only his family; he does such things for everyone.”
She ended by saying, “I couldn't have been happier in life. He is such a great husband that I don't have to tell him of my needs ever. Somehow he finds out everything, and I am provided with all that I need even before uttering the words. I had to give up my carreer as a model, but I have no regrets there. I find more pleasure in looking after my family and giving time to the children. This has become my new job that I love.”
Rezwana Chowdhury Bonnar
Rezwana Chowdhury Bonna said, “Even being a known person, I cannot call the heads of any TV channel and expect them to pick the phone up, except for Sagar bhai. Rather I can barge into his office anytime, and he would receive me with politeness and his evergreen smile. He will receive my calls even in the dead of the night, even if he had been sleeping. So much so, he always says that there is a way out of any problem, always providing assurance, and sharing responsibility and tension. The atmosphere he sets up with all artists, including me, shows that everyone loves him for the person that he is and would do anything he asks of them. And maybe this is why Channel i has gained such success over the years. Each and every employee respects him to the core and would never say anything against him, but rather would go against those who have anything bad to say about him, as they know such things cannot possibly be true.”
When I approached the acclaimeded film actress Moushumi, she said, “Talking about Sagar bhai is very difficult, because of his great stature. I wouldn't know where to start, and am afraid if I will leave something important out. All that I can say is how I know him from the film industry. I have seldom met such polite and humble people in my life. It is even more so surprising because of his caliber in the field. And it would not be complete if I didn't say that he is one the most modest and hard working person I have ever met.” She added, “In the past we, the ones affiliated with the film industry have observed that it was not advancing very well. But Impress Telefilms under Sagar bhai's administration reached new heights and has kept the industry running. They have introduced novelty to the type of films being produced on a regular basis and maintained quality; which could not have been possible if it was not for this great man.”
Abdullah Abu Syed wouldn't comment much on the Sagar bhai, but he did say, “The people that I look for in the Bishwa Shahitto Kendra are the ones who are enlightened in all aspects. I have found such qualities in abundance in Sagar. The way, even to this day he treats his elders, and that too at his position, is very rare.”
Faridur Reza Sagar with wife and children
In our culture, we are all extremists when it comes to defining a person. If we praise them, then there is no end, and if we have to say anything bad about them, we don't show any restraint. But I personally hope that Sagar bhai remains the person he is and what all the people have said about him.
Photographs by Anup Aich
(R) thedailystar.net 2011