Bangladeshi cinema is still in its infancy, but it already has a rich and varied history to boast of. Karim Waheed takes a look at the highlights of our cinematic tradition from the fifties to the current day, shining a light on the major accomplishments.



Matir Moina

The red and green silver screen

What started with Thomas Edison using celluloid film, kinetograph and kinetoscope (bioscope) in 1889, gained momentum with the Lumiere brothers' creation of the first projection device (cinematograph) in 1895. The youngest of all visual performing art forms, movies soon became the most powerful one, when making a mass impact is considered.

A full-length feature film, running for approximately 90-180 minutes, can influence the psyche of the audience profoundly. With their limited time-span, movies can induce a number of emotions -- bliss, sorrow, fear, or thrill. People dreading the shower after watching Psycho, beach-goers being afraid of getting into the water after watching Jaws or youngsters rushing to the malls to buy attires that have just been featured on their favourite movie stars in the recent blockbusters, are examples of how movies, often in a subtle way, make an impact on us. Movies also have an advantage over other visual performing art forms: they can reach a wider audience.

Over the last 50 years, Bangla feature films have been entertaining generations of cine-goers. Although recent times have seen a decline in its standards, our film industry had produced an extensive list of movies that were and still remain a source of pride for all Bangladeshis.

Here's a glance at films that have become iconic in our culture for a number of reasons. While some of these films have been in limelight for becoming cash cows, others have fueled heated controversies, some started new trends, and some have fetched us international glory. The films have been listed in chronological order:

Mukh O Mukhosh (1956): Abdul Jabbar Khan directed this trailblazer in the history of our cinema. In 1953, at a cultural programme, a non-Bangalee movie producer remarked, "The climate of this land is not fit for making movies." A worked up Jabbar decided to make a movie based on his play Dakaat right away. Making the movie was a challenge itself. The actors and most of the crewmembers had no experience in film; 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 and Jabbar was given a hard time there regarding the processing and bringing the final prints home. Eventually the movie starring Purnima, Ali Mansoor, Najma and others, saw the light of day on August 3, 1956 and we got our first "talkie."

Asiya (1960): The first film shot and developed in FDC (Film Development Corporation), Asiya was directed by Fateh Lohani. Focusing on the life of a village belle, the asset of the film was its music, composed by legendary folk artiste Abbasuddin Ahmed (Samar Das and Abdul Ahad also composed numbers for the movie after Abbasuddin's demise during the making of the film). Featuring Sumita Devi, Qazi Khaleque and Shaheed, the film received the prestigious President Award of Pakistan in 1961.

Harano Din (1961): Directed by Mustafiz, the film made a record as the first Bangla movie to run for 25 weeks. The romantic movie also presented the first popular on-screen couple in our cinema, Rahman-Shabnam.

Kancher Deyal (1963): One of the first feature films by the talented director, Zahir Raihan, Kancher Deyal stood out for a number of reasons. Except for a few scenes in the end, the movie was shot indoors, more specifically in a room. The movie revolved around an ill-fated orphan who had to bear maltreatment at her uncle's household. Khan Ataur Rahman's classic, Shyamol Boron Meyeti accompanied by the doe-eyed Sumita Devi's striking gaze, epitomised the quintessential Bangalee beauty.

Shutorang (1964): Directed by Subhash Dutta, Shutorang, introduced one of the most popular leading ladies of Bangla cinema, Kabori. The film fetched Dutta an award at the Asian Film Festival in Frankfurt in 1964.

Roopban (1965): During the 60s when our movie theatres were being dominated by Urdu and Hindi films, filmmaker Salahuddin made Roopban, based on a widely known paala (folklore). Starring Sujata in the title role, the movie was commercially successful and started a genre of Bangla movies based on myths and folklores.

13 No. Feku Ostagar Lane (1966): The first comedy made in this part of Bengal, the movie was directed by Bashir Hossain and featured Razzaque, Sujata, and other noted actors of the day.

Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula (1967): The first movie based on the life of the last sovereign Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and the historical events of the Battle of Palaashi was directed by Khan Ataur Rahman. Anwar Hossain played the role of the doomed Nawab. Khan Ataur Rahman and Anowara played other major roles in the movie.

Jibon Thekey Neya (1970): Zahir Raihan directed one of the most feted Bangla movies, Jibon Thekey Neya, featuring Khan Ataur Rahman, Rowshan Jamil, Anwar Hossain, Razzaque, and Suchanda. Raihan made a bold step with the movie by narrating the contemporary political turmoil in the then East Pakistan. The mass upsurge of 1969 was brilliantly captured in the movie by the ace filmmaker. The movie is also special for another reason: the National Anthem of Bangladesh, Amar Shonar Bangla Ami Tomae Bhalobashi was played for the first time in a Bangla movie and the song ignited the sense of Bangalee nationalism among the masses.

Ora Egaro Jon

Ora Egaro Jon (1972): The first movie released on our Independence War, most of the lead roles were played by actors who actually fought against the Pakistani armed forces. Directed by Chashi Nazrul Islam, the movie is considered to be one of the best feature films based on the Liberation War. Khasru, Sumita Devi, and Shabana portrayed the lead roles in the film.

Rangbaaz (1973): Directed by Zahirul Haque, the movie was a trendsetter for several reasons. Rangbaaz introduced the idea of an "anti-hero" in our cinema. The movie took actors Razzaque and Kabori to new heights of popularity. The song Shey Jey Kano Elona featured in the movie became an overnight phenomenon.

Titash Ekti Nodir Naam (1973): The movie, directed by Writwik Kumar Ghatak, is an in-depth look at the lives and struggles of the community of fishermen living by the river Titash. Featuring Kabori, Prabeer Mitra, and Rozy, the movie received rave reviews both in Bangladesh and overseas.

Shimana Periye

Shimana Periye (1977): Directed by Alamgir Kabir, the film narrates a developing relationship between two individuals from different social strata, in the milieu of the 1970 cyclone. Bulbul Ahmed and Jayasree Kabir were applauded for their credible performances in the film. Songs composed by Bhupen Hazarika, like Bimoorto Ei Ratri Amar, became hugely popular.

Boshundhara (1977): Based on 23 Number Tailochitra by author Alauddin Al Azad, the movie directed by Subhasha Dutta was another movie that the sophisticated moviegoers appreciated. The movie introduced actor Iliyas Kanchan in the character of the protagonist. Bobita played the female lead.

Shareng Bou (1978): The movie directed by Abdullah Al Mamun was adapted from a novel by noted writer Shahidullah Kaiser. The film based on the lives of people living in our costal areas, was admired by many while stirring up controversy for some bold statements it made. Kabori and Faruk portrayed the lead characters. A song from the film, O Rey Neel Doriya, became one of the most treasured movie tunes in our country.

Golapi Akhon Train-e (1978): A brilliant film made by Amjad Hossain on the oppressed have-nots of rural Bangladesh, Golapi Akhon Train-e, enjoyed a phenomenal success. The movie showcasing talented actors Rowshan Jamil, Bobita, and Anowara also brought to attention the issue of inequitable treatment of women.

Dumurer Phool (1978): The first film made in our country on differently-abled children. Child artiste Shakil was incredibly convincing in the role, so much so, many initially believed he was differently-abled in reality. Directed by Subhash Dutta, the film was honoured at international film festivals.

Shurjodighal Bari (1979): Jointly directed by Mashihuddin Shaker and Sheikh Niamat Ali, the film denotes realism in the most unpretentious way like Satyajit Ray's classic Pother Panchali does. Among films that were financed by the Bangladesh government, this was the first to be released. Set in the post World War II era, the movie depicts the eternal struggles of the exploited poor in our country who often become drifters. Rowshan Jamil, Dolly Anwar, Keramat Moula, and Elora Gohar played the major characters in the movie, which received several National Awards.

Chhutir Ghonta (1980): Based on a report covered by newspapers, the movie narrates the tragic end of child who gets locked in his school-toilet. Directed by Azizur Rahman, the movie became the talk of the nation for the credible performance by child artiste Shumon in the lead role.

Guddi (1980): Directed by Syed Salahuddin Zaki, Guddi focused on the contemporary issues, frustrations and inspirations of the urban youth. Known faces of the small screen, Raisul Islam Asad and Subarna Mustafa played the lead characters in the film. Abar Elo Je Shondhya, a song composed by Happy Akhand, which was used in the film, became a major hit.

Devdas (1982): The first film made in the country that was adapted from the timeless work by Saratchandra Chatyopadhyay. Directed by Chashi Nazrul Islam, the film featured Bulbul Ahmed and Kabori in the central roles. Through this movie, a trend of adapting literary works by the masters began.

Boro Bhalo Lok Chhilo (1982): An original movie about the modernised son of a holy man in a rural area. After the cleric's demise, the superstitious locals decide that his son should be their spiritual leader and the movie depicts the educated, rational youth's dilemmas. Hairey Manush Rongin Phanush, a song from the movie was well liked by the audience. Razzaque and Anju were in the lead roles.

Shubhoda (1986): The movie to receive the highest number of National Awards so far, Shubhoda, is a big screen adaptation of Saratchandra's novel of the same title. The film depicted the conservative Hindu society in the early 20th century. Directed by Chashi Nazrul Islam, the movie starred Razzaque, Anowara, and Zeenat.

Beder Meye Jyotsna (1989): Commercially, the most successful Bangladeshi movie till date, Beder Meye Jyotsna revived a keen interest in folklore among filmmakers and audiences alike; a trend that was initiated by Roopban in the 1960s. Starring Iliyas Kanchan and Anju, the movie was so popular that even West Bengal made a version of it.

Chandni (1991): Veteran filmmaker Ehtesham made a comeback in Bangla films with two fresh faces -- Shabnaz and Nayeem. The on-screen couple instantly became heartthrobs of the young movie fans and thus made way for more newcomers in our film arena.

Padma Nadir Majhi (1993): Based on the timeless literary work by Manik Bandyopadhyay, Padma Nadir Majhi was directed by Gautam Ghosh. The movie illustrates the tumultuous lives of the fishermen and their families, living by the river Padma. Beautiful shots of the river, Ghosh's flair for realism and brilliant display of acting skills by noted actors of Bangladesh and West Bengal, including Utpal Dutt, Robi Ghosh, Abul Khayer, Raisul Islam Asad, Champa, and Rupa Ganguli, fetched the movie local and international honours.

Aguner Poroshmoni (1994): Celebrated author Humayun Ahmed's directorial debut, Aguner Poroshmoni is perhaps one of the most poignant narratives of our Liberation War. The cast consisting of seasoned TV actors, Abul Hayat, Dolly Zahur, Asaduzzaman Noor, and Bipasha Hayat made the tale of a middle-class family sheltering a Freedom Fighter in war-torn Dhaka, gripping and convincing.

Dipu Number 2 (1996): Directed by Morshedul Islam, Dipu Number 2, is based on a widely popular book for children by Muhammad Zafar Iqbal. Starring Arun Shaha, Bobita and Bulbul Ahmed, the movie about an adolescent's adventures was well received by the youngsters as well as adults.

Hothat Brishti (1999): A West Bengal-Bangladesh joint production, Hothat Brishti, was directed by Bashu Chatterjee and introduced Ferdaus as a film actor. The movie was premiered on BTV, starting a trend of releasing movies in theatres and holding their TV premiers simultaneously.

Srabon Megher Din (2000): The second movie directed by Humayun Ahmed. Revolving around a folk singer, his love interest and the local aristocratic family's involvement, the movie offered some beautiful folk songs like Amar Gaye Joto Dukhkho Shoy by Bari Siddiqui. Golam Mustafa, Zahid Hasan, Mahfuz, Mukti and Shaon played the main characters in the film.

Kittankhola (2000): Directed by Abu Sayeed, the film was adapted from a stage play by Selim Al Deen. Featuring Raisul Islam Asad and Naila Azad Nupur, the film brings to light the lives of jatra artistes and their struggles to make a living off the dying performing art.

Meghla Akash (2002): Starring Shabana Azmi, Meghla Akash, was one of the first feature films made in the subcontinent that dealt with the issue of HIV/AIDS. Nargis Akhter directed the movie. Moushumi and Ayyub Khan played other major roles in the film.

Matir Moina (2002): Directed by Tareque Masud, the film was initially banned from public screening by the Censor Board as it was deemed too religiously sensitive. The audience experiences the social and political turmoil during the 1960s, religious extremism and prevalent superstitions through the eyes of a young madrasa student. Matir Moina became the first feature film from Bangladesh to be selected for presentation at the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival. At Cannes, it was given the honour of being the opening film of the Directors' Fortnight section, and also won the International Critics' Prize for best film in the section. Jayanto Chatyopadhyay, Rokeya Prachee, child artistes Nurul Islam Bablu and Russell Farazi delivered commendable performances in the movie.

Lalshalu (2002): Based on Syed Waliullah's timeless creation, Lalshalu embodies the age-old tale of superstitions and naive villagers who are exploited by quacks posing as religious leaders. Raisul Islam Asad as Majid was impeccable and newcomer Chandni was impressive. The movie, directed by Tanvir Mokammel, was invited to several international film festivals and was well received by critics and movie enthusiasts.

Bachelor (2004): After years of alienating themselves from outlandish mainstream Bangla films, the educated urban youth headed to the movies to see Bachelor. Directed by Mostafa Sarwar Farooki, the film gives a true to life picture of the contemporary young urbanites and the predicaments they encounter. Popular actors Ferdaus, Shabnoor, and Aupi Karim played the central characters of the film. Songs in the film, composed by ace musicians like Ayub Bachchu, SI Tutul, and Bappa Majumdar added to the attraction.


Jaijatra (2004): Actor Tauquir Ahmed made his directorial debut with the film. Set in the milieu of the Liberation War, the overused theme of young men going to war was not the highlight of the movie. Instead it narrated an amazing tale of human endurance and budding relationships between people of different classes and creed during a catastrophe. Bipasha Hayat's famous histrionics were aptly used in the role of a mother who has just lost her only child in the mayhem created by the Pakistani soldiers' entry to the village. Other major roles played by Abul Hayat, Humayun Faridee, Tariq Anam Khan, Azizul Hakim, and Mahfuz were applauded. The film has been acclaimed nationally and internationally.

Research courtesy: Shameem Alam Dipen.
Karim Waheed is a cultural correspondent of The Daily Star.

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