The actor Manna died some years ago. He was not an artiste in the mould of Razzaque or Azim or Rahman or Bulbul Ahmed or Farook. But popularity was nevertheless his, a particular reason being his determined opposition to obscenity or everything that militated against morality in movies. There was decency in his behaviour. An angry young man in tinsel town, he was forever aware of a need to build a stable future for himself. In the three hundred or so movies he acted in, there was a lot of verve he brought into a telling of the tales. The story lines may not have been great. Besides, the degree of acting people came by in the old tales in all those black and white movies was not to be spotted in Manna's co-actors. Even so, people flocked to those movies. The middle classes may not have been convinced that Manna's movies needed to be seen, but with artistes like Shabnam playing the role of his mother in a film called, simply, Ammajan, there was proof that a distinctive attempt at a turning away from bad deeds in the film industry was underway.
Manna's death, after a mere forty four years of life, prohibits us from speculating on the heights of artistry he might have scaled had he lived on. There are instances of actors graduating from mediocrity to greatness. Manna was not mediocre, by no stretch of the imagination. But people like him, touched by shades of responsibility, or a sense of it, sometimes make it possible for people to begin believing once more in what used to be and what might yet be. And that is when, here in this country, you tend to fall back on actors such as Kabori. It was fifty years ago that she turned into a household word among Bengalis through her deftly played role in Shutoraang. All these years later, she remains an epitome of single minded, purposeful acting. She has directed movies; she has been a lawmaker.
And then there have been Shabnam, Nasima Khan, Reshma, Shabana and Babita, whose contributions to Bangladesh's film industry have underpinned the strength of our movie industry. Think back on the times when Subhas Dutta acted in films and then got down to the business of directing them. Then there was Khan Ata. It is this legacy which in our times directors of Chashi Nazrul Islam's kind have tried to uphold.
Today, you only have to observe the titles of the movies to understand how far Bengali movies in Bangladesh (conditions are not much different in West Bengal these days) have declined in terms of quality. Here is a pick: Darhao Kotha Achhe (with someone coming up with a crude translation, Stop. I Have Talk); Shaami Keno Ashami, Baba Keno Chakor, Bhoyongkor Shonghorsho, Khaisi Tore, and more. And there are the literal translations from movies coming from across the frontier, with a local, meaning Bengali, touch to what is originally a Hindu story. How many of you have seen Qeyamat Theke Qeyamat after you have gone through Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak?
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star