Babita has reigned long as one of the most celebrated actresses of the Bangladesh film industry, during which she has starred in a staggering total of 275 films. The seven time National Film Award winning celebrity received international fame after her much acclaimed performance in Satyajit Ray's “Ashani Sanket”. In a recent interview with The Daily Star, the veteran actress looks back on the wonder years.
“I used to live in the neighbourhoods of Old Dhaka's Gandariya then”, recalls Babita, “and had only accomplished a couple of films. A letter addressed to me arrived at my residence, and it requested my presence in India to meet with Satyajit to discuss a possible film. I laughed so hard, I fell off my chair! I thought someone was playing a prank on me. A few days later I received a phone call from the Indian Embassy in Bangladesh, asking me to meet with Satyajit Ray again. I realised that it wasn't a joke after all. I was a young girl of 16 then, and traveled to Kolkata with my older sister Shuchanda accompanying me.”
The entire affair in Kolkata was like a dream to Babita. “I received my script, and before stepping in front of the camera, vermillion powder was applied to the parting in my hair. I was wearing a simple sari then, and when I stepped into the camera's view, the great director saw me and exclaimed 'The girl is wonderfully photogenic!’” In many ways, Babita's journey started in the same way Jaya Bhaduri's and Sharmila Tagore's had. “I can never forget those days of filming in Shantiniketan. Another phone call came from Satyajit Ray, a few days after shooting and dubbing. He let me know that he submitted Ashani Sanket to a large film festival in Germany, and invited me to come along! I was so ecstatic, and immediately agreed. While I witnessed the film win the Golden Bear, my name was introduced alongside Satyajit Ray's”, she adds.
Babita realised that her fame had reached to all corners of the world after the festival. “Once, when entering a taxi cab in Russia, the driver started joyously shouting, 'Babita! Babita!' I was surprised at being recognized, and came to learn that my pictures were on a few billboards outside the airport!”, says a nostalgic Babita.
The famed actor has worked in art and commercial films alike, and would often travel for up to a month for filming. “While shooting for Ononto Prem directed by the late Nayak Raj Razzak, we ventured deep into the jungles of Kaptai to film the final scene. In the scene, our characters share an emotional kiss before dying. The scene left such a deep impact on me that I started crying when we started to turn back”, she says. “Two years ago, I revisited that same magical spot in Kaptai. I came to learn that the hill where we filmed that scene was subsequently named Babita Pahar. Can you imagine? An entire hill renamed because I had stood on that very spot in a scene? I cannot imagine anything greater in my life. I am deeply thankful, and indebted towards everyone, especially my loving fans, who has stood by me through all those years”, says Babita, with the mix of emotions quite clear from her expression.