It is fitting that one of Aly Zaker's most iconic stage roles was that of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo.
Much like the 17th-century Venetian who rediscovered truth through a new lens and publicised it in words his countrymen could understand, Bangladesh's great thespian Aly Zaker was a tireless champion of intellectual freedom and critical thinking since the country's liberation, during which he played a valuable role.
Till yesterday, when he breathed his last at the age of 76, his forward-thinking march had continued. Unlike Galileo, when the curtains fell on Aly Zaker, there is not censure but rapturous applause as well as the sorrow of a void that will be impossible to fill.
Glowing tributes and condolences poured in for the eminent cultural personality after he passed away at United Hospital in the capital around 6:45am.
President M Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed their profound shock and sorrow at the death of the cultural icon, also a Shabdashainik at Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra and an Ekushey Padak recipient, reports BSS.
In a condolence message, President Abdul Hamid said, "Thespian Aly Zaker was a shining star in country's cultural arena … The country lost an eminent actor and cultural figure with his death.
"His death is an irreparable loss to the cultural arena of the country," the head of state added.
He prayed for the eternal peace of the departed soul and conveyed deep sympathy to the bereaved family members.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her condolence message recalled with profound respect Aly Zaker's contribution to the Liberation War and the country's art and culture arena.
"Zaker's contribution to the Great Liberation War and the country's art and culture arena will be remembered for long," the PM said.
She then prayed for the eternal peace of the departed soul and conveyed profound sympathy to the bereaved family.
People from all walks of life, including members of the cabinet, different cultural, social, political organisations, and civil society, also expressed shock and sorrow at Aly Zaker's death.
He was battling cancer for the last four years and tested positive for Covid-19 two days ago. On November 17, he was admitted to Bangladesh Specialised Hospital due to cardiac issues.
"We are grateful to everyone who kept him in their prayers," his son Iresh Zaker wrote on Facebook.
After his namaz-e-janaza, Aly Zaker was laid to eternal rest at Banani graveyard after Asr prayers.
Earlier, his body was taken to the premises of the Liberation War Museum in the capital's Agargaon around 11:00am, reports BSS.
Maintaining health guidelines amid the ongoing pandemic, cultural personalities, friends and admirers paid their tributes to Aly Zaker, who was a trustee of the Liberation War Museum.
Family sources said the celebrated actor tested positive for coronavirus two days before his death, which is why his body was not taken to the Central Shaheed Minar, said the BSS report.
Ramendu Majumder, Nasiruddin Yousuff, Ferdousi Majumder and Mamunur Rashid, Liberation War Museum Trustees Dr Sarwar Ali and Mofidul Hoque placed wreaths on his coffin.
On behalf of Awami League, the party's Cultural Affairs Secretary Asim Kumar Ukil and Office Secretary Barrister Biplab Barua paid homage to Aly Zaker by placing wreaths on the coffin.
Aly Zaker was born on November 6, 1944 in Chattogram to Muhammad Taher and Rezia Taher.
He was the third among four siblings and spent his early childhood in Kushtia and Madaripur. His father was a high-ranking government official who was transferred every few years.
He studied at Notre Dame College and graduated from Dhaka University.
During the Liberation War, Aly Zaker was trained at Sector-8 under Maj Gen Manzoor.
Eminent filmmaker Alamgir Kabir asked him to join Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra. During the Liberation War, he travelled to the frontier many times to do interviews and Aly Zaker was an integral part of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra's English broadcasts.
Aly Zaker not only inspired freedom fighters on the frontier during the Liberation War as a Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra artiste and vocalist of Mukti Shangrami Shilpi Shangstha, he also played an important role in creating global opinion in support of the Liberation War, Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee said in a condolence message.
Besides, Aly Zaker was an important "witness" of the Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam-led civic movement Gana Adalat (people's court) launched on March 26, 1992 for the trial of war criminals and the then Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam, the committee said.
In 1972, Aly Zaker joined Aranyak Natya Dal. His first stage appearance was in the troupe's rendition of the Munier Chowdhury play "Kabor".
Later, he joined Nagorik Natya Sampradaya, where he did some of his best work, including "Dewan Gazir Kissa", "Nuruldin-er Shara Jibon", "Macbeth", and "Galileo", among many others.
He directed plays like "Baki Itihash", "Bidogdho Romonikul", "Toilo Sankat", "Ei Nishiddho Polli Te" and "Achalayatan", among others.
On television, he is known for iconic roles in classics such as "Bohubrihi" and "Aaj Robibar".
Aly Zaker married eminent theatre personality Sara Zaker in 1975. Together, they have a son Iresh Zaker and daughter Sriya Sharbojoya.
Aly Zaker was also the chairman of Asiatic 3Sixty.
Besides the Ekushey Padak (1999), Aly Zaker also received the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Award, Bangabandhu Award, Munier Chowdhury Award, Naren Biswas Award, among other accolades.
In a condolence message, Road Transport and Bridges Minister and Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader expressed shock at the death of the veteran cultural personality.
"Celebrated actor Aly Zaker was a shining star in the cultural arena," Quader said.
Expressing shock over the death of Aly Zaker, BNP said he was a glittering star in the cultural arena of Bangladesh.
"People will always remember him for his glorious achievements and contributions to the country's cultural arena," said BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, reports UNB.
Besides, Law Minister Anisul Huq, Land Minister Saifuzzaman Chowdhury, Expatriates' Welfare Minister Imran Ahmad, Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud, Dhaka University Vice Chancellor Prof Akhtaruzzaman, Jahangirnagar University VC Prof Farzana Islam, Workers Party of Bangladesh, Gono Forum, Bangladesh National Awami Party, former president AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury, Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, Sammilita Samajik Andolon, 1971: Genocide-Torture Archive and Museum Trust, Bangladesh Peace Council, Bangladesh Medical Association, and Bangladesh Mahila Parishad in separate messages condoled the death of the thespian.