Khan Ataur Rahman: The eternal bohemian | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 11, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 11, 2007

Looking back

Khan Ataur Rahman: The eternal bohemian

Khan Ataur Rahman (2nd from right) in the film Abar Tora Manush Haw. Photo: File Photo

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The infatuation with arts for 'Tara' -- as he was affectionately called by his mother -- surprisingly began with devotional songs. The maternal side of the family were 'khadim' (caretakers) of a mazaar. At the urs (religious gatherings), his uncles used to articulate their passions through songs.
Then in 1937, when he was a student of class three, he won first place at the Dhaka Zilla Music Competition for his rendition of the song Mon paban-er dinga baiyya. Subsequently he was intrigued by jatrapala and theatre.
After enrolling in Dhaka Medical College in 1946, he made an attempt to run away from home, with Tk 60 in possession; he wanted to join films. But he was spotted by his brother-in-law at the Fulbaria Station and had to return home. The bohemian in Khan Ataur Rahman was emerging.
Today marks the 79th birthday of Khan Ataur Rahman, an icon in our cinema and music. He was born to Ziarat Hossain Khan and Zohra Khatun in Ramkantapur village, Manikganj district.
After the failed attempt to join movies in 1946, Rahman enrolled in Dhaka University next year but the obsession with cinema had taken over. He received a scholarship to study photography in London. However, for unavoidable reasons, that did not materialise.
In 1949, he ran away from home again. This time he made it to Bombay (Mumbai); strolled the streets, frequented the film industry and slept on the sidewalks. He met Jal Irani, cameraman of Jyoti Studio, who gave Rahman an opportunity to work as an apprentice but that obviously was not gratifying enough.
In January 1950, he moved to Karachi. He got a job as a radio newscaster. Occasionally, he visited Lahore; the burning desire to join films was not diminished. He started taking formal music lessons from renowned sarangi player Jawahari Khan.
In 1952, Rahman went to London. He met SM Sultan there and used his savings to buy art supplies for the artist. Rahman and his comrades made arrangements for display and sale of Sultan's paintings. In '53, he enrolled in the Theatre department at City Literary Institute. Next year he received a UNESCO scholarship and went to Netherlands.
In 1955, he moved back to London and started working with local theatre groups including Theatre Royal, Unity Theatre and Irving Theatre. For a brief stint he worked for BBC.
In 1957, Rahman came back to Dhaka and took up a job at The Pakistan Observer. He got enlisted in the radio as a lyricist, music director, recitor and actor. In '58, A.J. Kardar came to Dhaka to make a film. Upon his request, Rahman played the lead role in the film Jago Hua Savera. Zahir Raihan was the assistant director of the film. Thus started the legendary association between Raihan and Rahman.
In '59, Rahman emerged as a music director and lyricist with Ehtesham's film E Desh Tomar Amar. He also played the protagonist in the film. In 1960, together with Zahir Raihan, Rahman founded Little Cine Circle.
In the following years, his popularity as an actor and music director soared with films – Kokhono Asheni, Je Nadi Marupathey, Shonar Kajal and more. Rahman's composition of Pathey pathey dilam chhoraiyya rey (from the film Shurjosnan, 1962) -- the sole playback by Kalim Sharafi -- is still considered a groundbreaking phenomenon in the history of Bangla films. Rahman had a particular vision and the song bears the evidence -- the majhi (boatman) clears his throat and starts singing; the world-weary expression exudes in “O amar chokkhu nai”.
In 1963, Rahman gave cine enthusiasts and music lovers another gem of a song – Shyamol baran meyeti. Highlighting the quintessential Bengali beauty Sumita Devi, the song -- written, composed and rendered by Rahman -- added another dimension to Zahir Raihan's experimental film Kancher Deyal.
Rahman won the best lyricist and best music composer awards for Shurjosnan and Kancher Deyal respectively, at the Pakistan Film Festival in 1965. Rahman worked as a music director in Urdu films – Bahana (by Zahir Raihan), Saagar (by Ehtesham), Aakhri Station (by Suroor Barabankvi), Mala (by Mustafiz) and more.
In the coming years, Rahman's attachment with cinema widened; he started producing and directing movies as well.
In 1969, the then East Pakistan took a stance against the ongoing disparity and tyranny. Zahir Raihan's film Jibon Thekey Neya highlighted the emotions of the mass upsurge and Khan Ataur Rahman's voice and words – E khancha bhangbo ami kemon korey -- resonated the national psyche.
During the Liberation War, Rahman wrote and composed patriotic songs and took initiatives to aid the freedom fighters with food and medical supplies. Post-war, his film Abar Tora Manush Haw moved the audience with an accurate depiction of the changed reality in the ravaged country.
In the '70s and '80s, Rahman penned and set to tune several songs that became 'claim to fame' for several artistes – E ki shonar aloye in Sabina Yasmin's case, Ek nadi rakto periye for Shahanaz Rahmatullah and more.
In the early '90s the trends and the environment in Bangladeshi filmdom started changing and Rahman could not cope with the appalling condition. He made a few films in the late '80s, including Hishab Nikash and Parash Pathar.
After an extended hiatus, in 1994 Rahman decided to make a film on Liberation War, titled Akhono Onek Raat. He finished the film in 1997 and submitted it to the Censor Board. The Censor Board asked him to cut seven scenes from the film; Rahman found the demand unreasonable. Mounting pressures and tension took their toll on his health. On December 1, 1997, Rahman passed away.
Khan Ataur Rahman will always be remembered for his songs. What make them extraordinary are their rather ordinary, unpretentious lyrics that leave an indelible impression on the listener.
Source: Rumana Islam (daughter of Khan Ataur Rahman)

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