Zahir Raihan: Capturing national struggles on celluloid
Mohammad Zahirullah (better known as Zahir Raihan) -- born on August 19, 1935 in a village in Feni -- lived only to be 37, but left his mark in the heart of every patriotic Bangladeshi with his works. After moving back from Kolkata following the partition of 1947, Zahir Raihan obtained a post-graduate in Bengali Literature and began working as a journalist. After initially writing short stories (inspired by his brother, prominent litterateur Shahidullah Kaiser), Raihan ventured into films as an assistant with â€œJago Hua Saveraâ€ (1959). He made his directorial debut with â€œKokhono Asheniâ€ in 1960. In 1964, he made Pakistan's first colour movie, â€œSangamâ€, and completed his first cinemascope movie, â€œBahanaâ€, the following year.
Zahir Raihan spent a busy decade in the 1960s, directing â€œSonar Kajolâ€ in 1962 (jointly with Kalim Sharafi), â€œKancher Deyalâ€ in 1963, â€œBehulaâ€ in 1966, â€œAnowaraâ€ in 1966, â€œDui Bhaiâ€ in 1968 and â€œJibon Theke Neyaâ€ in 1969.
Apart from films, Zahir Raihan was also an accomplished writer. His publications include â€œSurjya Grahanâ€, â€œShesh Bikeler Meyeâ€, the epic â€œHajar Bochhor Dhoreâ€, â€œArek Falgunâ€, â€œBorof Gola Nodiâ€, â€œAar Koto Dinâ€, â€œKoyekti Mrittuâ€ and â€œTrishnaâ€.
It was the subject matter of his work, however, that separates him from his contemporaries; Raihan had strong nationalist beliefs, and it reflected sharply in his work. Some of his works stood icons of the movement of the-then East Pakistan that eventually culminated into the struggle for independence. He was one of the first few to back the move of violating curfew on the fateful day of February 21, 1952, and wrote â€œArek Falgunâ€, a striking novel on the movement -- while in jail after being arrested in connection with the movement. His film â€œJibon Theke Neyaâ€ is also a satirical depiction of the ongoing national movement, portraying an entire country through the story of a family.
The Liberation War began when Raihan was the general secretary of Bangladesh Liberation Council of Intelligentsia, and was making his first English film â€œLet There Be Lightâ€. He abandoned the project and made his most notable work, the documentary â€œStop Genocideâ€, depicting the horrendous atrocities of the Pakistani forces.
Zahir Raihan left his house on January 30, 1972 looking for his brother Shahidullah Kaiser, who was abducted by Pakistani forces just before Bangladesh's emergence on the world map, and never returned. It is believed that he was killed in Mirpur by Pakistani soldiers in hiding and their Bihari collaborators, while looking for the body of his brother at the Mirpur mass grave where many intellectuals were killed and buried.