What keeps Shomi busy now?
I am starting my own radio channel. Radio is a place where I don't need huge investment. The media habit of our people is changing. People are listening to radio on their mobile phones. Mobile penetration is the highest in Bangladesh in this sub-continent. Now people don't have the time to wait to watch their favourite serial. We are always on the move. Keeping this in mind, I think we can make dynamic programs for radio.
A house, a car, a good job, getting married by the age of 30- these have become the indicators of success in our society. I want to break these norms. To me, a successful person is he whose thoughts and work are used in such a constructive way that people are benefited and the person himself is satisfied. Since the young generation listens to the radio and they are influenced by it, I think we can use radio as a vehicle of change.
Dhansiri Social Communications
From 2005, Dhansiri is working in the development sector. The zinc campaign in 2006 was a massive success. We scaled up the communication part of the project through awareness, advocacy and motivational programmes for grassroot people and policy makers. We won an award in 2008 from Gates Foundation.
Then we had a breast feeding campaign in 2009 with Alive and Thrive. It improves mother's health, prevents malnutrition, child mortality and so on. We won another award for it in 2011. When I started working in this field, I realized, there's so much to do here. Eventually more donor agencies approached us for designing successful BCC (behavior change communication) campaigns.
We started in 1997. We did a lot of productions, but have been somewhat inactive for the last 5 years. Next March, we will resume with a big production- a 26 episode TV serial about the 26 days of March till 26th March '71. The story revolves around some women's struggles during those perilous days.
I try to spend more time with my family, in-laws and close ones.
Why did you stop acting?
I stopped acting on protest. In 2001 I was blacklisted by BTV. I went to a lot of people (who were the decision-makers) to know why I was blacklisted. They told me the reason was that I spoke against war crimes and Jamaat in a recent campaign. I think any general Bagladeshi would speak against it, especially me and those like me who have lost their families in the war. The BTV producers didn't have a choice for the decision came from the then government. All the channels were afraid to hire me. It was as if I had to beg people for their mercy in order to act. These things hurt me a lot. I am a citizen of a free country. I am entitled to have a political view of my own. Artists are not beyond politics.
Who stood by your side during the ban?
NTV invited me to do productions for them. They called the four of us up who were blacklisted- Kobori Sarwar, Tarana Halim, Tonima Hamid and myself. I'm grateful to Mr Enayetur Rahman Bappy and Mosaddek Ali Falu. The people that I had been working with for 14-15 years, they didn't stand by my side. Be it Artist Associations or Group Theatre Federation- no one came forward to protest why these artists have been blacklisted. This government also did the same to singer Asif Akbar. When he wasn't allowed to sing in BTV, I protested it. It is not a healthy practice for any government.
How did you go through that transition?
I was acting occasionally. Then in 2003, I thought that I'll spend more time in advertising, development and production with Dhansiri. We started working for the corporate sector and later, the social sector. Eventually there's been a long gap in my acting career. I'm sure those who were in the policy making positions at the time of the ban, have come a long way since then. Maybe I have suffered, but I believe the situation has improved and will improve further in the years to come.
Why didn't you start acting again when the ban was lifted?
I didn't have time to act anymore. At the end of the day, Dhansiri is a business and it demands full-time commitment. Acting, on the other hand, requires rigorous perseverance. You need to give it ample amount of time. It is hard to pursue two passions at the same time. It's not possible to put your heart and soul in two different places. Now there are many new faces to crowd our TV screens. So I never went back to acting again.
Will we see you again as an actress sometime in the future?
It's difficult to say for sure. But I have plans about working again with Dhaka Theatre. I was there for 12 years. I want to work there again if I can make time. I miss the stage more than TV. I will continue to work for the media. I want to make memorable dramas and films. I have some ideas for films that I want to make. I'm not trained to direct. I would rather hire a professional to direct it for me. Maybe so I understand framing as I know acting. I can make a drama, but not a film. I'll be in scripting or overall supervision so that we have a good film. I want to remake Shareng Bou.
What makes you want to remake Shareng Bou- a film that has already been made with immense commercial and critical success?
There are some social messages in the film that still hold true. It's the same struggle my mother faced and many women are still facing today, only the contexts are different. That feudal mentality on women remains. The social segregation that a woman faces in the absence of having a husband and how the stance of her in-laws, her family and the society in general changes when her husband is around- we have not come out of that mentality. This is why I want to remake this film.
Tell us about the film that you are planning to make about our liberation war.
I want the new generation to know about the liberation war. Seven Years back in Manhattan, I met this Pakistani guy who lost his father in 1971. I am a child of a martyr myself. I am thinking of making a film with this story of two people from two rival countries at war, who lost their families in the same war. Nurul Alam Atique wrote the script four years back. It will be bi-lingual (Bengali and English).
Do you fear it may raise controversies like Meherjaan?
Meherjaan was about a Pakistani army officer. We have never seen or heard of any then Pakistani army officer who hasn't raped anyone. There is no such evidence in any research so far in Bangladesh. Maybe the making of the film was good, but I have issues with the subject. My subject is the son of a Pakistani army officer. His father has fought the war, not him. I've met this person. I want to show how that person is viewing our liberation war. We have both lost our fathers to the war. The feelings are the same. Apart from some intellectuals who have spoken about it, the general people of Pakistan don't know what genocide they did in 1971. Pakistanis will not take the responsibility of telling the true story. If we want them to know, we have to take the initiative ourselves. Because an army officer committed a crime, I won't crucify his son. But that son should know what really happened.
You have changed your track of career abruptly. Looking back, would you do anything differently?
If I look back now, I wouldn't give up acting altogether. I enjoyed my time at the peak thoroughly. I don't miss fame, but I miss acting. I also think I've come to business at the right time. If I didn't do business, I wouldn't know a lot of things. When we used to act, our evenings were spent with the same fifty people everyday. The world outside, would've remained a blur to me if I didn't enter advertising. It enriched me a lot. I'm thankful that I took that decision. But by withdrawing completely from acting, I think I did myself great injustice.
Interviewed by Sadia Khalid