Rafi Hossain: Welcome to Uncensored with Rafi Hossain. Today, we are here with the legendary actor, Bobita. When I was young, we used to make scrapbooks filled with pictures of our favourite celebrities that we got from newspaper clippings. I was a huge fan of Bobita Apa back then, and my scrapbook was filled with pictures of her. I wish I still had that scrapbook, so that I could present it to her today. Bobita Apa, thank you very much for taking the time out to sit with us.
Bobita: You are most welcome.
Rafi: In the past, when we said female lead actors, there was a certain power to it. I feel that we have lost the power. What’s your take on this?
Bobita: No. Why would it be lost? The girls acting currently are doing really well. Nowadays, they have a variety of wardrobe choices while acting. Back then, we didn’t have that. But, we used to be a lot more natural that way.
Rafi: I also feel that back then, everyone had their own personality. Nowadays, do we lack that?
Bobita: Yes, we really lack that nowadays.
Rafi: This year marks the 50th anniversary of your film career, right?
Bobita: I never thought of that, but now that you have mentioned it, I started my career back in 1969, and now it’s 2019. I acted in my first film when I was just thirteen years old.
Rafi: Was acting your first choice, or was there something else that you wanted to do?
Bobita: Back then, I did not want to be an actor. I wanted to be a doctor, like my mother. My mother used to give medicines to my neighbours, and I used to help her. I also memorised all the names of the medicines, so that when my mother was not around, I could give them to people. But, I was incredibly naughty; every time my mother was not around, and someone came for medicine, I used to tell them that a small medical fee was required. Using that money, I used to go with my friends to watch movies.
Rafi: Who was your favourite actor in the past?
Bobita: There was a show on television, called Dr. Kildare. I was a huge fan of that show. One day, news came that the star of that show had passed away. I was in school at that time, and I cried a lot upon hearing it. Later, I found out that it was just a rumour. I was also a huge fan of Biswajit Chatterjee. Later, I became a huge fan of Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar.
Rafi: When did your love for acting begin?
Bobita: At first, I had no attraction towards acting. Back then, Suhcanda Apa was already one of the top actors in the country. Zahir bhai used to tell me that he wanted to cast me in a film, called Shongshar. I was not very eager to do it because I once saw Suchanda Apa’s shooting in Cox’s Bazaar, and realised just how hard it was.
Rafi: But, wasn’t it fascinating to see how people gathered around every time to see Suchanda Apa?
Bobita: I was too young to understand that, if I’m being honest. All I could understand was that it was hard. At that time, Zahir bhai was saying that he needed a young girl for the film, and he wanted me to do it. I was not interested at all, but my family encouraged me, since it would look bad if I had rejected Suchanda Apa’s husband’s offer. That film did not do very well. A while after that, Zahir bhai said that he wanted to put me in another film for a lead role. In the meantime, cinematographer, Afzal Chowdhury was making a film, called Jaltey Suraj Ke Nichey, which was also being directed by Zahir bhai. Shabnam Madam was supposed to play the main female lead. But, she was too busy to schedule it with her. The film had a star-studded cast. Afzal Chowdhury then told Zahir bhai that he had seen one of my television dramas, and he thought that I was very photogenic. When I got the offer, I was not interested to do it. But, my family persuaded me once again by saying that it would seem bad if I declined Zahir bhai’s offer. After agreeing to do it, I did the screen and voice test for the film. Back then, I was called Subarna. Afzal Chowdhury’s wife then suggested that instead of it, I should be called Bobita. A few questions were raised as there was an actor with the same name in India, but we decided to use it as there was no one with that name here. After that, we shot the film, but it never got completed. Zahir bhai felt bad because he had promised to make a movie with me as the lead, so he decided to make another one. Razzak bhai was playing the lead alongside me. It was strange for me as I had worked alongside Razzak bhai once before, where he had played the role of my father. Now, he was playing the role of my love interest. Zahir bhai made me understand that this wasn’t real; this was all acting. After the movie got released, it was a massive hit, and it kickstarted my career.
Rafi: Did you ever think that you would get to work with Satyajit Ray?
Bobita: No. When I got the offer to work with him in Oshoni Shongket, I had only done two films. I initially thought someone was playing a prank on me. When I first got the letter for the offer, I was laughing like anything. I couldn’t fathom why Satyajit Ray would pick me when he could’ve picked so many big stars. I got a call from the Indian High Commission, and someone told me that Nando Bhattacharya, who was producing the film, wanted to talk to me. Then, I was told to go to Kolkata to meet Satyajit Ray. Before going to Satyajit Ray’s house, I used all the makeup I owned, and wanted to look as glamorous as possible, before meeting him. When we went to his house, he opened the door himself, and sat down with us in his living room. After seeing me all glammed up, he asked why I had put on so much makeup as he had not wanted to see me that way. Hearing that, I felt so bad that I couldn’t even look him properly in the eye. He then proceeded to ask Suchanda Apa if I was extremely shy. She told him that I had done a few films in Bangladesh, and that I was already quite popular there. Satyajit Ray then told me to go to the Indrapuri Studio the next day, without any makeup. He also handed me the scripts, and told me to memorise them. The next day, when I got in front of the camera, he said that I was like a completely different person from what he saw the day before. I could hear him exclaim that he had found the actor he was looking for, and selected me. I could not believe that it was actually happening.
Rafi: What happened after that?
Bobita: Satyajit Ray then told the producer to complete all the formalities with me. I was handed the entire schedule and script. I was instructed to memorise the whole script. I still have the letters that he sent me. Satyajit Ray also formed a friendship with my father. The first shooting took place at Shantiniketan, and I went there with my father.
Rafi: Did Satyajit Ray ever rebuke you for not playing your part properly?
Bobita: I used to wonder from time to time, how Manik Da, as everyone used to call him, never told me that I am not acting properly. Maybe, he saw a similarity between me and the character. That’s why he found all my gestures, style, and everything else exactly like the character. And if he ever was not satisfied with a take, he would say it in the nicest possible way. He would say that the show was very nice, but he would like another take. During a shooting I once did, my character and a couple of others were in a jungle. Suddenly, an antagonistic character appeared, and once he saw me, he tried to forcefully rip my clothes off. During the struggle, Sandhay Di’s character beat the man with a crowbar, and killed him. We then returned home, and my character stood by the doorway. Satyajit Ray told me that he would put my acting skills to the test as I would have to get teary eyed for the scene. He took a trolley shot, and I had to walk to the bank of Ganga, and then burst out in tears. I managed to do that, and after the shooting was done, everyone on the set broke out in applause.
Rafi: Who were your favourite directors?
Bobita: One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t get to do enough films with my mentor, Zahir Raihan. After seeing Jibon Thekey Neya, Satyajit Ray said that Zahir Bhai was an amazing director. I only did a few films with him. When shooting for Let There Be Light, Zahir bhai used to say that it would be his final movie, God knows why. And unfortunately, it turned out to be his last, and that project remained unfinished. I gave it my all for the shooting of that film. I would say that Zahir bhai is Bangladesh’s best director. But, we also had a lot of amazing directors back then: Khan Ataur Rahman, Subhash Datta, Narayan Ghosh Mita, Kazi Zaheer, Amjad Hossain, Sheikh Niamat Ali; they all made unbelievable films. And after working with the great Satyajit Ray himself, I got to take part in a lot of international film festivals. Since he was loved by film lovers worldwide, people got to know about me. Oshoni Shongket even won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. I represented Bangladesh in all those festivals. In the Moscow Film Festival, I was even picked to hoist the flag up, during the opening and closing ceremonies. They also put up huge posters of me at a cinema hall, during the festival. I even had a huge poster displayed at the airport there. I felt extremely lucky to have received adoration like that. I really miss taking part in those festivals.
Rafi: You have done a lot in your career, achieved more than most people can even dream of. But, in your personal life, do you sometimes wish that there was someone with you?
Bobita: In my career, I have achieved so much, and did so much in my personal life as well. Unfortunately, Anik’s father passed away when Anik was only three years old. I was very young at the time, so my family suggested that I should remarry. I told them that I needed some time to think about it, and after thinking about it, I decided to reduce the number of films I did as I wanted to spend more time with my son. I only took films for which I would not have to travel. I also had to ensure that my son received proper education.
Rafi: As all of your fans know, there was once something between you and Zafar Iqbal. Do you miss him?
Bobita: What I must tell you about him is that he was extremely smart and handsome. He was also a terrific singer and had a band of his own. All the romantic films we did together, they were all loved by the audiences. When we used to shoot, he always played the guitar in between. He told me that he would teach me to sing some English songs. Even though I told him that I couldn’t sing, he would play his guitar, and I would try to sing along. Funnily enough, many people would request to hear us perform at functions. People used to always say that we made a really great couple, and we were both truly amazing friends. So, I do miss him. He made an extremely popular song, Sukhe Thako O Amar Nondini, which many people assumed was about me. So, I asked him who the song was about. He told me that the music director, Alauddin Ali had told him to sing that song as people would immediately think that it was about me.
Rafi: Do you have any plans to write an autobiography?
Bobita: I have so much to share about my life, so many events I want to talk about; so why not? I have so many memories, so many experiences to share. We all have to bid farewell to this world someday. I think that I should share my life story before that day comes for me. The one thing is that I don’t think I can write it on my own. I’ll require some help, but I do want to write an autobiography someday.
Rafi: Apa, it was amazing talking to you. I would love to sit with you, and talk again soon. Do you have any message for your fans?
Bobita: To my fans, I would like to say that even though I have received so many awards, achieved so many unbelievable things in my career, none of them mean to me as much as the adoration you all give me. I am very grateful that you all love me this much, and I love you all too.
Rafi: Thank you so much, Apa. I really loved talking to you.
Transcribed by Ridwan Intisaar Mahbub
Costume & Styling: Shawkat Shabbir