Made out of Soft Clay
Having been brought up in an extremely conservative family, I had never thought that one day I would become an actor. My mother was a soft hearted person, always liberal and open-minded. And my father, Khan Bahadur Abdul Halim Chowdhury, was her exact opposite. He was a very religious person, who considered all performing arts anti-religious. Being a district magistrate, my father had always been conscious about manners and discipline. He taught us manners and common ethics with serious emphasis. Now when I look back, it seems if it hadn't been for his strictness, all fourteen of his children would never have become well educated and successful in life. During my childhood, we were taught how to speak in the proper manner: how to pronounce every word with proper stress, when to breathe for a perfect throw of speech – in short, the art of oratory. These lessons helped me a lot in overcoming stage fright. Years later when I saw Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, it rang a bell in my mind. It was almost like witnessing my own childhood. However, an untamable thirst deep inside would make me practice acting secretly, whenever my father was not at home. This very practice came in handy one day, when my elder brother, the notable intellectual Munier Chowdhury, offered me to play a character in a stage adaptation of litterateur Shawkat Osman's Daktar Abdullahar Karkhana. The fear of getting caught by my father made me want to immediately reject this offer. But my brother insisted, saying it was only the role of a robot. There wasn't much to act. So I agreed eventually, and that is how my acting journey began.
Stepping in the Scene
My first TV drama was Ektala Dotala, televised in the earliest days of Bangladesh television, back in 1964. It was written by my brother Munier Chowdhury and produced by Monirul Alam. We began shooting after a month-long preparatory workshop. My husband Ramendu Majumdar was my co-artist in the drama. After that, I played roles in Borof Gola Nodi and Shesh Bikeler Meye written by Zahir Raihan, Ami Tumi She and Shongshoptok by Abdullah Al Mamun and many other drama and serials. While planning the film Surja Dighal Bari, I was requested to play one of the key roles. But my daughter Tropa was only an infant at that time, and I could not think of going back to work depriving my baby of motherly care. So I had to say no. Later, Doli Anwar played that role. I have acted in movies like Maaer Odhikar and Meghla Akash. Currently, I am acting in a drama called Mukti, directed by my daughter. The original script Independence was written by an American playwright Lee Blessing. The adaptation was done by Mijarul Kayes as per our own cultural context. It is a really wonderful story that resembles the ever-growing social complications around us. Another recent drama I acted in is Jogot Shongshar which, I think, will be aired during this Eid.
On the Changing Tides
Our honesty and dedication towards our work have to remain constant. Back in the days, we never really cared about fame. Being on the covers of magazines or being featured in TV channels meant very little. I only wanted to be remembered though my performance. I often hear that many artists deliberately maintain good relations with the media to gain more publicity. Such shallow practices have only made me less interested in publicity and more involved in pursuing perpetual recognition.
In the School of Life
I would like to quote Shakespeare here, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” I never idolized anybody in particular; rather I looked up to the everyday lessons I was taught by the world around me. When I was a child, there used to be a slum beside our house. When everybody fell asleep, I would go and observe the lives of the poor people living in the slum through a tiny peephole. Sometimes my mother would catch me off-guard and scold me saying, “What is the benefit of all this?”And I would have no answer because I have never done anything in my life for any special benefit. I would see a little girl being beaten mercilessly by a local Ojha because she was allegedly possessed by demons and observe how obscenely the people would shout at each other, call offensive names and slangs. All of it was so raw and vivid in front of my eyes, I could hardly deny the charm of such a harsh reality. Later when we attempted to stage Ekhono Kritodash, I was assigned to play the role of a house-maid. I could close my eyes, and everything I learned in those lazy afternoons would flash before my eyes. After that, it was just a matter of embracing my character with real-life lessons. To bring the true essence, the play would start off with obscene slangs. My husband Ramendu Majumdar got baffled at first, wondering if the audience would feel comfortable. Director Abdullah Al Mamun would only laugh and say this is exactly how it is in reality, and we are bound to project the truth.
I am a big admirer of Rabindranath Tagore. Ghare Baire and Gora are two of my most favorite books. His musical acts including Chandalika, Valmiki Pratibha are almost spellbinding. Sunil Gangopadhyay is also a favorite author. The tone of Kazi Nazrul Islam's writings also amazes me. He was immensely romantic, yet bold and straightforward when protesting injustice. This unusual contrast makes me go back to his creations every once in a while. We used to watch foreign films back in the university days. I still remember watching movies of Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando and such actors at Naaz cinema hall in Gulistan. The young generation should watch movies like Roman Holiday, Green Mansions and Two Women. Jibon Theke Neya, Ora Egaro Jon, Shutorang are some of my favorite Bengali movies. I believe the government authorities should look into funding movies based on historical scripts, because events like our liberation war or the language movement demand to be preserved thought arts and culture for the generations to come.
For the Memoir
I must point out the importance of correct pronunciation. The new faces being introduced to the industry these days often lack in the art of speaking. One can create a distinct persona for themselves by mastering oratory skills. I would like to request the new generation artists to understand that art has to come right from the heart. One has to let the aura encapsulate the soul, dissolve within the character, and only then the true form of art can be extracted. There is no shortcut, no way of cheating one's way to success. The whole world is a competitive school, where only the honest disciples can survive.