“Nawab, these things are all yours. Please take anything you want. We can’t ask any price from our beloved Nawab.” These were the words offered by the shop keepers of East and West Bengals, not to any real Nawab but to a phenomenal actor through whom Nawab Shirajuddoula, the tragic hero of Bengal, got a silver screen reincarnation. Anwar Hossain, the legendary hero of Bengali film industry, left this mortal world on September 2.
Hossain was the unheard voice of the oppressed masses of Bangladesh. The origin of his compassion for the downtrodden can be traced back to his early life in Sorulia village of Jamalpur district, where he was born on November 6, 1931. He continued his study and passed Matriculation in Jamalpur in 1951, a time of communal tension following the fall of the colonial rule. Then he was admitted to Anandamohan College of Mymensingh.
His first stage performance dates back to his school life. He first acted in the drama Podokkhep, authored by famous playwright Askar Ibn Shaikh. As a cinemaholic, he was a fan of Chhabi Biswas and Kanan Devi, the top two film stars of the vintage era. He never pursued any other profession after completing his studies, as his passion for silver screen made him determined to take it up as his profession. In 1957, he came to Dhaka and talked to renowned movie director Mahiuddin. This veteran director didn’t make any mistake in recognising the latent talent of this gifted actor.
In 1958 Anwar Hossain played the role of a villain named “Biren” in Mahiuddin’s movie Tomar Amar. His skill and talents made this character even more popular than the hero of that film. There was no turning back after that.
From the late 50s he has worked in cinema till 1985. During his highly diversified film career he starred in more than 500 movies. Many of his works became incredibly popular in both the Bengals and in Pakistan. In 1967, as an actor, he challenged the definition of popularity by acting in the movie Nawab Shirajuddoula as the last Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. His acting was so perfect and well admired that the people of Bengal named him the uncrowned Nawab of Bengal. Still he is and will be respected with this honorific title for his unforgettable performance. The movie was directed by Khan Ata, another veteran film director of Bangladesh.
We know of Sirajuddaulllah from the rugged pages of our history book. But Shiraj’s spirit of independence, the essence of his patriotism, his love for his subjects and this land became alive in Anwar Hossain’s performance. He showed the characters of a true leader of the oppressed masses of the then East Pakistan.
He has worked with famous director Jahir Raihan in the epic movie Jibon Theke Neya which was released during the troubled time of 1970, where he played a political leader struggling for people’s rights and in return persecuted by government machinery. It was an allegorical presentation of the then East Pakistan, exploited by Pakistani military rule. The film presents our national anthem Amar Shonar Bangla in Hossain’s voice (it was not the national anthem at that time). The famous revolutionary song of Nazrul Karar oi louho kopat¸ sang by Hossain, largely inspired our people in their struggle for self determination.
Anwar Hossain was never involved with politics but he always stood beside the oppressed through his screen performance. Thanks to his friendship with Motlub Anam, son of Abul Mansur Ahmed, he also participated actively in our great Language Movement.
Throughout his acting career Anwar Hossain performed in more than 500 commercially successful films. Some of his highly popular films are Tomar Amar (1958), Shurjasnan (1962), Joar Elo (1962), Knacher Deyal (1963), Nachghar (1963), Dui Diganta (1964), Ekaler Rupkotha (1965), Shatrong (1965), Raja Shonyashi (1966), Ujala (1966), Nawab Shirajuddoula (1967), Jibon Theke Neya (1970), Orunodoyer Ognishakkhi (1972), Lathial (1975), Golapi Ekhon Train a (1978), Bhat De (1984). Renowned cinema hall Balaka was inaugurated with his movie Dui Diganta on May 1, 1964.
He has worked with many legendary directors such as Khan Ataur Rahman, Shubhas Dutta, Zahir Raihan, Amjad Hossain and many others. All along his life he has cherished his work experience with Zahir Raihan, one of the martyred intellectuals of our great liberation war. He has acted as the hero in three historical movies directly related to our national revolution. Titumir, Isha Khan and Shirajuddoula. His performance has inspired the people of Bangladesh to fight against oppression and exploitation.
Anwar Hossain was also very famous among non-Bengali cine-buffs. Many of his Urdu films became block busters in the pre-independence period. Some of his famous and original Urdu movies are Shatrong, Ujala, Tum Mere Hote and Nachghar. Most of his movies of the pre-independence era used to be dubbed in Urdu for West Pakistanis.
One of his memorable works was Palanka. In this Rajen Tarafar flick, he starred as Maqbool and Shandhya Roy was the leading lady. The depiction of tension during the deadly partition of India and Pakistan and Anwar Hossain’s skill of juxtaposing himself with the plot was loved by the audiences and critics alike. Seeing Anwar Hossain’s performance, celebrated director Shatyajit Ray hugged him and congratulated profusely.
Anwar Hossain has been adorned with many awards. For the epic Shirajuddoula he was awarded with the distinguished Nigar Award of the Pakistan Government. He won the Best Actor Award in 1975 for his performance in Lathial. He won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Award in 1978 for his performance in Golapi Ekhon Train e. He was given the Ekushey Padak in 1988, one of the highest civilian awards conferred by the Bangladeshi Government. He was the first actor to be awarded with this prestigious medal of honour. In 2010 he was awarded with the National Film Award (Lifetime Achievement).
But his awards and medals could not keep away the loneliness of our uncrowned Nawab. After the retirement, life of this iconic actor did not remain a happy one. Being isolated from the cinema world, he became very frustrated as he had dedicated his entire life to cinema. Actually he led a life in solitude with his wife in a small apartment in Kalabagan. Before the recognition of 2010, almost no one from our film industry remembered the contribution of this actor.
Anwar Hossain is the flag bearer of our film industry. A two page tribute article cannot describe his vastness as an artist. His life gives us an invaluable lesson– dedication and brilliance are important for an actor to be successful in the film industry. Our actors and directors, who use enormous resources to make ‘blockbusters’ should be reading this carefully.
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