Obaidul Huq (1911-2007), an eminent journalist, movie maker, novelist and raconteur, is no doubt an iconic figure in our literary world. He had edified our intellectual ethos for decades. He had made an immense contribution in the fields of journalism and film-making for many decades, when there was a barren wilderness of modern education and culture in our society. Indeed, his courageous Solomonic wisdom cleaved the darkness against the Muslim-majority society in 1940s.
Bangladesh Film Archive (Ministry of Information) recently published a book titled 'Obaidul Huq-Cholochitrokar O Sangbadik' (Obaidul Huq-Filmmaker and Journalist) to pay tributes to this leading light who enlightened our first generation of educated Muslims about films, journalism and creative writings in the post-1947 era.
Researcher and writer Shamima Chowdhury edited the book which focused on different aspects of Mr Huq's chequered life.
Four chapters of the book narrated his early life, career and reminiscences about him by his near and dear ones. New generation readers will definitely be happy to learn about many untold stories of 1940s and 1950s from these chapters. Moreover, some selected parts of Mr Huq's writings and some columns that appeared in the leading dailies on him after his death have been included in the addenda to enrich the book further.
He authored a novel titled Sangram, a compelling story that was recreated on celluloid. When it comes to the pioneering role he played in the development of movies in our part of the world, there is always that poignant point of reference-he titled the story 'Dukkhe Jaader Jibon Gorha'. Anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge about the history will realise the ache that drove him to this exposure of human agony. It was pre-partition India. It was a gory spectacle of killing in a wicked demonstration of communalism. Huq was speaking for a generation that had lived, indeed was living, through some of the more horrible moments in time.
The book discussed about the hardship he faced to make the film. The twin trouble-financial affordability and marketing the product-hit him hard. At one stage he changed his original name from 'Obaidul Huq' to 'Himadri Chowdhury' to get the Calcutta film society's nod for release of his film. Earlier he borrowed a big sum of money from his elder sister to finance the dream project.
He was the first Bengali Muslim to direct and produce a feature film prior to the Partition. He had been involved with the film industry as a director, producer, lyricist, playwright, film critic and film society activist.
Obaidul Huq's fondness for cinema developed through relentless watching of movies in his youth. By 1945, the fondness became an obsession and he was off to Calcutta with 14,000 rupees in cash hoping to make a film based on a script written by him. Though he confronted obstacles-his lack of experience in filmmaking and the communal tension, he gradually succeeded in his endeavour and thus his first film Dukkhe Jader Jibon Gora was released.
Dukkhe Jader Jibon Gora depicts the ups and downs of a Hindu family during the famine in 1943. It was the first time a Muslim filmmaker made inroads into the pre-Partition Bengal's highly-distinguished film industry based in Calcutta that virtually excluded Bengali Muslims. Fateh Lohani, renamed as 'Kiran Kumar', acted in the film and Abdul Ahad was the music director. Sukumar Das Gupta was to direct the film. After completing 14 per cent of the film, he abandoned his job because of a dispute between him and Huq. The rest of the film was completed by Huq himself.
Dukkhe Jader Jibon Gora was released in Calcutta on December 20, 1946. According to Alamgir Kabir, the Calcutta-based distributors took full advantage of the volatile political atmosphere and managed to exploit Huq and paid him nothing. Huq's personal investment in the project amounted to over 50,000 rupees.
Reflecting on the film, Alamgir Kabir wrote, "I feel that Dukhey Jader Jibon Gora was not only a bold attempt but also a tremendously risky venture. Had it not been for family affluence of the director, the 'adventure' could have proved ruinous. But, then again, taking risks has always been the way with the pioneers."
Obaidul Huq also established a film distribution house named 'Standard Films' and was a member of Bongiyo Chalachchitra Samity. He took initiatives to make a number of films in both Bangla and Hindi but the situation forced him to withdraw from the projects as the communal harmony was once again undermined by the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. Huq returned to Dhaka.
In this part of Bengal, Huq directed Dui Diganto. Azan and Ontorongo are two film adaptations of his stories. Huq continued his contribution to cinema in different capacities-as a member of National Film Award Committee, Censor Board and also through film grants and film society activities.
Obaidul Huq was not only a modern man but also a person of an enviable stature. His avuncular and benign behaviour attracted many young talents in 1980s to build career in journalism. He once told journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan that there was a whole lot that the new breed of journalists needed to do. "Read and think, he said. Journalism is not just about editing copies or writing editorials. It is, more fundamentally, about shaping your own, considered response to the world around you. In effect, what he was telling me was that the pen could indeed be made mightier than the sword through having the owner of it develop a worldview of his own. It was a new step in my education. I was grateful to him for the advice," Syed Badrul Ahsan wrote.
Obaidul Huq defied age. His hearing, of course, deteriorated in the course of time. It was the mind in him, though, that stayed as agile as ever. Well into his eighties, he was writing articles for newspapers. He read avidly, as he always had since books began to captivate him. And anyone interested in the history of cinema in Bangladesh would find himself in a veritable tutorial discussion with him on the genre.
The book will remain as a thumbnail sketch on the late iconic figure, though only 189 pages cannot accommodate the treasure trove of late Obaidul Huq.
Even a lot of outrageous spelling and grammatical mistakes made the book subpar as such mistakes were anathema to late Obaidul Huq. How did the editor of the book allow the same article to be published twice in the book-'a tribute of Obaidul Huq' on page 146 and 'a tribute to Obaidul Huq' on page 148? Hope the next edition of the book will correct such shocking mistakes. Otherwise, it really threatens to create a ground of 'solecism'. Only an error-free book can help us establish the plenipotentiary status of late Huq in our society. It will be a fruitful effort to honour him in that way.
Finally the readers will be happy to see the images of the published news covering late Obaidul Huq's marriage in The Statesman of Calcutta on June 7, 1939 and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's hand-written letter, dated May 30, 1972 to Mr Obaidul after reading his 'Voice of Thunder'. Such antiquarian legacy of Mr Obaidul's family members must be appreciated in this regard.
Mr Obaidul Huq was born on October 31, 1911 and expired on October 13, 2007.
Cholochitrokar O Sangbadik
By Shamima Chowdhury
Bangladesh Film Archive
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