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Razzak's rise, his commitment to Bangla cinema

Shihab Sarkar | Published: August 31, 2017 21:34:09 | Updated: October 23, 2017 09:36:56


The recognition of the role of late film star Razzak in bringing the movie-goers back to the Bangla cinema and prompting its regeneration in the then East Pakistan was no coincidence. The film hero's excellent performance in 'Behula' (1966) has later been viewed by critics as one largely moulded by the socio-cultural realities then prevailing in this land. For their part, a section of film makers were found making windfall profits by producing and directing Urdu films; while another was found engaged in a desperate battle to keep the tradition of Bangla cinema alive.

 

 

After the theatres in the then East Pakistan remained vibrant with locally made Bangla movies for more than nearly a decade from 1956, it suddenly began to be flooded by Urdu films. Those were made in the locales of East Bengal with Bengalee artistes. In fact, the movie world of the land had slowly been found to be overrun by Indian Bangla and Hindi, and West Pakistani Urdu films for over a decade. Thanks to the dominance of these alien productions in East Pakistan, the then province could not manage to embark on making films of its own. For this, it had to wait until it made 'Mookh O Mukhosh' (1956), its first full-length Bangla feature film.

 

 

On some counts, the emergence of Razzak in the Dhaka filmdom seemed a coincidence. But given his post-teen background of acting in Kolkata, his city of birth, and his later patronage of Bangla movies in East Pakistan amply speaks of an actor made up of virtues not found in many. In short, Razzak at one moment began demonstrating a socio-cultural awareness which he could have skirted due to his being a migrant to this land. To the amazement of many, as time wore on in the 1960s, the Bengalee actor from India continued to be a part of the cultural awakening in East Pakistan. He could have kept himself distanced from the socio-cultural developments in East Pakistan. In fact everybody would have considered him an unlikely person to be a part of this nationalistic resurgence. But by sticking to his anti-Urdu-cinema stance, he later proved himself to be quite active in the upholding of the cause of Bangla cinema in East Pakistan.

 

 

Luck had favoured Abdur Razzak (1942-2017), later Razzak. He entered the filmdom of East Pakistan through Bangla folk-mythological movie 'Behula', directed by Zahir Raihan. Raihan had proved himself a consummate and committed director with his feature films in the 1950s and the 1960s. He was not supposed to direct a folk tale-based movie. The making of 'Behula' was in fact a strategic protest. His objective was to wean off the Bengalee viewers from Urdu movies. By that time Indian films had stopped coming to East Pakistan, after a restriction was imposed on their screening following the 1965 India-Pakistan war. However, Urdu cinema was enjoying a favourable market in East Pakistan. Directors Zahir Raihan, Salah Uddin ('Surjasnan', 'Roopban'), Sadeq Khan ('Nodi O Nari') et al tried their best to resist this dominance by making pure Bangla films. But all their sincere efforts to protect the Bangla movies went in vain. It mainly resulted from the commercial traits of a few influential directors and production houses.

 

 

After going through a spell of folk-tale based films, the Dhaka filmdom slipped into the grip of Urdu movies. The trend was pioneered by a few otherwise gifted directors based in East Pakistan. They included chiefly Mustafiz and Ehtesham. Both of them had made good Bangla movies earlier.  A lot of others who had made Bangla movies in the 1950s and 1960s also joined the bandwagon. In fact, a large chunk of time in the 1960s remained flooded with popular Urdu movies. The artistes were mostly Bengalees including a number of highly popular heroes and heroines. That was a real bad time for the directors, with those not convenient with the Urdu language turning jobless. Foreseeing a bleak future, talented makers like Zahir Raihan, Kazi Zahir et al found few options before them except making Urdu films. Zahir Raihan was compelled to make Urdu flicks like 'Sangam' (1963), 'Bahana' (1965) which showed his flair for making commercial Urdu movies as well. During the whole decade of the 1960s, locally produced and directed Urdu films dominated the scenario in East Pakistan. The box-office records of films like 'Talash'. 'Chanda', 'Chakori', 'Mala' etc had virtually threatened to wipe out Bangla films made in Dhaka. Ironically, it was Zahir Raihan who came to the rescue of the then-decaying Bangla film industry. By that time he had already demonstrated his creative genius in film making with the extraordinary Bangla movies 'Kokhono Asheni', 'Kacher Deyal' etc.

 

 

Zahir Raihan's direction of the Bangla commercial movie 'Behula' with Razzak and Suchonda in the lead emerged as a watershed in the film history of East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. In the following decades, the emerging star's pairing with some popular female co-stars changed the very look of the Dhaka cinema. The popular pairs of Razzak-Kobori, Razzak-Shabana, Razzak-Suchonda or Razzak-Babita contributed greatly to bringing audiences back to cinemas screening Dhaka-made Bangla movies. If one feels inclined to hold the idea of coincidence in abeyance, then the dynamics of socio-cultural realities in East Pakistan has to be considered. One should keep in mind the rapid turn of events which catapulted Zahir Raihan to the height of legendary proportions in the following years that witnessed his flurry of writing and film making, the Bangladesh Liberation War being his backdrop.

 

 

The debut of Razzak in the Dhaka filmdom under the tutelage of Zahir Raihan thus heralded the 5-decade career of the late film star. Himself a lot more than a lotus-eating romantic film star, Razzak found his perfect guide in the socio-politically committed director. Such a mentorship proved a basic prerequisite for him to grow into the most popular superstar Bangladesh had ever seen.

 

 

It took no time for Razzak to outshine the reigning heroes like Rahman, Khalil, Nadim, Azim, the younger Ujjal, Sohel Rana, Faruq, Alamgir and others. 'Behula' became a roaring hit, the freshness-effusing performance of Razzak adding to its success. It prompted Zahir Raihan to pick the fast emerging star for his highly allegorical political movie 'Jibon Theke Neya'. The late Razzak considered this film a great turning-point in his nearly 50-year-long movie career, which saw him perform as hero in around 350 movies directed by makers of varied genius. 'Jibon Theke Neya' was made in 1970, the year when the Bengalees in East Pakistan had already started preparing for the final battle for self-rule, and later freedom.

 

 

Prior to meeting Zahir Raihan, Razzak had to pass through series of hardship and uncertainties. He did not give up, and continued to appear in petty roles in films like 'Daakbabu' (Azim-Sujata), 'Tero Nombor Feku Ostagar Lane' etc. These appearances in minor roles proved Razzak's true passion for a film career. It paved the way for his eventual appearance as the popular romantic superstar in Bangladesh filmdom.

 

 

Razzak began his acting career humbly on neighbourhood drama stages and with fleeting screen appearances in Kolkata, West Bengal. Circumstances forced him to migrate to Dhaka in 1964. He could have ended up being a disillusioned actor-aspirant in a largely alien land. His unique creative and emotional honesty drove him to choose the right path. Notwithstanding patronage, he was a self-made artiste in every sense of the term.

 

 

shihabskr@ymail.com

 

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