Babita shares her experience of four decades in Bangla movie
‘Dream Girl’ of Bangladeshi filmdom, actress Babita Akhtar has achieved prominence simply as Babita on the silver screen by acting diverse roles in over 250 movies that made her a household name and a popular cultural icon in Bangladesh. She is best known for her performance in Satyajit Ray’s Ashoni Sanket (Distant Thunder), a novel adaptation of the great famine in Bengal in 1943, which won the Golden Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 1973.
Throughout her career, she has garnered numerous prestigious awards including the National Film Award (1975, 1976, 1977, 1985 and 2002), Bengal Film Journalists Association Award from India and National Film Award from Pakistan.
Recently, she has been appointed the Goodwill Ambassador of Distressed Children and Infants International (DCI), a United States-based non-profit child rights organisation.
Still the actress performs in lead roles but not as ‘heroine’, but in characters which match with her age and appearance. In an interview with New Age, Babita shared her experiences and gave her observations on the changes she finds in her journey of over four decades in the industry.
A reluctant Babita was persuaded to come to movie industry by her brother-in-law, iconic film director Zahir Raihan, in the late 1960s. She first appeared in the movie Sangsar directed by Raihan. In the movie she was introduced as Subarna. It was a super flop. She was re-introduced as Babita in the Urdu movie Jalte Suraj Ke Nichey, directed by Raihan which did not release in time. However, Babita got popularity in her first appearance as the heroine in the Bangla movie Shesh Porjonto, directed by Raihan, which was released on the Pakistan Day (August 14) in 1969. This movie became so popular that she got offers from the leading directors, whom she could not refuse.
Actually it was an amazing start of a bright career under the guidance of quality directors such as Zahir Raihan, Khan Ataur Rahman, Kazi Zahir, Narayan Ghosh, Shuvash Dutt, Amzad Hossain, Kamal Ahmed and others.
‘Film industry was very vibrant. The talented directors created a number of good potential actors. The actors had very good relation with each other and had a very positive competition that is very important for a healthy film industry,’ Babita told New Age.
‘Directors in those days knew how the actors could be made to act the way they wanted. Even the producers had the urge to give every possible support to create good movies. And the movie theatres were overcrowded mostly by the middle class and students. Even the music, lyrics of the playbacks of those movies are still popular amongst the masses’, she said.
‘In such a vibrant scene, the actors had many options to select good movies. Say for example I first asked about the storyline and character before signing any movie. If I liked the story and character and found the producer was not that resourceful I even acted without any remuneration for the sake of making a good movie. It’s also true that I had even appeared on sword fight scenes in some commercial movies, but nobody complained about those movies being substandard or obscene,’ she added.
Of the 250s movies she acted in lead roles, she loved to play her roles of Alo in Alor Michhil, Moni in Nayan Moni, Golapi in Golapi Ekhon Train-e. But, she considers her performance as Ananga in Stayjit Ray’s movie Ashoni Sanket as the best.
In fact, the Ashoni Sanket gave Babita international exposure. ‘Stayajit Ray offered me to attend the Berlin film festival in which Ashoni Sanket grabbed the golden bear. I was introduced in the festival as Ray’s youngest heroine,’ said Babita.
The festival created the thirst for Babita to attend international festivals. ‘I found participation in international festivals very interesting that motivated me to attend in such festivals. I attended the Moscow Film Festival frequently. I was so popular in Moscow film festival that the organising committee hanged seven photographs along with the Indian legend Raj Kapoor at the main venue and even at the Moscow airport. Russians knew me watching the Russian dubbed Bangladeshi movies acted by me in the festival,’ she claimed.
But Babitita believes the scenario has completely been changed during the last few years. She thinks each and every sector in the movie industry has fallen very rapidly. ‘Still there are some talented actors but there is no good director to guide them properly. The approach of the producers has completely changed. They don’t have the intention for making quality movies targeting the mass, since only the working class people go to theatres to be “entertained”. There is no quality technical hands, musicians and lyricist. In brief the whole situation is completely different from what it was even a few decades back. In this situation how can you expect good movies?,’ asked Babita.
‘I admit that a few independent makers are producing a few good movies which are winning awards at national and international levels. But can these movies make profit? The middle class, the strength for any movie industry, is no more interested in movies. Rather they have turned to home entertainment options such as satellite channels, Internet and others’, she adds.
However, Babita is optimistic. She believes that Bangladeshi movie industry will revive the golden days again in future. For that she calls for a passionate and holistic approach.
-With New Age input