An actor who learned his craft by experience and has become a household name through myriad TV serials and theatre activism, Abul Hayat is an unassuming stalwart. Sadiqur Rahman talked to the actor-engineer on his early life and the struggle to become an actor Abul Hayat, a legendary Bangladeshi theatre and television actor, writer, teleplay director and also a civil engineer, keeps his hopes up for the future seeing the new generation actors dominating the media at present.
He thinks that the contemporary Bangladeshi actors having formal literacy on acting will contribute to the thriving media industry with quality entertainment products.
In a conversation with New Age on January 19, Hayat said that the contemporary actors were fortunate as they could access formal education, even university-level tutorials, on acting.
He said, ‘During our childhood, we had no scope of formal education on acting although enthusiasm for the art made us acutely excited.’
Hayat was born in Murshidabad, West Bengal, under British India on September 7, 1944. His father Abdus Salam was a railway official. Salam was transferred to Chattogram when Hayat was only three. Hayat is the lone brother of four sisters.
‘My father was the general secretary of railway employees’ club. The club was a vibrant organisation promoting cultural activities including a theatre play in each month at Waziullah Institute auditorium. There were a number of skilled actors, most of whom were railway staff members. As a son of the club’s secretary I had the privilege to enjoy the theatre activities from close quarters, which inspired me most to become an actor,’ Hayat recalled, harking back to his childhood days, adding that male actors used to represent female cast during the days.
With due honour, Hayat commemorated one of the actors Amalendu Biswas who was his first mentor in theatre activism. ‘Amadendu was my ultimate inspiration,’ Hayat claimed.
The theatre group had no trainer. The maneuvering of actors as well as acting on the stage had created great excitement in Hayat’s mind. Hayat and his friend Jamaluddin Hossain, during their very childhood had dared to stage the play Tipu Sultan at their locality.
Mahbub Hafiz, uncle of Hayat, directed the stage play. Hayat could still memorise the preparation for the play. He said, ‘We used a wooden bed as the platform and made the back-screen with a bed sheet from our house.’
Since the preparation for the play went on, Hayat started to fallen in love with theatre.
‘I often did comic acts and caricature in front of my friends. When I was merely 10, I had first appeared on the Waziullah Institute’s stage to perform in the play Kolir Zwin’. Hayat’s senior friend Abul Mansur, whom he considers as his first acting guru, directed the play.
He became seriously engaged following his early stint with theatre — he performed in a number of theatre plays during college life in Chattogram.
After passing higher secondary exams, Hayat enrolled in civil engineering department at East Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology, now BUET.
Hayat found the BUET campus to be a place of cultural activism where theatre plays were staged on a regular basis. Hayat could not resist being part of the BUET-centric theatre activism. Within a short period, he became a crucial actor for theatres at BUET and Dhaka University as well.
Young Abul Hayat, looking to hone his craft, had no notion of formal training, or acting-related exercises for that matter. He said that initially he did not realise that acting was a subject involving formal learning.
‘No one was there to impart theoretical lessons on acting. Sometimes, I think that there must be something which can be termed God-gifted talent in me, which spurred me on to spontaneously accomplish performances,’ he said.
When he was a second year student at BUET, Hayat joined a Gopibag-based cultural organisation Amra Kojona. The organisation mainly exercised literary works and music by Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jibananda Das, Sukanta Bhattacharya. Amra Kojona members performed in almost all the occasions like Tagore’s birth anniversary and Pahela Baishakh celebration. Busy activism eventually made Hayat reluctant to leave Dhaka.
Hayat thinks that such organisations were the breeding rooms for cultural activists who had fought cultural aggression by the then colonial power. The Pakistani administrators were intended to spread an idea that Bengali culture was conflicting to a particular religion. They tried to ban Tagore’s song and spread that Nazrul was the poet of the Muslims. Bengali words were converted to Urdu.
Following graduation from BUET in 1967, Hayat got a job at Dhaka Wasa. The Dhaka Wasa job was an opportunity for him to continue theatre activities in Dhaka. More than once, he avoided joining attractive job outside Dhaka.
Although Hayat was involved in so many extracurricular activities, he successfully passed out from BUET with a laudable score. However, he says, ‘I was always a mediocre student,’ preferring to be polite.
During 1968 and 1969, when Bengali people had mounted protests against the autocratic rule, cultural aggression and imprisonment of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, like politicians, cultural activists also took part in the movement, asserting their presence by way of cultural activities.
‘Although, cultural activists played a remarkable role to boost the morale of the freedom-hungry people,’ Hayat said.
Central Shaheed Minar, dormitories of Dhaka University, British Council premises were the hubs for political and cultural activists. As a member of Amra Kojona, Hayat also participated in cultural shows on a mobile truck at city intersections.
Simultaneously, Hayat engaged himself with another organisation — Srijani Lekhon Shilpigoshthi. Left-leaning activists were its main members.
‘I was active in all progressive movements, although, I did not follow any particular political ideology,’ he said.
In 1970, Hayat performed in a Tagore’s play Raktakarobi at Bangla Academy premises staged in front of a sizable audience. Despite being a government officer, Hayat, along with others, took part in the play avoiding the junta rulers’ threats and held in thrall thousands who came to see the show.
The cultural movement kept supplying the vital energy that went into the people’s movement in East Pakistani, helping them to dream about their liberty from colonisation. Hayat said, ‘We did not think about theoretical aspects of the movement. Rather, we thought that cultural activism was our timely responsibility.’
He added that his name was black listed by the government due to his involvement with cultural organisations.
Guided by actor Hassan Imam, Hayat participated in all cultural shows organised by Asaduzzaman Noor, Motiur Rahman, Mahfuz Anam and Mofidul Haque, among others.
Nagarik Natya Sampraday was formed in 1968 and Hayat along with Enamul Haque, Golam Rabbani, Sultana Kamal and Fakhrul Islam, among others, were the founding members.
Thespians Zia Haider and Ataur Rahman were the founding president and general secretary of the theatre troupe that was to take theatre practice on a whole new level.
Abul Hayat first appeared in television in 1968 while rendering a Nagarik show Oedipus. Till 1970, he performed in three more television plays. In December 1971, Bangla Amar Bangla was the first television play of independent Bangladesh in which Hayat took part. The play was written by Enamul Huq and produced by Abdullah Al Mamun.
Hayat married to Mahfuza Khatun Shirin in 1970. Shirin was also engaged with Nagarik.
At the beginning of March 1971, Imam was directing a Srijani Lekhok Shilpigoshthi’s theatre production Rakta Dilam Swadhinatar Jonyo. Golam Rabbani, Enamul Haque, Dilip Chakrabartty and Hayat were among the performers. The play was scheduled to be staged at a number of locations including Shaheed Minar and the rooftop stage of Mouchak Market on March 23 that year. Unfortunately, Hayat was forced to discontinue rehearsal as he became sick one week before the final show.
Hayat’s first child Bipasha Hayat was born at Holy Family Hospital on March 23.
On the same day Hayat went in a coma due to severe sickness and was admitted to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital. Meanwhile, the infamous Dhaka crackdown began on March 25.
On March 27, when the Pakistan government relaxed the curfew imposed on Dhaka dwellers, his wife Shirin was released from the hospital and went to their Malibagh house holding the five-day old Bipasha on her lap.
‘When she found no one in the house, she walked on foot through the way to her father’s Derait village home at Rupganj,’ Hayat remembered, taking us back to those tumultuous days.
In the night of March 28, an attendant of Hayat brought him to his relative’s home at Gopibagh. Hayat, for the first time, could learn about the March 25 mayhem and its immediate consequences. Later, he left the home and went to Derait to reunite with his family members. For the next three months, Hayat was bedridden due to severe illness.
In 1965, Hayat first worked in radio at Chattogram Betar as a contractual news presenter. After independence, Hayat joined Dhaka Betar in 1972.
His first appearance in a movie was in 1972.
‘One day, Hassan Imam brought me to Ritwik Kumar Ghatak who was then shooting his film Titash Ekti Nadir Naam. When we first met, the director was smoking a bidi sitting on a chair. He donned only a lungi that time. Pointing at me at the first sight, he told Imam, “Eitare kailke FDC te loia jaish [bring this man to FDC tomorrow].” The director always spoke in an accent of his birthplace Cumilla. I was brimming with excitement after meeting Ritwik,’ Hayat said.
Next day, Hayat went to FDC while Ritwik was filming a shot. After waiting for more than one hour, the director appeared and told the makeup artist to give me a facelift using a wig.
However, Ritwik finally allowed Hayat’s screen presence without the wig as the new actor was to play the role of a Zamindar in the film.
The film was released in 1973.
At the same time, Hayat acted in a Rajen Tarafdar-directed film Palangka which was released in 1975. Unfortunately, Hayat’s part in the film was mostly edited out in the final release.
‘I did not know the exact reason. Later, I came to know that my part in the film was shortened due to some political reason.’
Hayat terms six years between 1972 and 1978, when he left the country for a job in Libya, as his busiest in his life. At the home front, he had to work at DWASA in two shifts a day.
He said, ‘The job was not an easy one. We had to work since 7:30AM to 2:30PM and did site visit from 4:00PM to 7:00PM. Despite these hectic hours, I simultaneously worked in theatre, radio, television and film.
Hayat’s younger daughter Natasha Hayat was born in 1977. Hayat’s two daughters, Bipasha Hayat and Natasha Hayat, are actresses. His son-in-laws Toukir Ahmed and Shahed Sharif Khan are actors too.
He said, ‘We wanted to provide every support to our daughters’ education so that they could attain highest degree. However, we also supported their extracurricular activities. Bipasha learnt singing while Natasha took lessons in dancing. Shirin is our inspiration.’
Hayat, with love, hailed his wife’s contribution, saying that Shrin had left theatre to take care of the daughters properly.
‘She has always been an ardent critic of my acting. Meanwhile, she became my costume designer. She packs my lunch when I go for outdoor shooting. Without Shirin’s support I could not have reached today’s position,’ Hayat said.
Hayat regularly writes columns in newspapers. His famous column titled Esho Nipobone has been serialised in daily Prothom Alo. Four volumes on the title were published.
Hayat started writing columns for a magazine called Tarokalok under the title Amar jibon khatar footnote. A compilation of the columns was later published in two volumes. So far, Hayat has authored 29 titles comprising short stories, novels, stage plays and television plays.
Hayat earned Bangladesh National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 2007 film Daruchini Dwip, directed by Toukir. He was awarded the Ekushey Padak for his writing in 2015.
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