Sharmili Ahmed’s presence in both film and TV has always stood out for her sincere engagement with the roles she picked. She is also one of the very few actors whose popularity has cut across generations. Following are excerpts from a recent interview taken by Karoby Shihab, in which the artiste lays bare her life dedicated to acting.
Veteran actor Sharmili Ahmed was born to a culturally inclined couple — Md Tofazzal Hossain and Anwara Khatun in May 8, 1947 in Belur Chok Village, Murshidabad in the Indian state of West Bengal.
Sharmili is the eldest among her six siblings. Her younger sister, Wahida Mollick Jolly is another bright star in the acting arena of Bangladesh.
Within a few months of her birth, during the partition of India, her family moved to Rajshahi and Sharmili Ahmed grew up there.
Her father Md Tofazzal Hossain was a government service holder. Alongside the job, he used to remain busy in stage plays and directed many plays.
Sharmili had a keen interest for acting from the very beginning of her childhood. She first performed in a stage play that was directed by her father at the age of four. That was the beginning which made her fall in love with acting.
Sharmili Ahmed has grown up seeing devotion for singing, acting and other forms of cultural activities.
‘My grandfather used to say that beside academic education, if anybody gets involved with cultural practices, no bad intention will ever enter his or her mind,’ said Sharmili while describing the cultural environment of her family.
The society was also in support of cultural activism. Though everybody had their freedom to practice religion, there was no orthodoxy in people.
The cultural scene was vibrant. There were musical events, stage plays, dance show and others. People used to enjoy the programmes along with their family members.
Sharmili’s grandfather appointed a sitar trainer for her mother to involve her in the cultural arena as well. He often used to request his daughter-in-law to play the instrument to entertain him.
‘My family did not face any compulsion from anybody ever. We are lucky that we had a peaceful environment,’ said the veteran actress.
Sharmili Ahmed recalled her memory about celebrating both Hindu and Muslim festivals.
Sharmili as a child was a big fan of Indian film actress Suchitra Sen, a heartthrob of that time.
‘I wanted to be a heroine like Suchitra Sen. There was a cinema hall nearby our home. During the second show of any film, we could listen to all the dialogues and songs from where I lived. I never missed any film of Suchitra,’ said Sharmili harking back to her childhood.
‘The acting style of Suchitra Sen and the singing pattern of Sandhya Mukhopadhyay had a huge influence over me,’ she added.
In the early 60s’, Rajshahi Radio started its journey. Sharmili by then had completed her SSC level education from Rajshahi PN Girls High School and got admitted in Rajshahi College.
At that time, she went to Rajshahi Radio for a drama audition. She also had to face an audition — a voice test for being an announcer — and got selected for both radio drama and announcement.
Her father also joined there as a drama producer and few of her aunts and uncles also got selected as drama artistes.
‘I wanted to work in drama and not in the announcement department. I agreed for the job when I got it but told them that I would be an announcer only if my shift starts after my college time,’ said Sharmili, regarding the beginning of her career in Radio.
She started working as an announcer from that point on and she simultaneously started to act in dramas once or twice a month. She used to get monthly wages from the radio, Tk 25 for acting in drama and Tk 110 for announcing.
Days went by. Meanwhile Sharmili Ahmed was continuing her education alongside her job in radio.
She started her acting career through Urdu films. One of her uncle’s friends asked her to act in an Urdu language film when she was still a student of intermediate and her first film was Jugnu.
She had to travel to Dhaka for the films shooting purpose.
‘I remember those days. I used to travel by train and return back to Rajshahi after shooting,’ said Sharmili Ahmed.
She acted in four Urdu films — Jugnu, Ujala, Panchi Baura and Thikana.
During that time she got offers for television drama as well. Bangladesh Television offered her to be the announcer for the only state-run channel. As Sharmili was not a resident of Dhaka, she could not avail the offer.
Her first Bengali film was Abirbhab, directed by Subhash Dutta. Prominent actors like Kabori Sarwar, Azim, Abdur Razzak, Anwar Hossain and others were her co-artistes. Famous music composer Satya Saha composed the music for the film.
In that film she played the character of a young mother. A song ‘Shaat ti ronger majhe ami meel khuje na pai’ lip-synced by Sharmili became famous among the audience. Anjuman Ara Begum rendered the song.
‘Anjuman Ara Begum used to adore me. After the recording of ‘Shaat ti ronger majhe ami,’ she approached me and requested me to act in the song. Later the song became hit and Anjuman Ara hugged me in gratitude,’ Sharmili recalled.
The film was released in 1968 and became a super hit. Sharmili Ahmed did not have to look back since then.
Meanwhile she completed her graduation from the University of Rajshahi. In 1968, she got married to Rakib Uddin Ahmed. He was the principal of a polytechnic institute along with being a cultural enthusiast. Rakib used to play different instruments like tabla, flute etc.
‘My husband was a great support for me. My in-laws did not create any obstructions as well. It is for their relentless support that I have reached where I am today,’ shared Sharmili with a hint of gratefulness in her voice.
In 1971, during the liberation war, Sharmili Ahmed stayed in Dhaka with her husband in the grip of constant fear of death. Later the couple had to move from one place to another to hide pogrom.
‘It was a horrific time. Once the Pakistani military personnel took away one of our neighbours. We could hear the sound of their footsteps and had to hold our breath back,’ Sharmili said, sharing her memory of the liberation war.
Later their daughter Tanima Ahmed was born and her husband shifted to Chittagong for the purpose of his job and hence she had to take a long pause from acting to concentrate on her family life.
She came back to her own arena again with a film named Agun. Directed by Mohsin, the film was released in 1976.
She continued her acting career since then. One after another, she worked in films like Palatak, Basundhara, Emiler Goyenda Bahini, Hangor Nodi Grenade, Ekhono Onek Raat, Tomake Chai, Kushum Koli, Kajer Meye, Amar Swapno Tumi and others.
Till date Sharmili Ahmed has worked in over 150 films. She has shared the screen with eminent actors like Razzak, Ujjal, Azim, Bulbul Ahmed and others.
Sharmili Ahmed has acted in diverse characters. She has been seen in screen as a mother, sister-in-law, a beloved wife, a supportive sister etc. She has rejected many scripts as she did not find the character important and always preferred roles where she can show her acting skill.
‘I never thought that I have to be a heroine. I preferred the central characters. It did not matter if the character was that of a mother or any other role for that matter. As I love acting, I did not want to confine myself to a particular image or mould,’ said Sharmili while talking about selecting roles that involved a bit of premeditation.
Alongside films, Sharmili Ahmed was regular in television dramas as well. When she used to come to Dhaka for her shooting in Urdu films, she worked in the first drama serial of Bangladesh titled ‘Dampati’ which was another hit among the viewers.
She has worked in over three hundred teleplays like Aachol, Bhalobashi Tomakei, Nibedita, Shara Bela, Bohurupi Bhalobasha, Rupa and others along with appearing in television commercials.
She has hosted a television programme titled ‘Amar Ma Amar Prithibi’ based on world mothers’ day, which was aired in Ekushey Television.
Sharmili Ahmed has stopped working in the film industry now. She has her rationale regarding this decision.
‘I love acting. More than it being my profession, I consider it to be my passion. I never compromised on the quality of the content. But, in recent days, I do not come across roles that interest me. Besides, I have seen the practice of vulgarity in the film industry that has begun just a few years ago. I did not like what I saw and thought it was better to step back,’ she said.
Though she has stopped working in films, she feels that she will be back if she finds quality scripts and roles that match her requirements.
‘I never worked in roles that I did not value. Otherwise the numbers of my acted film could cross more than three hundred. Now at this stage of my life, I don’t want to work by going against my genre,’ she added.
On the other hand, Sharmili said that the new film makers don’t want to cast actors and actress of her time. She claimed television channels are selecting contents nowadays. Artistes do not have much to say. Makers pick stories and characters according to the sponsors and what the channels desire.
By way of a comparison with how film and TV actors operate today, she reflected on her times. ‘We used to follow the few essential steps of acting. But in recent times everything is scattered. Discipline is the most important thing in order to succeed in anything we do. In our times, the stories were picked from lives of the people. Now I can hardly relate the stories with our society.’
As she prepares her costume for her next day’s shooting and looks through the scripts, the actress spends time with her grandchild during leisure time. An activity she loves.
Nowadays, she is shooting for a few drama serials of different channels. Tumi Acho Tai on SA TV, Family Crisis on RTV, and Lucky Thirtee’ on Banglavision are the serials to which she has committed her time and energy.
‘I enjoy acting with the youngsters. They consider me as their mother or grandmother. Their respect and love keep me immersed with joy during the shooting. Besides, we discuss roles and I try to spread the knowledge I possess,’ said the living legend, sharing her experience of working with new generations of artistes.
In her long acting career, both in film and drama, Sharmili Ahmed has received a number of prestigious awards.
In 1985 she was honoured with Bachsas award for her acting talent in the movie Dohon. She also won Ritwik Ghatak Golden Award, Anannya Award, Alokito Nari Award, Syed Mahidul Islam Memorial Award and others.
‘I did not get any national award yet. But, I don’t think it is a big deal. The love I have received from people is the biggest award for me. Whenever I go out, people including the young generation recognise me and ask me about my health and that gives me a lot of peace,’ said Sharmili Ahmed.
Does she have any plans to direct movies or dramas?
‘Direction is a very tough job. A director is the master of the production. He or she must know and take charge of everything. I don’t think I can handle the tremendous pressure of direction. I love acting and prefer to die as an actor,’ was Sharmili’s clear cut answer.
Courtesy of Sharmili Ahmed
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