One of the most popular actors of the country whose acting ability and finesse have extended to all the platforms, including radio, stage, television and film, Dolly Zahur gained huge popularity for her natural acting over her 45-year-long career. Karoby Shihab of New Age talked to her recently. Below are some glimpses into the actor’s life and career.
National Award-winning Dolly Zahur has always represented what ‘natural acting’ meant on both TV and silver screen. All her life she displayed an ability to carry her personality over to the character she played, occupying thereby a definitive place in the entertainment industry. She is one talented artiste whose staying power in the industry has proved how good acting can fetch the attention of the masses.
Dolly Zahur has acted in numerous television dramas and films. Her portrayal of the characters as mother, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and others has won the hearts of thousands.
The actor is not appearing on screen frequently anymore. Her only son Riyasat Azim lives in Australia with his family. Now-a-days Dolly Zahur mostly spends her days in Australia. She has become a grandmother as well and enjoys staying around her grand-daughter.
Though she lives with her son, she is often struck by a profound homesickness. Dolly Zahur has spent most of her life dedicated to the entertainment industry of Bangladesh, where her presence was that of a caring mother spreading positive vibe all around.
Whenever I feel that I need to breathe in my own land, I come back to Bangladesh, said Dolly Zahur. ‘The entertainment industry has become my second family,’ this remark speaks volumes about her engagement with acting, which for her was not merely a career.
Born in July 17, 1953 in Dhanmondi, Dhaka, her father Mofizul Islam was a government service holder and mother Maleka Banu was a homemaker.
Dolly Zahur is in her 60s now. Various ailments have kept her out of the ambit of normal healthy life. She has been on strict medication. Besides, she has become a practicing Muslim. Though she doesn’t take up new work on a regular basis, whenever she comes back to Bangladesh, she gets involved in some selective projects. Besides, she tries to be in touch with her sister who is suffering from cancer.
‘My sister is suffering from cancer since long and is presently very sick. Whenever I come to Bangladesh I try to spend a lot of time attending to her needs,’ informed the artiste.
Recently she has acted in two teleplays written by Khairul Alam Sabuj and Matia Banu Shuku, which will be aired on BTV.
‘I cannot recall the names of the teleplays unfortunately. I will act in another telefilm for BTV before I leave Bangladesh this time,’ Dolly Zahur said while sharing her upcoming plans.
Though Dolly Zahur’s paternal grandfather’s house is in Cumilla, as an actor she has acted in different local languages, including Noakhali and Kushtia.
The actor started acting at a fairly young age. She used to act as a child artiste in theatre. Her brother used to take her to different functions to perform.
Dolly Zahur had her schooling in Azimpur Government Girls’ School and College. During her school days, she used to be involved with cultural programmes, besides being a regular participant in sports events.
After matriculation, Dolly Zahur got admission in Eden Mohila College to complete her intermediate level of education.
Later, when she studied at department of sociology in Dhaka University in the mid of 70s, she became a regular actor on stage.
She was very close to Sheikh Kamal, the eldest son of founding president of the country Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They acted in a stage drama named ‘Nabanna’ directed by M Hamid together.
‘People might think that I am biased towards the Mujib family for my political belief. But this is not right. I have different kind of attachment to the family. Sheikh Kamal was like a brother to me. He used to drop me home after our drama rehearsal,’ Dolly Zahur said, sharing memories of youth.
‘We used to call Sultana Kamal as Khuki Apa. She was a lovely woman. Brother Kamal had showed an interest on her. I tried a lot to convince Sultana Kamal to marry brother Kamal,’ she added, harking back to the days of innocence when Dhaka was almost a sleepy town and the theatrical activities were just taking root.
However, the actor was regular in stage plays across the city. She got involved with theatre troupe Natya Chakra in 1974/75. Her first stage drama with the troupe was ‘Let There be Light’.
Dolly Zahur was also a member of other troupes like Kathak Natya Goshti, Bangla Theatre and Aryanak Natyadal.
She has under her belt notable stage dramas like Pragoitihashik, Manush, Iblish, Mayur Singhasan and others — works that drew the attention of the public and the cognoscenti alike.
Meanwhile, the actor worked as a radio artiste as well.
Dolly Zahur got married in November 5, 1976 to Zahurul Islam.
She met him at a wedding programme of her friend. Zahurul Islam was very much impressed with her. Later they started meeting each other. Her husband was also an actor. He basically introduced Dolly with Kathak Natya Goshti. Besides, he was a regular artiste of Bangladesh Television.
‘My husband was an inspiration for my continued effort to become an accomplished actor. His support has helped me to develope myself as an actor,’ said Dolly Zahur about her husband who died on November 10, 2006.
To trace back to her beginning, ‘Manik Ratan’ was the first TV drama through which Dolly Zahur debuted in television.
Though she was born as ‘Hamida Banu’, later she was enlisted in Bangladesh Television as Dolly Zahur. One of the friends of her husband, Alimuzzaman was a producer in BTV. He suggested that she changed the name.
However, Dolly Zahur made a permanent entry into the public consciousness through the 1980’s drama serial ‘Ei Sob Din Ratri’. She gained huge popularity for her lively acting in the role of ‘Nilu Bhabi’, a quintessential matriarch who in the drama serial written by late Humayun Ahmed and directed by Mostafizur Rahman, lent others her warmth and love.
‘To be honest, I was not happy with my role at first. I didn’t know Humayun Ahmed at that time. When, for the first time, I read the script he was sitting right in front of me and I didn’t recognise him. I started complaining about the dialogues,’ Dolly Zahur remembered her first meeting with Humayun Ahmed.
‘Humayun Ahmed later saw my acting and he liked what he saw. I also got deeply involved with the Nilu character. Later, I had the opportunity to work in a few more projects with the writer,’ she added.
Dolly Zahur’s appeal extended across a wide audience through similar characters that required her to portray a matriarch, whose love and sincerity gave both the onscreen persona and the actual person a virtuous aura. Playing such character became her forte and thus through numerous teleplays and films, her place in the entertainment industry have been firmly cemented. Some of her renowned drama serials and teleplays include ‘Ekdin Hotath’, ‘Chupi Chupi’, ‘Bagha Sher’, ‘Shesh Patra’, ‘Uttoradhikar’, ‘Noashal’ and many others.
Atiqul Hoque Chowdhury’s ‘Sukher Upoma’ was one of her most successful works in her entire acting career. The play was highly acclaimed in Kolkata too. Another of her remarkable works was a teleplay ‘Brishtir Gaan’, an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s story of the same title.
Dolly Zahur has proven her worth in the film industry as well. Till date she has acted in over 160 films.
‘Shonkhanil Karagar’, ‘Aguner Poroshmoni’, ‘Shopner Thikana’, ‘Ghani: The Cycle’, ‘Daruchini Dwip’, ‘Dipu Number Two’, ‘Nirantar’, ‘Dui Prithiby’, ‘Ebadat’, ‘Wrong Number’ are the notable films she would be remembered for.
‘I am known to the people as mother, sister-in-law, aunt and these kind of senior characters. I respect my characters. But there are only few characters which could touch my heart,’ said the actor while talking about her favourite characters.
She mentioned about ‘Shonkhonil Karagar’, which was released in 1992. Humayun Ahmed had written the screenplay based on his novel with the same name while Mustafizur Rahman directed the film. Dolly Zahur acted as Rabeya or Emma in the film. She was the eldest sister.
Dolly Zahur received Bangladesh National Film Awards twice in the Best Actress and the Best Supporting Actress categories for her roles in the respective films ‘Shonkhonil Karagar’ and ‘Ghani: The Cycle’.
She has drawn a curtain to her film career with the film named ‘Dui Prithibi’, where she acted as the mother of Sakib Khan. The film was released in 2015.
The actor decided to retire from film industry right after she performed Hajj in 2012.
Though she doesn’t work in films anymore, she remained in touch with other artistes.
Why did she stop acting in film industry? Dolly Zahur replied,‘The character of the industry has been changed a lot. I don’t feel comfortable. Besides, I have started living with my son in Australia and I am busy with religious rituals. After giving it some thought, I found quitting to be a better option,’ she added.
On whether she had any advices for the new generation in the entertainment industry, she said, ‘Acting is a great performing art which requires rigorous practice and devotion. It is easy to work for a while but tough to create a permanent place in the industry. An actor must take acting seriously and he or she must be respectful to the work. Acting has to be a passion not a hobby,’ Dolly Zahur suggested.
She also believes that ‘an actor will never fade away if he/she takes acting seriously.’ Additionally, Dolly Zahur is not a great enthusiast of overproduction and the current scenario of the television industry where things are in transition makes her only crave for stability.
‘Now-a-days, there are too many channels and hundreds of teleplays to watch. In a sense it is good as the people involved are getting more options. But on the other hand, to be in the race, numerous teleplays are being produced without proper preparation and the plays are made in a very short time too,’ the actor observed.
Still, she thinks that some of the young artistes are doing well and if they get proper guidance they will do better.
‘Getting prepared for any character is very important. For that the artistes must read the script and try to understand the expressions of the characters. But today this practice is disappearing from the scene,’ the noted actor added again.
Dolly Zahur is in good terms with the youngsters. Most of the juniors endearingly call her ‘Dolly Ma’.
Apart from the career and personal life, the actor also shared some of her memories about the liberation war as well.
She was a college student that time. She and her family members were living in a house on Green Road, Dhaka. After few days since the war began, Dolly Zahur’s father took them to Cumilla to ensure safety.
‘We were on a bus. Other people in the bus started pointing at something through the window while crossing the Gulistan area. I looked out and saw uncountable dead bodies on the roadside. Pakistani occupation forces killed them. Still I shudder at that memory, it gives me goose bumps when I think about the scene,’ Dolly Zahur said in an emotion-chocked voice.
They stayed few days in Cumilla but her father didn’t feel well not seeing the family members. So they again came back to Dhaka.
‘We young girls used to hide whenever we heard the sound of the footsteps of the military,’ she added.
She is an eyewitness to some of the hideous acts perpetrated by Pakistani occupation forces during the liberation war. As she did not take shelter in India, she encountered some of the grim aspect of the war in Dhaka, including murder and the constant fear that gripped the people. People often ask her to write about 1971. But the actor doesn’t yet have any plan of writing any book.
‘I feel restless. I don’t think I can write a book. Otherwise I could have written on many things, not just the liberation war. I have seen August 15, 1975 from a very close distance. I was traumatised as I had personal connection with Sheikh family,’ Dolly Zahur remembered.
‘We were gifted with freedom. Freedom fighters made us independent. But we failed to build the country. I’ll have the regret till the last day of my life,’ the actor added.
At the end of the interview, Dolly Zahur expressed her gratitude to her fans who have been supportive all throughout.
‘Not just my fans, I am blessed with few good neighbours as well. They take care of me whenever I come to Bangladesh. I am lucky to receive the love and affection from everybody,’ said Dolly Zahur.
Courtesy of Dolly Zahor
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