Jaya Ahsan is among the few media professionals working relentlessly to project Bangla language-based films to the international arena with her well-nourished talent, hard work, strong dedication and unconditional love for the art.
Despite limitations of the local film industry, Jaya is very optimistic about audiences who she says always wait for good movies that reflect the dynamism of their lives through aesthetic presentation of a mix of suspensions, fantasy and reality.
Given the internet-connected multinational movie audiences, Jaya thinks that only deft presentation of original stories reflecting life of Bangladeshi people can popularise the country’s films in the global sphere.
‘International audience will appreciate a Bangla movie if only it can depict life stories of the native people,’ Jaya believes.
Observing that development of a distinctive style of Bangladeshi filmmaking is a must, she says that contemporary local films will not be recognised internationally if those are not styled by native materials that will give a special feel about how Bangladeshi people lead their real life.
Jaya says that pitching good script for filmmaking is crucial as well for communicating with all walks of local audience.
Decades back, when the Bangladeshi film industry went through its golden era, local audience were both entertained and felt emotional attachment while watching real life movies promoting patriotism, social values and human love.
‘Why,’ Jaya asks, ‘then the audience are now compelled to get used to poor show of prototyped formula films?’
As far as she understands, film enthusiasts irrespective of their classes will not show overwhelming interest for remakes of Hollywood, Bollywood and Tamil movies as they can access the original one through different visual media soon after their premier.
She says, ‘In Kolkata where I have been working for the last couple of years, film enthusiasts often refuse Bangla remakes of Bollywood films while crowd surge in the cinemas showing “middle films” like Bisharjan, Rajkahini, Praktan and make them Box Office hits.’
Jaya explains middle films which are neither formula nor art films.
She feels that unique story-based films should be promoted seriously in Bangladesh to boost the country’s film industry so that local cinemas can regain attention of the film enthusiasts, who have turned away from it due to poor shows.
‘Besides entertaining, there are other aspects of filmmaking. Hence, we should take responsibility of nation-building or social change towards positive direction through films,’ she says, noting that film activists cannot impart lessons to people using textbooks but motivate them through films which can communicate with a large number of audience simultaneously.
Underestimating the mass audience is unfair, she points out, saying that the audience can communicate with various types of movies if those are presented accordingly.
‘Why do we predetermine that a sub-urban audience will fail to understand or not be entertained by a film based on stories written by powerful writers like Humayun Ahmed whose works have garnered huge popularity,’ she asks.
The three-time National Film Award winning actor has recently written her name as film producer with a full-length venture Debi, based on a title by Humayun Ahmed, one of the most popular writers of contemporary Bengali literature, who died few years back.
Anam Biswas have directed the film, hopefully to be released in October. The government sponsors the film.
While talking about her debut film production, Jaya, also playing a role in Debi as Ranu, does not seem overjoyed and maintains a clam that evinces her determination and devotion.
‘Always, I prefer to carry out my job with spontaneity, without making any show of a new project that I take up,’ she says adding, ‘initially, when I had planned for producing Debi, I had nothing with which to start the venture. But in phases, I have tried to muster all the efficient professionals into this project to give it a fine tune.’
Jaya continues that the audience will follow the acting of Misir Ali character in Debi, but strong acting of the other casts certainly will catch the attention of audience.
‘All the actors of Debi have done excellent job. In totality, the audience, especially those of the middle class, to whom works of Humayun have appealed, will enjoy a healthy film what the independent filmmakers should put more efforts into,’ she says.
As a new producer, she has faced many barriers.
She observes that right persons are not in the right places in the local film industry and those who are in the industry lack coordination — a reality which has interrupted the production of Debi several times.
‘First of all, I am a new comer in film production. The task was very difficult as the local film industry is not well structured. I had to organise almost every subject necessary for the production,’ Jaya recounts, saying, ‘I have tried to do my best. Eventually, I have learnt a lot from the job.’
Jaya believes that filmmaking is not a single-man-show and it can be developed only through a good combination among all the related persons.
‘I have been working in the Indian Bangla film industry for a considerable period, where professionalism has grown in a very constructive way,’ she says and wonders how the formula filmmakers in Bangladesh adjust with so many limitations.
‘Filmmaking is really challenging for the independent producers in the country,’ she finds.
Jaya feels frustrated as the country’s film industry still lags behind the standard, which she thinks should have been achieved during the long past journey of Bangladeshi film culture.
‘I, however, feel proud when I see some Bangladeshi independent filmmakers have produced good films and get recognition in international film festivals,’ she says.
However, Jaya suggests that the emerging local filmmakers should avoid copying each and every thing of the foreign movies. She says, ‘We can take the technological expertise and also some ideas from foreigners, but not the style.’
She will thinks about her next steps as a film producer after seeing how Debi fares. She does not refrain from accepting new challenges.
‘I will take part in acting or filmmaking of such projects as will match my personal belief, philosophy and interests,’ she stresses.
The popular film actor does not prefer to be in limelight of a film. She thinks that actors are merely the materials of a movie which develops through the crucial contributions of technical professionals like script writer, director, editor, musician, make-up artist, cinematographer, costume designer and other crew members.
‘I do not appreciate a film as good one even if the critics may say that acting of this or that particular actor has been extraordinary,’ Jaya says.
She continues, ‘Ardently, I try to do justice to the character I play in a film without bothering much about the length of my screen presence. I performed in such films where 11 female co-actors [Rajkahini] or five female co-actors [recently released Crisscross] held similar importance. I did not try to suppress my co-actors by overacting. There is nothing like this in a collective work.’
Although, Jaya appeared first on the silver screen as guest performer in Bachelor in 2004, her debut as a key actor was in director Nurul Alam Atik’s Dub Satar which was released in 2010.
Her next film Guerrilla, based on the liberation war of Bangladesh, was released in 2011. The Nasiruddin Yousuff-directed film was a huge Box Office hit and grabbed National Film Awards in ten categories, including the best actress award for Jaya Ahsan.
She won her second National Film Award as best actress for her performance in Redoan Rony-directed Chorabali which was released the following year.
Jaya acted also in a formula film Purna Doirgho Prem Kahini (2013) and its sequel Purna Doirgho Prem Kahini-2 (2015), directed by Shafi Uddin Shafi. Popular Bangladeshi film actor Shakib Khan was Jaya’s co-actor in both films. She won her third National Film Award as best actress for her performance in the Animesh Aich directed psychological thriller Zero Degree, released in 2015.
Noticed in several television plays, Jaya was called by director Arindam Shil to act for her debut Indian Bangla film Abarta. The film was released in 2013 and Jaya was nominated for the Filmfare Awards East for Best Debut Performance Female for her role in the film.
So far, Jaya has acted in Indian Bangla films namely Ekti Bangali Bhuter Golpo, directed by Indranil Roy Chowdhury, Rajkahini, directed by Srijit Mukherji, Eagler Chokh, directed by Arindam Shil, Bisharjan, directed by Kaushik Ganguly and Crisscross, directed by Birsa Dasgupta.
Jaya bagged the Tele Cine Award for Best Supporting Role Female for acting in Rajkahini.
The big success of Bisharjan brought Jaya into a bigger sphere as she became one of the acclaimed female actors all over India through her performance in the film.
Bisharjan won National Film Award of India as best film of 2017 while Jaya grabbed several awards in India for her performance.
She is now counting days for the release of her upcoming Indian Bangla films namely Kantho and Bijoya – a sequel of Bisharjan.
‘Working simultaneously in two film industries, although of neighbouring countries, is really hectic. Often I deprive family members of my company. I do not have much time ever for leisure,’ Jaya regrets, saying that she has recently cancelled a refreshment tour to enjoy full moon in the Tanguar Haor because of busy schedule.
‘Success following hard work is still gratifying,’ she says.
A modest Jaya is not sure whether the newcomers in Bangladeshi film industry should follow her as their role model or not.
‘Following someone, particular his or her style, is a very personal choice. But the newcomers should first set their career goal — if they want to develop their career as artistes or pursue a career of merely heroine material. A newcomer having unconditional love for art and strong dedication can be inspired by my works,’ she says.
Jaya hopes that new generation, whom she deems comparatively intelligent, will do better work if they blend their merits with lessons come from the predecessors.
‘Experiment with characters will be meaningless if an actor loses self-control,’ she tells the newcomers, adding that patience is her strength which helps develop the career.
Jaya admires two inspirational women in her life – one is her mother Rehana Masud, who has taught her how to keep patience throughout a work.
The other person is her grandmother Anwara Begum, who breathed her last nearly two years ago, inspired her about painting, singing and poem reciting.
‘She [Anwara Begum] was such a modern lady I have ever met. When I would become impatient learning things like painting and singing simultaneously, grandma would encourage me saying that nothing learnt in this life would go in vain,’ Jaya recollects.
‘Acting is such a profession as requires combination of skills. If an actor can drive an aircraft or play football that will boost his or her confidence level,’ Jaya says.
She feels that learning from the surroundings is a must for an actor.
‘An actor should have reading habit. At the same time, socialisation is very important as it helps them observe different types of people in society,’ Jaya concludes, putting forth a question, ‘If we do not enrich our knowledge, how can we deliver better things?’
All photographs have been provided by Jaya Ahsan.