Raisul Islam Asad is the preeminent actor, a role model for all who aspire to take to acting like a duck to water. Sadiqur Rahman’s recent encounter with him helped to unveil many an aspect of the long career of this freedom fighter turned actor
The man who played the young charlatan afflicted by moral pangs since his romantic liaison with the heroine involved a deceptive ploy in the cult movie Ghuddi, went on to become an actor showing diverse talent in the next thirty or so years. Raisul Islam Asad, who boldly donned many faces, and even went bald to characterise a village idiot in a TV serial, at 65 still exudes the same poise and energy for which he became one of the most promising actors emerging out of the ‘firmament of hope’ in the post-1971 era after Bangladesh came into being.
Raisul Islam Asad, whose acting earned him both national and international awards, feels discomfort vis-à-vis media exposure. Often publicised on newspapers for his brilliant acting in films and television dramas, Asad still seems way to public shy in this era of self-promotion. A freedom fighter with a reputation for sustained engagement with acting, he could never bring himself to pander to the producers for new roles.
On January 17, New Age met with the actor to become privy to his decades-long journey and his thought about the country for whose independence he joined the arms struggle against the Pakistani occupying force.
Born in 1953, Raisul Islam Asad is the third among eight children of Akhtaruzzaman and Raisa Khatun.
He studied at the Collegiate School at Sadarghat in Dhaka. Nasir Uddin Yousuf Bacchu, still his neighbour at Paltan area of the capital, was his companion during the liberation war 1971.
‘Since 1969, we together participated in almost all the demonstrations for Bangladesh’s autonomy from the colonial Pakistan. We survived police attacks several times,’ Asad recalled.
The Dhaka University area, which was the epicentre of the movement, was familiar like the courtyard of the home for the teenage Asad.
His parents did not bar him from participating in the political processions although he was not a member of any political parties. He said that his parents, like others, were not selfish so as to worry only about his safety; they were aware that during the movement the whole nation was aggrieved due to the impact of the misrule.
‘I took permission of my guardians prior to joining the arms struggle,’ Asad remembered.
A valiant freedom fighter, Asad safeguards in his heart burning memories of his experience in the liberation war which, he feels, would need a number of books to narrate.
On March 1971 when the occupational Pakistani army launched Operation Searchlight, Asad along with some local youngsters dared to visit Rajarbagh Police Line where Bengali members of the police were locked in fierce firing with the Pakistani counterparts.
‘Some of the Bengali police were in uniform, some were not. When a group of fighters in Rajarbagh went out of ammunition, they had retreated for a while leaving their arms in our custody, Asad recalled.
‹We hid them at some abandoned homes in our locality. Later, on April 1, the police freedom fighters returned and brought the arms to Zinzira on the bank of River Buriganga. I accompanied them.›
‹On that very morning, the area Pakistani force attcked the people in the area. I along with 52 people took shelter at a congested house. That day I was witness to how people were killed like birds shot at by hunters,’ Asad described the massacre that sparked the war of independence.
On the first week of April, Asad, Bachchu and Kazi Shahabuddin Shajahan crossed the Pakistan-Indian border and enrolled in the guerrilla training camp at West Dinajpur. Former Awami League general secretary Abdul Jalil was the superintendent of the camp where exiled East Pakistan Rifles personnel were imparting training. After completing a short-course, a special guerrilla troupe comprising 22 freedom fighters including Asad was formed. The troupe, later enlarged with 30 additional guerrillas, was given training for Dhaka attack.
‘We reached North Dhaka, now Manikganj. During our first attack, our commander Rezaul Karim Manik succumbed to his critical injuries while detonating a bridge. Bachchu, who was the second-in-command, took Manik’s charge,’ Asad continued.
The guerrilla troupe fought in Dhaka till the Victory Day on December 16.
Soon after Bangladesh was liberated, Asad became busy in theatre activities. He said, ‘I had no intention to be an actor. I was blindly following footsteps of some of my co-fighters who had been involved in cultural activism way before the war.’ There were a number of group circles regularly meeting at the cultural hubs like Shilpakala Academy and Dhaka University premises. Asad, the most junior of all, frequented these places to pass his time with theatre activists.
Theatre group Bahubachan was then buckling up for its next two productions — Swarpa Bishayok Golpo written by Selim Al Deen and Ami Raja Hobona written by Fazlur Rahman.
One day, a performer of the Ami Raja Hobona was absent during a rehearsal and Asad was summoned to appear as a proxy.
He said that the role was of a tea shop assistant and was of a short duration. As days rolled by, Asad began to land parts in plays that were more significant and were of long duration. And, finally he performed in one of the lead roles in a play.
On another occasion, Asad was offered a major role when he went to convey the message of Bachchu’s ailment to Aminur Rahman Chowdhury, director of Swarpa Bishayak Golpo.
‘Bachchu was among the lead actors of the play. He fell sick just two days before the show. When I conveyed the message, the director asked me to act as a proxy,’ Asad recalled. With two back-to-back performances, Asad›s career was launched, which was pure happenstance.
In 1972, Asad enrolled into Dhaka University as a student of psychology. That year, he performed in a Drama Circle production Arms and the Man written by George Bernard Shaw.
After the independence, Bazlul Karim reorganised the Pakistan-era theatre group Drama Circle. Asad joined the group and started receiving formal training on acting.
That very year, a Deutsche Welle journalist Habib Abdullah, who was one of the key staff of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, called Asad to meet him at the newly Dhaka›s established radio. He said, ‘In a sudden turn of events, I got a radio job.’
Asad was employed to perform at radio plays besides delivering news commentary. Habib was a senior member from a cultural circle Asad used to join regularly.
In 1973, Dhaka Theatre was formed and Asad was one of its founding members. The same year, Asad, for the first time, acted in a full-length Bangla film Abar Tora Manush Ho directed by Khan Ataur Rahman.
After four years, Asad was called to act in Salauddin Zaki’s film Ghurni. In addition, he was assigned to assist Salauddin in his second film Ghuddi. Salauddin was Asad’s Dhaka Theatre co-activist.
However, filming of Ghurni did not take place and the assistant director of Ghuddi later became the film’s main actor sharing the screen with Suborna Mustafa, Bachchu and others. Ghuddi was released in 1980 and gained cult status over the years.
After a long interval, Asad again appeared as the main character of Bangla film Padma Nadir Majhi released in 1993. Indian film director Goutam Ghose directed the film, which was an adaptation of Manik Bandopadhyay’s novel of the same name.
Asad said, ‘I had never thought of acting in Goutam’s film. One day in 1991, Salauddin, who was the assistant director of Padma Nadir Majhi, slammed me as I still did not meet Goutam when a pool of actors were struggling hard to get appointment with the Indian director. I told him that this was part of my usual reluctance to request anyone for casting me on a role. However, I asked Salauddin to recruit me as a crew of the film. I was eager to learn filming.’
After some days, Salauddin introduced Asad to Goutam. The director kept Asad on his side all the way while selecting location at Munsiganj, the Padma river-side district. During the visits, Asad was still in the dark about the fact that he was going to play Kuber, the lead character of the story.
‘At the end of Goutam’s pre-production visit, the film’s one of the producers Khan Habibur Rahman and the director told me to get ready for the role,’ Asad said, adding that he had only one and half months before shooting began.
Within a short time, he had to adopt with the life of the anglers. He also caught hilsha fish with them.
‘There was no option. If we delayed a while, monsoon would end and the whole unit would have to wait for the next season,’ he remembered.
Padma Nadir Majhi had a star-studded cast — legendary actor Utpal Dutta, Bangladeshi actress Champa and Indian matinee idol Rupa Ganguli elped generate interest in the film. The film, once released drew crowd. It was a hit and it also received National Film Awards in five categories including one for Asad in the best actor category.
Asad also won National Film Awards for acting as lead character of Anya Jibon (1995), Dukhai (1997) and Lalsalu (2001).
In his 47-year acting career, Asad starred in more than sixty movies of Bangladesh and India. His acting in Tanvir Mokammel’s Lalon, a biopic of the theosophically-inclined bard, Goutam’s Moner Manush and Abu Sayeed’s Kittankhola was highly acclaimed by both critics and audience.
Asad also acted in a string of Indian Bangla movies — Lal Darja and Uttara, both directed by Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Mansur Miar Ghora directed by Nabyendu Chattopadhyay. He also acted in Goutam’s Hindi film Patang which was released in 1993.
He contributed to Bangla film industry by producing script of a number of movies, some of which were big hits. Asad and Hafizuddin jointly scripted Awlad. Shahab Uddin Ahmed and he were the scriptwriters of Shah Alam Kiron’s Bichar Hobe (1996) starred by Salman Shah and Shabnur. Asad also wrote the dialogue of the film. The Shahabuddin-Asad duo produced script for Bangla film Chiruwala (2001), in which Ferdous and Modhumita starred.
Asad married Tahira Dil Afroz Mukur in 1979. Mukur, a physician, used to work with Drama Circle and Dhaka Theatre. The duo’s lone daughter Rubaina Zaman is currently studying medical science in the US.
Despite being an attentive student of film direction, the veteran actor has no plan to direct film in future. ‘I want to do acting seriously. Performing well is my only desire,’ he said.
Asad often feels frustrated as he finds the media industry bogged down in an aggressive ritual of commercialisation. He said, ‘Economy is now determining the value of everything, even that of life.’
According to Asad, most of the television actors get daily remuneration, which he terms as ridiculous.
‘Good acting for a one-hour TV play needs at least two days of preparation. But the producers of drama series are intended to film all the shots of individual actor in a single day. Script writers are not well paid. The whole media industry is suffering from a fund crunch,’ Asad said.
Asad feels regret as the society still fails to consider acting as a well-accepted as well as decent profession. He cited that descendents of cinema hall owners were replacing the talkies with multi-purpose shopping malls thinking that cinema went against religious doctrines.
‘With the victory of the liberation war, we achieved merely our geographic independence. Cultural freedom is still elusive in Bangladesh. To materialise the spirits of the war of independence, for which I fought, continuation of secular political rule is a must,’ Asad concluded.
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