A close encounter with Khairul Alam Shabuj

Karoby Shihab | Published: 00:00, Feb 14,2020 | Updated: 01:47, Feb 17,2020

Khairul Alam Shabuj

Khairul Alam Shabuj

Khairul Alam Shabuj, one of the veteran actors of Bangladesh, started his acting career in the theatre though his fame primarily rests on his works for the television. Inspired by his elder siblings who were involved with the theatre and other cultural activities, he pursued an acting career even though he had to work as a teacher in his early life. His life-long reading habit also prepared the ground for his literary career. Khairul Alam Shabuj has also proven his worth by producing translations of theatrical as well as literary works. Karoby Shihab of New Age recently talked with the multi-talented personality.

The veteran actor-writer Khairul Alam Shabuj is in his seventies now. He lives in a home located at New Eskaton’s Shanti kunja area of the capital, where he has been ekeing out what many would call a ‘humble life’.

‘I believe we don’t need a lot of wealth to live a happy life. That’s why I chose to keep my life simple and peaceful instead of running after money,’ said Khairul Alam Shabuj.

The philosophy of his life clearly reflects how he runs things at home and pursues a lifestyle unfettered by material pursuit. He sat for the interview wearing a traditional lungi, a panjabi and a shawl wrapped around his shoulder — a typical image of a moral man he so frequently portrayed in many television dramas.

He spends most of his time in the living room of his home where he writes his manuscripts. He lives surrounded by books put up in different showcases. There are also music instruments, including tabla and harmonium, trophies and awards, framed photographs on different walls and so on. His passion for music once made his home an epicentre of musical evenings where friends used to visit to sing or even listed to him sing.   

With a warm and welcoming voice, Khairul Alam Shabuj started sharing his life in detail.

‘I was born in a maternity house of Oxford Mission Church located in Wazirpur Upazila of Barisal on February 24, 1949. My area could be described as more than a village but less than a town. Though the British rule ended, few British people stayed back in Barisal. The population density was low. So, we spent a peaceful life back then,’ Khairul Alam said.

‘Gradually, things changed but the Oxford Mission Church area looks still the same. It is still as green, calm and peaceful as it was before,’ he added.

The legendary actor grew up on the banks of the Kirtankhola river. Fishing, flying kites, roaming around, climbing trees, playing with friends were his favourite pastime in his childhood.

‘Going to school and reading text books were never a comfortable occupation for me. My father Mahiuddin Ahmed was a lawyer. He admitted me to Adarsha Bidyalay in Barisal. Schools were too strict back then. Teachers used to beat students with cane. I am a freedom-loving person. I really couldn’t cope with the system and later I stopped going to school,’ Khairul Alam said with a laughter.

Khairul Alam was fifth among his six siblings. His mother Rabeya Khatun was a culturally inclined woman who liked music, culture, dramas and other forms of arts. Besides, his elder siblings were involved in different cultural practices. Shabuj used to follow them around from the very beginning.

‘At a very young age, when I started reading poems I found them interesting. I could understand and enjoy the inner beauty of poetic works. This is how my cultural journey started. My family was supportive as well,’ he said.

Though his siblings were experts in singing and acting, none of them took it as a profession.

When it comes to reading books, Khairul Alam’s staple consisted of books like Swapan Kumar series, Dosyu Mohan Samagra by Sashadhar Datta, Kiriti series by Nihar Ranjan Gupta among others.

‘I have spent many days reading books under the open sky. As long as the daylight stayed, I kept reading,’ said Khairul Alam with a sparkle in his eyes.

At the age of twelve, Khairul Alam acted on stage play for the first time at the behest of a local theatre troupe. ‘Surjamukhi’ was his first stage play.

Besides, he used to sing songs quite well. Often people used to request him to sing to entertain them.

At school, he was given to extracurricular activities. He spent most his time with singing, writing and chatting with friends. His mother decided to send Shabuj to his elder brother who lived in Karachi in the then West Pakistan, now Pakistan.

‘I had a huge study gap. By that time, I didn’t attend matriculation examination. So my mother thought that she cannot handle me, so she sent me to Karachi,’ he said.

At the age of seventeen, Khairul Alam Shabuj left East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. There he got admitted to Government Bangla School in Karachi.

After completing matriculation, he got admitted to class ten in Government Bangla College in 1967. Gradually he got involved in politics.

‘My father was also involved in politics. I think I got the gene from my father and I actively joined politics. I used to raise voice against the injustices of the government. In my college I was elected secretary,’ he said.

Khairul Alam’s days in Karachi were filled with political activities. He was the joint secretary of student league in West Pakistan.

Later he took admission in the University of Karachi in English Literature. There he completed his second year of his honours degree.

Apart from politics, he used to sing in Karachi on different occasions and in competitions. He sang in the Pakistan Television as well. He had plans to take professional training from an ustad but that did not happen as he came back to East Pakistan in 1971.

‘I came back on March 18, 1971 from Karachi. The situation of East Pakistan was out of whack. After two days, I moved to Barisal. I stayed in Barisal throughout the entire period of the liberation war,’ related the actor.

He worked in favour of the freedom fighters in many ways. Passing information, helping in doing many a chore at the camps kept him busy during the war.

Later in 1972, Khairul Alam continued his honours degree from the University of Dhaka.

Then came a time when he had to find his calling, theatre became his only concern. Shabuj formed Dhaka University Central Students’ Union theatre troupe ‘Natya Chakra’ along with seasoned dramatist and theatre personality M Hamid.

After liberation, the theatre culture started to flourish. After Bangladesh’s emergence, establishing theatre practice in the newly-liberated country was almost like a battle, Shabuj added.

The actor-writer was involved in student politics and theatre simultaneously. He held important posts in his university life.

‘We used to organise inter-hall drama competitions. At that time, students of nine halls of the University of Dhaka used to take part in the competition with their productions. It was a time akin to a dream,’ said Khairul Alam, harking back to his youth.

Theatre activists used to travel to different part of Bangladesh to stage theatrical performances and promote theatre among the masses.

Khairul Alam completed his master’s degree in 1975. The eldest son of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Kamal was his friend.

Striking a balance between one’s passion and source of income was a delicate art that had to be taken care of at some stage in the theatre activist’s life. At one point, noted actor Abdul Kader informed Khairul Alam that Louhajang College was looking for a teacher. Louhajang is an upazila in Munshiganj. Shabuj joined there as a teacher and worked for over six months only.

His father later asked him to join a college in Jhalakathi, Barisal.

‘I had to travel every week from Jhalakathi to Dhaka for my theatre troupe. One thing to add, when I completed my education, we formed a troupe named ‘Dhaka Theatre’. But, I didn’t stay there for long. After a month or so I joined with Abdullah Al Mamun and RamenduMajumdar in their troupe ‘Theatre’,’ he said.

He has spent over 22 years in the troupe. Later in 90s’ he finally put an end to his theatre career to dedicate his time to television drama only.

As part of his struggle to continue to work while earning a decent living, he left for Libya for a brief period. There he worked as a teacher at an institution. Once he was back, his engagement with Bangladesh Television, popularly known as BTV, had only deepened. He worked as an actor as well as a producer.

‘I never did anything in my entire life which I didn’t enjoy. After a long time, I decided to quit everything to concentrate on writing only. Meanwhile I have acted in several TV dramas and films,’ Khairul Alam said.

Khairul Alam Shabuj started his television career through late Atiqul Haque Chowdhury’s TV drama titled ‘Joler Ronge Lekha’.

‘Shatti Tarar Timir’, ‘Kothao Keu Nei’, ‘Rupkatha’, ‘Deoal’, ‘Chorabali’, ‘Dhakay Thaki’, ‘Noashal’, ‘Adar Alir Van’ these are few of the television dramas and drama serials Shabuj recalled as his memorable works.

The talented actor has started his film career through a project of Film and Television Institute of India. The name of the film was ‘Ujan’. Later he acted in a short film titled ‘Charpatra’.

Few commercial films he was part of included Salauddin Lavlu’s ‘Molla Barir Bou’, Belal Ahmed directed, ‘Nandita Narake’, Rubaiyat Hossain’s ‘Meherjaan’, Animesh Aich’s ‘Vayangkar Sundar’ among others.

From the vast treasure of memories Khairul Alam Shabuj shared an interesting incident which had to do with one of his fans.

‘For the shooting of “Adar Alir Van” I was in Joypurhat. One day a person came to me and handed me a note of TK 20 as a token of appreciation. I was too surprised. I refused to take that but he insisted. Later I had to take it. The memory is priceless to me,’ Shabuj shared.

Recently he has completed shooting for Tanvir Mokammel’s film ‘Rupsha Nodir Banke’. The post-production of the film is under way. It is scheduled to release in the upcoming month.

‘The film portrays my life. It will depict my life’s journey. I am playing the lead role in it,’ he said.

Besides, he is working for the biographical film on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman named ‘Chiranjib Mujib’ directed by Jewel Mahmud.

Another film on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with the direction of Shyam Benegal is under way. There Khairul Alam Shabuj will be playing the role of Sheikh Lutfar Rahman, father of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

At the end part of the interview, Khairul Alam Shabuj spoke about his better half.

‘After the liberation war, the first drama that was staged in Bangladesh was titled “Sonar Harin”. A lady named Shirin played as the lead actress in the drama. She became my wife after 11 years,’ Shabuj said with a hearty laughter.

They knew each other for 11 years. Throughout these years, they developed a bonding that finally led to the tying the knot.

‘When I was in Libya, one fine day I found a parcel in my letterbox. There was no sender’s name written on it. It had a Panjabi inside the packet. But I understood right away that she sent it for me,’ Shabuj recalled.

In 1983, Shabuj and Shirin got married. The couple has a daughter name Proteeti Purna. Currently, Proteeti is working in the administration of East West University.

How does he pass his leisure time? With this question he replied, ‘I don’t have any leisure time. Whenever I come back home, I sit with manuscripts for new books. Besides, I spend some times with my harmonium. I love to chitchat with people. Basically, I am a free bird. I do what my mind leads me to do. I am lucky enough to have a very understanding life partner. She never gives me any restrictions. In general, I have a good life.’

Khairul Alam Shabuj hopes to continue working and contribute to the literacy arena alongside continuing with his acting career.

Khairul Alam Shabuj has recently received Bangla Academy Sahitya Puraskar 2019 for translating books written by international writers into Bangla.

Over the years, he has written around a hundred books, which include stories, poems, translations and others.

Among his translated books there include some of the most celebrated titles, including Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s plays ‘An Enemy of the People’,‘The Pillars of Society’, etc and monographs, including ‘Sophia Loren: Tar Apon Katha’, ‘Chirayata Shakespeare’ and others.

Besides, he has written ‘Shonamani Tomay Dilam’, ‘Jalpai Pata Jhorechhila’, ‘Shovoner Moharaj’, ‘Buro Bot O Shokun’, ‘Itihasher Banke Banke’, and more.

He has translated few stories for children, which were published from different publishing houses.

Bangla Academy Sahitya Puraskar includes a cash reward Tk 2 lakh and a crest. The crest is now on the top of a showcase in the actor’s living room alongside his other awards.

Photos by Sony Ramany

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