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Zahrat Ara, who acted in first Pakistan-era Bengali movie 'Mukh O Mukhosh’, is dead

  • Syed Nahas Pasha, UK Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-07-23 09:05:11 BdST

Zahrat Ara, who acted in ‘Mukh O Mukhosh’, the first Bengali film made with sound in the then East Pakistan, has died in London.

In her late 80s, she passed away in an elderly care home on 19 July due to long-term health complications, Ferdaus Rahman, a family friend, confirmed to bdnews24.com.

She will be buried in Norwich, the city where she had settled in before being moved to the old-age home.

The date of the burial would be made known later, Rahman added citing the family.

Directed by Abdul Jabbar Khan who also starred as the male lead (Afzal) alongside female protagonist Kulsum (Purnima Sengupta), ‘Mukh O Mukhosh’, or The Face and the Mask, was released in erstwhile East Pakistan in 1956, nearly two years after the Bengalis forced the Pakistani rulers to officially recognise Bengali as a mother tongue through the Language Movement.

Anger among Bengalis was growing at the time over discrimination by the rulers based in West Pakistan, and their brutal and deadly way of subjugation. Bengalis in the Pakistani film industry were also frustrated as West Bengal in India moved much ahead of the Dhaka filmdom after producing their first Bengali talkie two and a half decades earlier.

It was against this backdrop that the journey of Bangladeshi cinema began. The initiative to make 'Mukh O Mukhosh' was taken in 1953.

Abdul Jabbar Khan had written a play called 'Dakat' (Robber) based on a newspaper report on a robbery. He later decided to turn it into a film.

At the time, there were no studios or facilities for filmmaking in Dhaka but Iqbal Films came forward to produce the movie.

It was also difficult to find female artists to perform in plays in the 1950s. Director Abdul Jabbar initially planned on having a man dress up as a woman and stand in front of the camera as was customary during that era.

Later, he put out advertisements in newspapers to find actresses for ‘Mukh O Mukhosh’.

Zahrat Ara, an intermediate student of Eden College, and her friend Piari Begum saw the advertisement in a magazine and went to the office of Iqbal Films.

Zahrat's brother Moslehuddin was a music director and her sister-in-law Nahid Niazi was also a music artist.

A poster of ‘Mukh O Mukhosh’, the first Bengali film made in Pakistan. 

A poster of ‘Mukh O Mukhosh’, the first Bengali film made in Pakistan. 

Film researcher Anupam Hayat said Zahrat already had experience of performing in radio dramas. She was known as an athlete and had also taken part in the Language Movement.

Zahrat and Piari were both selected for the movie. But in the face of objections from their families, there were fears that they would not be able to perform in the film.

But Zahrat remained adamant and Director Abdul Jabbar eventually convinced their families to allow them to work in the film.

Purnima Sengupta, a girl from Kolkata, came forward to play the role of Kulsum, the heroine of the talkie. Abdul Jabbar Khan himself played the role of Afzal. Piari played the role of Rashidar, the sister of the hero Afzal.

The film was first screened at the Shahbagh Hotel on Aug 6, 1954. Zahrat attended the screening with her father.

Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, the then governor of East Pakistan, inaugurated the screening of the film at Rupmahal Cinema Hall at that time.

The film was met with great fanfare upon its release on Aug 3, 1956, earning a total of Rs 48,000 during its initial run.

Zahrat won plaudits from the audience for her performance. However, that was the only time she appeared on the silver screen.