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Monday, August 02, 2004

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I miss the cultural environs of Dhaka--Mita Chowdhury

Homecoming is always memorable for actress Mita Chowdhury. This time it's even more of a landmark because this is the first reunion together with her two brothers in 26 years. Needless to say, apart from meeting up with her family, she seeks to keep abreast of the cultural scene in Dhaka of which she was an inextricable part in the 1970s.

As she points out, her TV acting career spanned from 1973 to 1977. Her stage work dated from 1975-1977. After this, she left for the Channel Islands of Guernsey in Western Europe. The reason for the move was to join her husband Shaheed ur Rehman, who was teaching French at the Elizabeth College. Now she combines her job as a Guernsey civil servant with stage work along with a local amateur theatre group.

And there's more: for the last four years she has taken up the unusual sport of fencing along with her grown up daughter. 'I am quite good with the sword,' asserts Mita who also doubles up as assistant coach for people learning fencing.

Once a year or in 18 months the family goes to see theatre in London. Says Mita: 'My husband is a very cultured man. He tries his best to educate me.' Thanks to Shaheed, she has learnt to appreciate classic music composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. 'My favourite is Mozart,' she says.

All this comes with a price. To quote Mita, 'I don't speak Bangla with my husband. His family settled in England when he was about two years old and he knows three languages English, French and Spanish. Unfortunately, now, I even dream in English.'

The beginnings
Going back in time to when she was a young girl of nine or so, Mita recalls her initiation into drama. The play, staged by St Francis Xaviers School in Dhaka where she studied, was titled The Story of King Minus. She was slotted to play the role of a chief minister, while her friend was to play the lead role. Unfortunately, the friend fell sick and Mita was called to play the role since she knew all the lines.

As luck would have it, her performance won acclaim. Among those who were appreciative was TV producer Khaleda Fahmi. Khaleda was so happy with Mita's portrayal of her role in the school play that she wanted to take her on for a series called Urdu Shikkhar Ashor. So Mita got introduced to the Pakistan TV, as it was called at that time.

Around two years later, in 1973 she was reintroduced to a TV producer, Atiqul Haque Chowdhury. He offered her a role in her first TV adult play, called Aarekti Shohor Chai. 'That was the turning point for me. I was still only 15 years old and had to combine TV roles with studies. To be honest, studies sometimes suffered,' reminisces Mita.

From then on there was no looking back. She joined Bangladesh Betar as a newsreader and compere for a programme called World Music, which still runs.

Around 1975, she joined the theatre world. Her first stage play was Chor Chor, written by Zia Ansari and directed by Abdullah Al Mamun. Then came Payer Awaj Pawya Jay, written by Syed Samsul Haque and directed by Abdullah Al Mamun. The third stage play was Dui Bon (playwright: Rabindranath Tagore and director Ferdousi Majumder)

TV career
Though Mita has done plays on radio and stage, she touched new heights with her TV plays. She recalls TV dramas such as Baraf Gola Nodi, Nandito Noroke and Aiyyonanto along with others such as Ekti Ratree and Krishnapakkho.

She traces her best work to the later stages of her career. She points to her work in Nandito Norok (1978), written by Humayun Ahmed. 'This was an important milestone in my career because I felt I could empathise with the character,' maintains Mita. The central figure was that of a 'very young (in her early teens), slightly disturbed woman' who had been abused by a family member. According to Mita,' It was a very bold play for the time and I had also had my son by then and so could feel for the character who dies in childbirth. I was 20 at that time.'

Top of the list of Mita's directors are Abdullah Al Mamun, Mostafa Kamal Syed, Atiqul Haque Chowdhury, Zia Ansari, Saidul Anam Tutul. She gives pride of place to Mamun; 'He knows my strengths and weaknesses.'

Among her well-known co-artistes are Ahsan Ali Sydney, Bulbul Ahmed, Asaduzzaman Noor, Raisul Islam Asad, Al Mansur and Kaies Chowdhury.

Cultural scenario
'Guernsey has not been good for my artistic career. I have been involved largely in amateur productions,' says Mita, adding that, I miss the cultural environment of Dhaka.'

In Mita's view, there have been changes in the cultural and entertainment scene in Bangladesh. There was a lull in the cultural world around the late 1980s. A sizeable number of artistes left for reasons such as education and marriages. A lot stayed behind and then continued in their careers. 'Now new faces have also come along and there is greater competition,' says Mita.

And where is she going from here? She has plans to move back to Dhaka along with her husband around 2006. She is also open to the idea of doing alternative films such as Joyjatra. However, as she acknowledges, she hasn't seen too many Bangla plays or films as they are difficult to access.

One thing is for sure, when she does return to Dhaka for good, it will be to a warm welcome from the audience.

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