Narrating courage of TV artistes in 1971

March 26, 2015

Narrating courage of TV artistes in 1971=In March 1971, as tension mounted following the postponement of a highly-anticipated meeting of the newly-elected national assembly, the creative heart of the then East Pakistan was already throbbing in the spirit of revolution. Artists of all platforms, including those working for the then Dhaka Television, started to defy orders and produce works that reflected the popular sentiment.
They were aware of the growing dissent against Pakistan which denied the Awami League, the party that won a landslide victory in the December 1970 elections, its right to form a government.
‘There was an anti-Pakistani feeling since 1952. Most of the artists didn’t support the forced merger between the two parts of Pakistan. In 1971, that feeling grew, not just in the television sector but also other sectors,’ said Jamil Chowdhury, the then chief of Dhaka Television. The true allegiance of the Dhaka Television, which began its operation in 1964, had never been in doubt and it was proven over and over in the coming years as the station began to be more assertive.
Mostafa Monwar, who was a programme manager of the station before the war in 1971 broke out, said, ‘I remember the first test audio transmission of the station was the famous patriotic song of Dhono-dhanye Puspe Bhora – and it makes sense when you have a bunch of officials who believed in democracy and secularism.’
So naturally the station was often at loggerheads with the Pakistan government, which deemed the Bengali ways and culture to be un-Islamic, unbefitting the Pakistani standard and therefore unacceptable.
As the country entered the turbulent years of 1969-71, the station began to air more pro-people shows and programmes including teleplays and puppet shows by Abdullah Al Mamun and Mostafa Monwar with strong social and political undercurrents. Mostafa Monwar recorded a number of songs including Songram Cholbe, Jonmo Amar Dhonya Holo, Ektara Tui Desher Kotha, Aji Bangladesh-er Hridoy Hote and others as tension further heightened in March 1971.
The songs were vocalised among others by Ferdausi Rahman, Shahnaz Rahamatullah, Syed Abdul Hadi and Fahmida Khatun, and were played repeatedly until the night of March 25. ‘For us singers, it was like joining the movement with our voice. And we were proud of doing that,’ said Ferdausi Rahman.
Meanwhile, on February 23, artistes of major creative and media organisations formed a platform called Bikkhubdha Shilpi Samaj (Disgruntled Artistes Society). On March 1, it endorsed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s noncooperation movement and boycotted radio and television programmes, taking their movement to the streets where they would organise protest plays and perform patriotic songs.
After the historic March 7 speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, representatives of the Bikkhubdha Shilpi Samaj met with him at his Dhanmondi 32 residence. ‘Wahidul Haque, Atiqul Islam and I met with Bangabandhu to know his expectations from us and he suggested taking over television and radio shows, so that we could use them to promote greater public engagement with the movement,’ said Hasan Imam, convener of BSS.
So they returned to television but there were fears the Pakistani authorities would try to manipulate broadcast contents and prevent airing anything in contradiction to their interests.
The biggest act of defiance occurred on the Pakistan Republic Day on March 23. It was customary for the station to show the Pakistan flag and air national anthem on the day but the television crew and artists resolved to not let that happen this time.
The station’s airtime was only four hours then, between 6-10pm every day. ‘For that day the airtime was extended to 12am. Around 9:30pm, I told all but a chosen few to leave office and continued to broadcast predetermined songs and shows, leaving no airtime for Pakistan’s flag and national anthem,’ said Monwar.
The airing continued until presenter Masuma Khatun called it a day. ‘What we did that day was at the risk of losing our jobs and lives. But we did that and we knew we were doing the right thing,’ he said. ‘For all that two-and-a-half-hour time, I had a vehicle ready at the back gate so that we could flee if anything happened.’
A Pakistan Army major, in fact, noticed that the station was open past the usual time and came to inquire around 11:30pm. Monwar befooled him saying that he was airing Pakistan Day’s programmes. The major went away without further questioning, for which he had to face a martial court later.
‘I don’t know where I got the courage to do such a thing with some 80 Pakistani soldiers guarding the station. Something in me told me to do that and I just did that,’ said Monwar, who had to flee the station and his house the very next morning.
Officials and artistes of the station, likewise, continued their support towards the cause of freedom through airing programmes until March 25, when the Pakistan army finally cracked down on unarmed civilians and the war began.
Most of the television crew left their workstation and joined the war of liberation. When they returned to work on December 21, it was with a new identity, in a new nation that they helped to liberate, and a new flag and anthem to broadcast.

-Input from New Age

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