Historical Mukh O Mukhosh: Commencement of Bangladeshi Cinema

History was made when the first-ever full-length talkie of Bangladesh named Mukh O Mukhosh (The Face & The Mask) proudly ruled the theatres of East Pakistan in 1956

During an Era, when the British left the region and the rule of Pakistan was going on, the then East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) had not yet developed their own film industry. Films from Kolkata or Lahore were shown in the cinema halls of major cities, including Dhaka.

At that time, West Pakistani film producer & owner of Gulistan Cinema, F. Dosani, made a harsh statement about film production in East Pakistan. He stated, “The climate of this land is not fit for making movies.” Like other Bengalis from East Pakistan, the dramatist Abdul Jabbar Khan bounced back at that time. History was made when the first-ever full-length talkie of Bangladesh named Mukh O Mukhosh (The Face & The Mask) proudly ruled the theatres of East Pakistan in 1956.

Before Mukh O Mukhosh, another film titled Sukumari (The Good Girl) was made in 1928, which is claimed to be the first Bengali-produced film in the region, but it was a short film in nature. Later on, The Last Kiss was released in 1931, but it was a silent feature film in nature produced by the Dhaka Nawab family. Mukh O Mukhosh, by dramatist Abdul Jabbar Khan, is the first-ever full-length Bengali feature film in our sweet mother tongue Bangla.

The Man who took the initiative of making first-ever full-length Bangla talkie

Abdul Jabbar Khan was born in the Bengali year of 7th Baishakh on 1322 (1916 AD) in Masadgoan village, Louhajang Upazila, Munshiganj district. His father named Haji Mohammad Jamsher Khan was a jute businessman. Since his childhood, he was involved in stage drama. He has taken part in plays and played the role of Behula, Sohrab Rustam, Vishwamangal, Matir Ghar & many more.

Due to his friendship with renowned Indian actor and film director Pramathesh Chandra Barua, Abdul Jabbar became attracted to films. After finishing his diploma from Ahsanullah Engineering School, Abdul Jabbar joined at a service in 1941. In 1949, he permanently moved to Dhaka, where he formed the Kamalapur Dramatic Association. Through the initiative of this organization, Abdul Jabbar staged plays like Tipu Sultan and Alivardi Khan. He then wrote dramas named Ishakha (1950), Protigga (1951), Dakat (1953), Jogodesh (1959) etc.

Abdul Jabbar Khan’s journey of creating history by making the first-ever full-length Bangla talkie

Although he took the initiative of making the film as a challenge, Abdul Jabbar did not have much previous experience or involvement in making films. Jabbar went to Calcutta (current Kolkata) with the manuscript of his play Dakat and some books by the poet Jasim Uddin, Kazi Nazrul Islam, as a reference to make a Film. His travelling companion was QM Zaman, who has worked as an assistant director in films of Kolkata and Mumbai. In collaboration with QM Zaman, he met Moni Bose, a screenwriter from Kolkata, who sorted out the story and did the initial screenplay. They decided to make a film based on the story of the drama, Dakat written by Abdul Jabbar himself. In Kolkata, he also met QM Zaman’s mentor, photographer Murari Mohan, who advised Abdul Jabbar to buy an old film camera. An ordinary Philips tape recorder was used to take the sound of the film.

The cinematography was done by his companion QM Zaman. Shyam Babu from Kolkata came as the makeup man of the film. Legendary singers Abdul Alim and Mahbuba Hasnat sang the songs of the film under the music direction of Samar Das. Moinul Islam did the sound design, and the poster was done by Subhash Dutta, who later become one of the greatest filmmakers of Bangladesh. Actor Inam Ahmed appeared as the protagonist of the film while director Abdul Jabbar Khan played the second lead role. The heroine of the film was Purnima Sen. Other characters were Nazma (Piari), Jahrat Ara, Ali Mansur, Rafiq, Nurul Anam Khan, Saifuddin, Bilkis Bari and others.

Rajarbagh police line was a vast cauliflower field then, Abdul Jabbar Khan, Purnima Sen and Piari in a scene of the film. Photo: Courtesy

Abdul Jabbar Khan entangled himself into massive trouble by taking the risk of doing expensive work like making cinema. Culture patron Kalim Uddin Ahmed Dudu Mia (father of Hero Alamgir) came forward in such a swing. The cost of making the film at that time was around 82 thousand rupees (64 thousand according to some sources). Dudu Mia gave almost half of it. The other half was carried by Abdul Jabbar Khan and his four friends. At the initial run of the film, it earned a total of 48 thousand rupees. Later, a good sum was earned by broadcasting the film in various exhibitions and on TV.

The central locations of the shooting were Siddheswari, Tejgaon, Rajarbagh, Kamlapur, Lalmatia, Jinjira and various places in Tongi. This first-ever Bengali language feature talkie made here was 99 minutes long. On August 6, 1954, the Mahurat (inauguration) of Mukh O Mukhosh was held at Shahbag Hotel. The event was inaugurated by the then Governor-General, Iskander Mirza.

The Governor-General Iskander Mirza and other guests present on the occasion of the film inauguration. Photo: Courtesy

In fact, the shooting of the film started about eight months before the official inauguration of the film was held. The shooting continued till mid-1955. Mukh O Mukhosh was made upon issues like anti-social activities, family quarrels and corruption.

Local actors acted in the film without any prior film acting experience, most importantly without any remuneration. As there was no local film studio in Dhaka, the film was sent to Lahore for the negative development. The film was edited by Abdul Latif in West Pakistan. The first exhibition of Mukh O Mukhosh was held in Lahore. After returning to Dhaka, the distributors and owners of the local cinema halls did not show any interest in exhibiting the film in the theatres. Before the release of the film, it was rumoured that it does not have any merit to be screened in a theatre. If the audience watches the film on the big screen, they might break the chair of the hall in dissatisfaction.

In such a situation, Kamal Babu, the owner of Mukul (now Azad) and Rupmahal Cinema Hall, stood by Abdul Jabbar Khan. He agreed to release the film in his theatres. The release date of Mukh O Mukhosh was August 3, 1956, and made history. It was distributed by Iqbal Films. The film premiere was launched by that time Governor Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Huq in Rupmahal Cinema Hall. At the end of the first screening, Abdul Jabbar received huge applause instead of condemnation. The Bengali’s finally won against F. Dosani by starting a new industry. The remaining three of the four prints of the cinema were shown at Nirala in Chittagong, Diamond in Narayanganj and Ullasini Cinema Hall in Khulna.

A poster of Mukh O Mukhosh. Photo: Courtesy

After that, there was a huge response from East Pakistan with Mukh O Mukhosh. This film created a national spirit and made people believe that, despite of technical limitations, Bengali’s can make cinema on their own. The audience stumbled upon the cinema hall to see Bengal’s own pictures. The passion and excitement about movies increased among the Bengalis. Movies are not just entertainment; they are tools of protesting against the rulers.

Published in The Business Standard

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