Suchanda was for us the epitome of beauty in the old days. She was the leading lady with the large eyes, sometimes too large for those of us who were yet to step out of childhood. Having been used to watching non-Bengali screen stars in what used to be West Pakistan, we spotted about Suchanda a different kettle of fish altogether. She was fair, she had a soft smile playing on her lips and, of course, those large eyes which in moments of celluloid tragedy would widen into a condition where heartbreak in a woman came to be revealed without inhibition. Bengali women, in life as also in the movies, have endlessly suffered through rejection, betrayal and plain silliness on the part of Bengali men. Suchanda personified them all.
Besides Suchanda, there was Sujata in whom only Bengali-ness mattered. She often acted in lead roles in period cinema, paired with either husband Azim or screen heartthrobs such as Razzaq. Sujata was a delightful sight for sore eyes. A perfectly Bengali face, with a mole on it, endeared her to us to no end. And, yes, there was Shabnam. There was fragrance about her, loads of chocolate cream beauty, a dash of shyness --- all of which made her admirers fall in love with her. In Talash, she was exquisite. In Chanda, she brought into her performance that old image of the village belle carefree in the ways of the world, until a Prince Charming comes along to whisk her away on his white horse, so to speak. And then there was Sultana Zaman, the artiste who should have been on a pedestal higher than the one she eventually reached.
For schoolboys like us in our 1960s generation, it was Sharmili who completed for us the idea of Bengali feminine beauty. Sharmili had plenty of grace, had plenty of long hair that could inspire a rise of poetry in us. That scene of contentment when, in a movie, she puts on a long-playing record and Mahmudunnabi’s voice wafts out of it even as Azim remains unwilling to get out of bed, depicts a young Bengali woman blossoming in marital bliss. Tumi kokhon eshe darhiye achho / amar ojante / amar gaaner o prantee is one of those songs we will not be forgetting any time soon.
That charmed era of black-and-white dreams threw up, you know, substantive realities in all the combination of rainbow colours. We felt good about ourselves.
Speaking of music in the old days, there is a whole lot to speak of. Indeed, that is because melody in times gone by came with substance and with meaning. And then there was the radio, listening to which meant a superb form of concentration, of the kind that you cannot call up in you in these days of glamour television. The songs we heard on the radio have endured, both in appeal and in our collective memory.
Nothing can beat the beauty inherent in old songs. Once again, you have to travel back to the 1960s, here in this part of the world, to feel the old lilt in your soul. Sometime toward the end of the 1960s, it was pure bliss hearing Bashir Ahmed sing tomar kajol kesh chhorhalo boley / ei raat emon modhur. What made the song doubly engrossing was the serenity with which it was sung. You could feel an entire ambience of romance rising around you, to a point where you needed to fall in love again or rekindle old love.
And Bashir Ahmed was, of course, an artiste of versatility. There are the Urdu songs for such movies as Chanda, Talash and Darshan for which he will be remembered. Think of his main rikshawala matwala/bechara, sung in both happy and sad tenor, to understand the modulations he could bring about in his voice in line with the demands made on him by the lyricist or the music director. All too often, he was his own music director, and a good one at that. In such songs as kuchh apni kahiye kuchh meri suniye, Bashir brings youth round to its natural place, namely, a landscape of love. It is a song of hope, hope that the woman being pursued by the man for sheer love will someday respond in equal measure. And she does.
In Bashir Ahmed came sadness as well, as in this charming song from Darshan: chal diye tum jo dil torh kar / yuun akela hamein chhorh kar. Indeed, Darshan is a festival of Bashir Ahmed’s songs --- ye mausam ye mast nazaare / pyar karo to in se karo, hum chalen chhorh kar teri mehfil sanam and many more. There are other songs, in other movies. You could speak of ae pyar shukriya tera / tu ne jo gham dia hai and tum salamat raho muskurao hanso.
And you could always go back to the Bangla songs to have a real, full and therefore true feel of Bashir Ahmed’s enduring legacy in melody. In 1967-68, pinjor khule diyechhi was all the rage in what then was East Pakistan. And then of course there was oi akash ta ghurey eshechhi / meghe meghe je koto bheshechhi. A gem of a song came through a duet, in a mix of Bangla and Urdu, from Runa Laila and Bashir: duti mon matano chhonde / duti phool phutechhe gondhe . . . iss mehke hue gulshan mein / ye phool ye phool ki khushboo / shey ki tumi ar aami / ik tum ho ik main huun. Through obhimani go aro ektu thako, you feel the pain which comes of the imminent departure of the one you love.
You grow into middle age, then into old age. Remembrance of old love, of the pursuit of the woman, of seeing her go away assails the senses. That old song you hummed when she went away? It comes from Bashir Ahmed. He sang shojoni go bhalobeshe eto jala keno bolo na.
Akasher haate achhe ek rash neel / batasher achhe kichhu gondho . . . That is how Bashir Ahmed sets Anjuman Ara Begum on a trail of immeasurable musical pleasure. Poetry courses through your sensibilities. Listen again to bhuul jodi hoy modhur emon / hok na bhuul.
An ancient fire endlessly consumes your soul, for ancient love is always unforgotten love.