Elora Gahar has been a cult icon in Bangladesh’s film and TV industry for the last 40 years. She debuted with the classic ‘Surja Dighal Bari,’ and received both the National and Bachsas awards in 1979. After a long break from 1981-2002, she returned to acting and racked up a Prothom Alo award in 2003 and Best Actress award from RTV in 2012. The enigmatic Elora shared her journey as an artiste of both TV and film acting with Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Faruque Ratul
Where did your journey as an actor start?
I did not get into acting accidentally. I would say I was born an artiste. During my school days, we used to have an annual cultural program that was held at the Shilpakala Academy. I would observe the performances, but felt I could do them better. There was a particular role of an ugly duckling, that specially interested me, and I basically memorized the moves.
I had a teacher - Alam Sir, to whom I showed my own moves in that role. My teacher fought with others to get me a spot in the list of performers for one function. I thank him for that. So, during that performance Shaker bhai saw me, which lead to my debut as a film actor.
I acted in the iconic film "Surja Dighal Bari," and received a national award in 1979. The film was released in '79 but the shooting began in '77-'78. This was around the time I was in grade seven. Ever since then I have been in acting, be it TV dramas or films. I got busy with a lot of hit TV dramas after my debut film.
What changes happened to the Elora Gahar who debuted in grade seven? What is different about Elora Gahar today?
The Elora Gahar of grade seven was very innocent. She did not care about make-up. She had no idea about her career. She had no idea about how media functions. Basically, I started my career as an actor who learned her dialogues very well. I did not even think about minutely watching my acting on the screen.
I would say Elora Gahar of today is pretty much the same. I do not care for appearance. I do not care about remuneration. But now, my focus has shifted from dialogues to character. Whether it is the character of a mother, or being a film heroine, I usually get a lot of freedom to choose my own character. This has also happened that, I was given a script and asked to choose a character on my own. I usually try to pick a small character.
Once, a director was looking for someone to play the role of a policeman, and the portrayal would entail hitting someone. I was present at the discussion, and I suggested, "Why not me?" The director said, "Elora Apa! I won't be able to give you any money for this role." I said that is not an issue. We have female police officers in this country. I would love to portray that role.
When I did an item song for a film, I suggested a few things I wanted to do to the director, such as going without make-up, and doing specific moves. What I feel is that, there is no such thing as good film or bad film. How I pull off the performance is really important. What I do now is try to understand my character more.
Back in those days I did not wear make-up unless the role demanded it, and same is true even now. I never did wear much make-up to do my scenes, as I feel the actor needs to appear human. And I do not believe in "celebrity" hype. Iwas born an artiste.
You have worked with Mostofa Sarwar Farooki in some projects. There is a practice in some film industries, where a group of artistes work together on a series of projects. Was something like that happening with you and the group of artistes working with Farooki?
It is something we call "syndication" in this country; where a group of artistes form this informal syndicate to work together. I actually don't like working like that. I did some work with Farooki, but I did not seek out his projects specifically to work on. Because I believe a director must work with new artistes. He or she must have the freedom to cast new artistes.
The problem with syndication is that, artistes who want to do good work sometimes do not get the opportunity they desire. As the same group is stuck working together and getting someone new is a big discomforting change. So new artistes do not get work, and start suffering from loneliness. If an artiste does not get work then there is no peace in that mind.
No matter how much I say I do not want to work anymore, when I get an opportunity to work, I say to myself, "Let's do it."
I have heard you telling someone about being in this industry for 40 years. Will you please enlighten our readers, if there is a tendency to typecast people in the same role?
Absolutely there is this tendency. After my role as Fahmida Madam in "Choruivati" I kept getting offers for the same role in other dramas. Up to now, “Choruivati" is considered to be the most successful Television Film in Bangladesh. I as an artiste can say no to such typecasting, but the same is not true for everyone else.
There is another tendency, which is to compare artistes of different eras. I got a few offers to do roles written by Rabindranath. To give me a reference as to what my portrayal should be they ask me to look at Ferdousi Majumder's performances for Bangladesh Television. She is such an amazing artiste, that no one comes close to her in those roles. I cannot be expected to give that level of performance. They say stuff like, "If she could do it, then why can't you?" I reply, "I am sorry but I can't." I believe comparison and expectations like this are very wrong things to do.
I once performed the role of the mother in a TV drama based on Rabindranath Tagore's story "Samapti." The portrayal that is stuck in my head is the one I saw in Satyajit Ray's "Teen Kanya." I personally feel that I did not do justice to that role. So comparisons and expectations between artistes are unfair.
You have had such a long career in acting, which is a very time demanding profession. How do you balance family life and personal life?
My children are my first priority, and no other priority comes close to them. I always joke that if I ever become a Minister, then I would be most corrupt, as I will always give everything to my children. I don't want any thrones. In my priority list my children comes first, then my family, and then my recently deceased mother-in-law. Without her support I wouldn't have been able to come this far. I got married in 1981, and just lived like a princess at my in-laws. I raised three children with my mother-in-law’s immense support. She and her husband never found any mistake in my conduct. I salute my in-laws.
Your last role was in the Bioscope original film "Mon Mondire." What was your experience of that?
Well, I applaud director Aryan for what he did with that film. The story was of love between a boy and a girl, who come from different religions. This is reflection of inter-religious marriages that occur more often now. I feel that, people should welcome these changes and adapt to it.
People are very sceptic about changes in society, for example Facebook. I can lay the claim of being one of the first artistes who used Facebook when it started becoming popular in Bangladesh. My co-artistes and directors were very discouraging about my usage of Facebook. Now everyone uses Facebook, which means that people adapted to it. People should be welcoming changes, instead of being cynical about them.
Any last message for you fans?
Do not look for me on Facebook with the name Elora Gohor or Elora Gahar. All the accounts with that name are fakes. Please be aware of that.