Popular actor Riaz Uddin Ahmed Siddique recently appeared in a 10-part public service announcement, ‘Dettol-Harpic Porichchonno Bangladesh.’ In an exclusive interview with Showtime’s Faruque Ratul, Riaz explains how the film industry has changed, and why cleanliness is important
You started your career as a pilot. What lead you to become an actor?
I joined the Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) as a teenager right after my intermediate examinations. I got a training academy scholarship and went to Turkey. Returning to Bangladesh, I had an accident that caused me to retire early from the BAF. Acting was a sudden decision.
So it could be called destiny that I turned towards acting.
Please tell us about the environment of the Bangladesh Film industry, when you started your career anew as an actor? How different is it from now?
I started acting in 1995. There was big craze for Salman Shah among the young people, including myself. I joined the industry when Jashim, Alamgir, Kanchan, and Manna bhai were acting.
Before my debut, I acted without clearly understanding film-making. People were dedicated to the craft. I learned fighting and dancing under Jashim bhai for a long period. I sat during his shooting, watched his dialogue deliveries, and the process of film-making. I practiced with few youths Jashim bhai selected for me.
Back then, the directors were attentive to the script. We rehearsed a lot. Without receiving the perfect shot, directors would not let anyone leave. They knew, meticulously, what they wanted. Time and film were not an issue for them.
I did several films with Matin Rahman. I also worked in films under the direction of Mohammad Hannan, Zakir Hossain Raju, and others. Most probably, I acted more in Hannan’s films.
People are not searching for original stories now. There are several “cream” or turning points, that are discarded because of the budget or their value is underestimated. Acting is not fine-tuned. Direction does not feel as inspired. Background music is ordinary.
“Moments” need to be created. The level of expertise needed to create those “moments,” I feel, I do not see as much today. Technology has surely improved with graphics. However, somewhere the soul is missing – which is essential.
Everything else is there and beautiful. The body is fantastic. But, since there is no soul, the film is failing to “touch” souls.
You are not seen in films as much as before. Are you currently at a stage, where you are not that focused on acting?
I am still acting. I did a TV drama recently, titled “Kolur Bolod 1” and “Kolur Bolod 2,” and they were very well received among many people.
The current film-makers only have one plot in their head, about teenage love, and the conflicts resulting from it are depicted onscreen. This I don't think should be the main focus of a film.
I am not seeing enough directors and screenplay-writers, with the capacity to think about the film from outside this mindset. There are a handful of directors who can think differently. When I hear a story or when I get a film story from someone, I can easily tell if it is a story of the eighties. There is no reason for it to remain relevant today.
We blame the public for not understanding films. The public understands them very well. Since they understand them, they go to watch them and enjoy. So, you have to make films to cater to their interests.
"Debi" and "Aynabaji" were good films, and lots of people watched them. Aside from these, other films with equally big marketing campaigns did not do well. People will not spend their money on something that they do not want.
Another thing is that in 2019 our lives have become very fast-paced. We have entered the digital age, full of international content. YouTube is open for all. There is a lot of interesting content launched on open sources.
In the age of Facebook, every user is a hero or a heroine. They are getting comments about themselves. If ten are commenting on an issue, if another comments something good, then there is feedback and criticism over it. So, everybody is becoming a performer, or a hero or a heroine. There are less viewers and everyone is becoming a performer.
Therefore, I do not act as much.
I have heard that film industry is going through tough times. We have seen news of film theatres shutting down. Multiplexes are still drawing in viewers. Do you think hall quality is an issue?
I have been acting for two decades. For me, halls are not an issue. It is always about content or the film. There are many films being screened at multiplexes, and you will see there are three or four people watching it.
On the other hand, I have seen some of my fans, going to the cinema in a lungi and a shirt. After sweating profusely, they take off their shirt, soak up the sweat of their body and squeeze the water out. Then they wear the shirt again. They are getting bitten by termites on wooden benches while watching the film in the halls of district towns. Yet, they are watching.
So if the environment is good in a hall that is great. However, does the chicken come first or the egg? Similarly, do the halls come first or the film? I will always say that films come first.
If you make good content, people will search for it and watch it. Nobody will wait for the halls to be improved. We have seen people watch films in spite of the heat. It is always content. If it is bad, why would people watch it?
You once did advertisements for tuberculosis awareness. You have recently worked in ‘Porichchonnotar Golpo,’ as part of the ‘Dettol-Harpic Porichchonno Bangladesh’ campaign. As an actor what attracted you towards activism?
Artistes actually have a lot of commitments, as we receive a lot of people's love. It is very important to me to help people. I personally have tried to do some work.
We think that cleanliness is an individual thing, but this is not so. It definitely is about how you adopt and practice it; how you perceive it.
I have two hands and I know that there are people working for municipality to clean the trash of the city. If I were to help this person a little bit, I will not be losing anything because of it. I am just trying to create that awareness among people. Dettol-Harpic is also trying.
When people will understand that there is a place to throw the trash, then they will use it. If one were to throw the trash just anywhere, a lot of contagious bacteria would thrive over there. If a slum-dweller gets sick with a disease, then the flat-dweller might also get afflicted by that virus.
So it is also about our surroundings and keeping our country clean. We need to keep our city clean. If another massively contagious disease is found, or a plague of some sort is discovered from something simple, then it could become an epidemic in Bangladesh. For this reason awareness about "porichchonnota" (cleanliness) is very important.
In the age of streaming, web series are being made. Netflix films are made. If you are offered an acting role for web content, will you take the offer?
I definitely want to act. Web series or web films are just a new medium. Mediums change, but acting is not changing. At one time, we heard songs through a gramophone. Then we heard songs on cassette players. Then we heard music through CD players. Now we are hearing them through YouTube. The medium changes, but songs do not change.
Films are the same. The medium of showing films is changing, but the acting schools have not changed. So, the medium is not important to me. A good story and character is all that matters.