Renowned Bangladeshi actor and film star Ilias Kanchan had launched the safe road movement after he lost his wife Jahanara twenty-five years ago. He founded the organisation Nischa and its motto ‘Nirapad Sarak Chai’ (we want safe roads) has become a slogan now. He was awarded Ekhushey Padak for social service. Prothom Alo talked to him on 4 August at the Nischa office in Kakarial, Dhaka.
Prothom Alo: For 25 years now you have been demanding safe roads. Tell us about the beginning.
Ilias Kanchan: I was shocked at my wife’s death in a road accident. I even decided to not to act in films anymore. Later, I felt it would be unwise to stop acting for it was source of my livelihood. I began to think that others who might face the same condition as me. I kept thinking about this. For the first 15 days I didn’t talk about these things. At one stage, I decided I would continue acting, and at the same time would initiate the movement on road accidents.
Prothom Alo: Can you remember the first day?
Ilias Kanchan: On the first day, 1 December 1993, we marched towards the National Press Club from BFDC (Bangladesh Film Development Corporation). A huge number of crowds joined in the programme. They came demanding safe roads and also because they loved me.
Prothom Alo: You must have been criticised by the bus workers and drivers!
Ilias Kanchan: The transport owners and the workers disliked me. I started mixing with them and tried to change their mindset. A persons' behavior is crucial in this regard. I tried to make the passengers aware too. The transport workers changed their previous stand gradually. A few years ago, a driver hugged me at a programme at Khulna, crying, “I misunderstood you!”
Prothom Alo: What are your achievements and losses over the past 25 years?
Ilias Kanchan: I was at the top of the film industry when I started this movement. My career was affected, but I didn’t think about my career. In the beginning, I wasn't successful. Many criticised me. But, people’s stand has changed. They now understand that the accidents occur due to someone’s faults or irregularities. It's not just fate. This awareness is the biggest achievement of the movement.
Prothom Alo: What are the things a driver must abide by and remember?
Ilias Kanchan: First of all, a minimum level of training is required. The drivers must be skilled. Secondly, they must know the traffic rules. And thirdly, they have to perform their duties honestly. I have been raising awareness among the drivers across the country, holding workshops.
Prothom Alo: When did you last go to BFDC?
Ilias Kanchan: I went there today (4 August) for a TV programme shoot. I become nostalgic every time I go there. I have spent 40 years there. There are a lot of memories.
Prothom Alo: Tell us the story of how you entered the film industry.
Ilias Kanchan: In 1976, I acted in a play and Subhash Dutta was the the chief guest at the programme. He asked me to meet him after watching the drama. The next day he gave me the good news-if my family had no objection, he would work with me. This was my first work, in 1977. The movie was titled ‘Basundahara’.
Prothom Alo: You moved away from films once.
Ilias Kanchan: A single actor almost monopolises the movies nowadays. When I was an actor, about 120 films were released every year. Now, 40 to 45 films are made in a year. There were 1400 cinema halls and now there are 300 to 350. Cinema halls are being demolished and markets being erected instead. The government does not look into this. To tell the truth, none other than Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman backed the film industry in this country.
Prothom Alo: You had started making films too. Why did you stop?
Ilias Kanchan: I made two films, but no longer dare to. Our film industry was always rife with conspiracies. The first blow was piracy. Later, it was obscenity. These shrunk the market. The number of theatres has declined too. Among the surviving ones, 150 halls are controlled by one institution!
Prothom Alo: You have been awarded Ekushey Padak for social service. There are rumours that you will contest in the elections.
Ilias Kanchan: This is not completely true. People have expectations and if I ever get the opportunity to fulfill them, I will consider it.