Australia today is a stable, democratic, culturally diverse nation with a skilled workforce and a strong, competitive economy according to department of foreign affairs. It’s diverse and reputable education sector with the further opportunity for students to migrate to live here permanently attracts students from around the world to study each year. Like many foreign students from a range of countries the numbers of Bangladeshi students coming to study in Australia is significant, in fact most of our community members that are here today came first to study and later migrated.
A significant number of our community came here leaving their dreams behind to pursue higher studies in the hope of a better life, if not for themselves then for their families. One such person is Shaheen Shahnewaz. He came to Sydney in early 1989 and he came at a time when his career in acting in both theatre and in TV were blossoming.
Born on 3rd January in the heart of Bangladesh in Dhaka city, into a family where acting was like bread and butter. His elder brother is Rakibul Hossain who is 78, and still involved in acting in Bangladesh. There was a time when he and three of his brothers were involved in same theatrical drama. His acting career started from his childhood, but he got his main break when he was studying in Jahangir Nagar University, Savar, Dhaka with the late legendary actor Humayun Faridi in 1978 through a workshop he held to look for young talent to join in the great Dhaka Theatre. Shaheen Shahnewaz was a contender and claimed the top position at the workshop. Humayun Faridi was his inspiration and to this day remains an idol for him.
After joining the Dhaka Theatre, Shaheen Shahnewaz had the opportunity to perform in some of the great theatrical drama shows such as Shakuntola, Fanimonosha, Muntasir Fantasy and Kittonkhola, Keramot Mongol. He has performed alongside other great actors and performers like Afzal Hossain, Raisul Islam Asad, Shahiduzzaman Selim, Suborna Mustafa, Shimul Yusuf and many others.“Konjoos” (In English called Miser) is the very first theatrical performance he directed and staged in Sydney. Konjoos is the highest performing drama. It has been staged around 640 times – more than any theatrical drama in the history of Bangladesh.
He also had the opportunity to play a small role in the Bangla TV Drama Serial “The Shang-Saptok”, made in the early 80’s it is an epic story produced by Shahidullah Kawsar. Although it was a small role, it was significant for his TV career.
Shahnewaz has been living in Sydney for around 24 years and he still misses those moments back in the theatre in Bangladesh. He once said, “no matter how much you try to get over with your dream, it rolls back in your life”. This fact is very true, Shahnewaz couldn’t resist being in the acting. He is the first person in Sydney in fact in Australia to stage a theatrical drama for the Bangladeshi community. He took this on in the late 1990’s a year after arriving in Sydney. He also staged a performance for the very first association for the Bangladeshi community in Australia called “Bangladesh Association of Australia”.
There used to be a time when he was involved in every single Bangladeshi theatrical drama staged in Sydney as either director or actor and one of his friends Enamul Haque used to assist him doing this. Now because of family commitments and work he is involved in one or two theatre production a year. He has been associated with the Ekushe Academy Australia for a while now and each year he will be staging a theatrical drama at the Ekushe Academy Boi Mela (Book Fair).
Besides being a director and actor Mr. Shahnewaz also recites poetry which he says he sometimes finds easier than working on a theatre productions. Where preparing for a theatre productions can take many months, you can be ready to recite a poem in a week.
Mr. Shahnewaz thinks theatre can be complicated for our next generation born or brought up here as they are lacking in Bangla and it is very important to be good in Bangla, theatre is an important part of Bangla culture. He also thinks that because our children are very close to their families they can learn the Bangla language and culture – equipping them to then perform on stage.
Mr. Shahnewaz believes that it is very important for us to continue Bangla theatre and other cultural activities in the community, as it is an opportunity to showcase our rich culture to the next generation in Australia who can in turn pass it onto to their next generation.