April 9, 1971. Amzad Ali Khondaker was moving a trunk out of the Secretariat building which then housed the office of the Department of Films and Publications.
Only a handful of people knew that the young DFP cameraman was on a deadly mission to save a treasure of history from destruction by the occupying Pakistani army.
Inside this tin box he carried the video footage and audio tapes of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s March 7 speech – a turning point in the nation’s fight for independence.
With the Pakistani military stationed in the Secretariat compound, Amzad knew it could cost him his life if caught.
He had previously spoken to a Bangalee police officer named Farid to help him through Gate No. 2. Still, he was tense about last-minute complications.
At around 2:00 p.m., he boarded a two-stroke three-wheeler widely known as a “baby taxi” with the trunk and reached door number 2. Farid helps him overcome the first big obstacle.
“I was panicked. But that couldn’t stop me from going on a mission. We were all inspired by that monumental speech by Bangabandhu,” Amzad said as he looked back on the day.
Leaving the Secretariat, he breathed a sigh of relief although his work to get the films to safety was only halfway done.
“I took the road by Curzon Hall to reach Swarighat via Chawkbazar. I crossed the Buriganga to Jinjira by boat,” said Amzad, recipient of this year’s Ekushey Padak, the second highest honor civilian in Bangladesh.
He boarded a bus for Bakhsnagar in Nawabganj. From Bakhsnagar he walked for seven kilometers with the trunk carried by a horse, which he managed with the help of some locals.
It was already late in the evening when he was at Joypara of Munshiganj.
“It was a job that meant I was risking my life. There were Pakistani forces checkpoints here and there. If you were caught, you would die,” Amzad said.
A few days later, after learning that the Pakistani army had entered the area, he sent the boxes of films and audio cassettes to another remote village called Karkosai.
Later, the materials were sent to India with the help of Indian freedom fighters and officials, and brought back to Bangladesh after independence.
Amzad returned to work at DFP after the war and later became BTV’s chief cameraman.
He also played a key role in protecting the valuable recording of the speech after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu and his family members in 1975, when conspirators raided the office of the DFP.
With the help of a few trusted colleagues, he replaced the film negative of the March 7 speech with another in the designated cartridge. The conspirators took the cartridge away thinking they had the correct images.
Amzad, now 79, said it was Mohebbur Rahman Khair, then director of the film division, better known as Abul Khair, who planned everything – from filming the historic speech to protecting it until the end.
Abul Khair, an acclaimed film and television actor who died in 2001, had sent an eight-member crew to film the historic speech that Bangabandhu delivered at the massive rally at the Maidan racecourse. Amzad was part of this team.
They used a German ARRI 35mm camera to film the event and a Nagra audio device for the sound recording.
Reflecting on that day, Amzad said, “There were rumors that the stage might be destroyed by a bomb. We were nervous…but we were more concerned about recording Bangabandhu’s speech properly.”
He added, “We couldn’t pay so much attention to the speech as we were involved in the shooting, but we were fascinated by how Bangabandhu gave clear instructions throughout his speech.”
Abul Khair worried about the fate of the documents recorded since March 25, when the Pakistani army began massacring unarmed Bangalees in one of the world’s worst genocides.
“He [Abul Khair] trusted me as one of his loyal junior colleagues. When he told me about the task, I just said that I wanted to meet my father and ask for his blessing,” Amzad told the Daily Star.
SM Golam Kibria, the current managing director of DFP, said he tried to recognize the people behind the recording of Bangabandhu’s historic speech and came up with Amzad’s name for Ekushey Padak.
Bangabandhu’s 19-minute speech set the tone for the war of liberation which will officially begin on March 26 and culminate in Victory on December 16 after a bloody nine-month war.
“The fight this time is the fight for our emancipation. The fight this time is for independence”, had shouted the Father of the Nation to launch a clear call for independence.
The speech was inducted into the book “We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches that Inspired History” by Jacob F Field, a collection of “excerpts from the most exciting and inspiring wartime speeches of the last 2,500 years – Cicero to Churchill, Lincoln to Mao”.
In 2017, Unesco inscribed it as documentary heritage in the Memory of the World Register.