April 9, 1971. Amzad Ali Khondaker was moving a trunk out of the Secretariat building that housed the then office of Department of Films and Publications.
Only a handful of people knew that the young cameraman of DFP was on a life-threatening mission to save a treasure of history from destruction by the Pakistan occupation army.
Inside that iron box, he was carrying the video footage and audio tapes of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s March 7 speech — a watershed in the nation’s struggle for independence.
With the Pakistan military manning the Secretariat compound, Amzad knew this could cost him his life if he got caught.
He had already talked to a Bangalee police officer named Farid to help him out through Gate No 2. Still, he was tense about any last-minute complications.
Around 2:00pm, he boarded a two-stroke three-wheeler widely known as “baby taxi” with the trunk and reached Gate No 2. Farid assisted him in crossing the first major hurdle.
“I was in panic. But that could not stop me from going on that mission. We all were inspired by that monumental speech of Bangabandhu,” Amzad said while recalling the day.
Getting out of the Secretariat, he breathed a sigh of relief though his job to take the films to safety was only half way through.
“I took the road by the Curzon Hall to reach Swarighat via Chawkbazar. I crossed over the Buriganga to Jinjira by boat,” said Amzad, a recipient of this year’s Ekushey Padak, the second highest civilian award in Bangladesh.
He got on a bus to Bakhsnagar in Nawabganj. From Bakhsnagar, he walked for seven kilometres 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 in Joypara of Munshiganj.
“It was a job that meant I was risking my life. There were checkpoints of Pakistani forces here and there. If you were caught, you would die,” said Amzad.
A few days later, after receiving the news that the Pakistan army had entered the area, he sent the cans of films and audio tapes to a further remote village called Karkosai.
Later, the materials were sent to India with the help of freedom fighters and Indian officials, and brought back to Bangladesh after the independence.
Amzad resumed his job at DFP after the war and later became the chief cameraman of BTV.
He also played a key role in protecting the precious recording of the speech after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu and his family members in 1975, when conspirators raided the DFP office.
With the help of some trusted colleagues, he replaced the film negative of the March 7 speech with a different one in the designated canister. The conspirators took away the canister thinking they got the right footage.
Amzad, now 79, said it was the then director of Film Division Mohebbur Rahman Khair, popularly known as Abul Khair, who planned everything — from shooting the historic speech to protecting it all the way.
Abul Khair, an acclaimed film and TV actor who passed away in 2001, had sent an eight-member team to shoot the historic speech Bangabandhu delivered at the mammoth rally on Race Course Maidan. Amzad was a member of that team.
They used German 35mm ARRI camera for filming the event and Nagra audio device for sound recording.
Reflecting on that day, Amzad said, “There were rumours that the stage might be blown up by a bomb. We were nervous … but we were more concerned about recording Bangabandhu’s speech properly.”
He added, “We could not pay that much attention to the speech as we were involved in the shooting, but we were mesmerised by the way Bangabandhu issued clear-cut instructions throughout his address.”
Abul Khair had been worrying about the fate of the recorded materials since March 25, when the Pakistan military started massacring unarmed Bangalees as part of one of the worst genocides in the world.
“He [Abul Khair] trusted me as one of his loyal junior colleagues. When he told me about the task, I just said I want to meet my father and seek his blessings,” Amzad told The Daily Star.
SM Golam Kibria, the current director general of DFP, said they tried to recognise the persons behind recording Bangabandhu’s historic speech and proposed Amzad’s name for Ekushey Padak.
The 19-minute address of Bangabandhu set the tone for the Liberation War that would officially begin on March 26 and culminated with the Victory on December 16 after a bloody nine-month war.
“The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle this time is for independence,” the Father of the Nation had roared to deliver a clarion call for independence.
The speech has been inducted into the book, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches that Inspired History” by Jacob F Field, a collection of “extracts from the most rousing and inspirational wartime speeches of the last 2,500 years — Cicero to Churchill, Lincoln to Mao”.
In 2017, Unesco inscribed it as a documentary heritage in the Memory of the World Register.