Described as one of the most talented, beautiful and mesmerizing actresses to have graced the silver screen, Eva Asao dominated the most part of the fifties and sixties period with some of the most fascinating portrayals in Assamese cinema, theatre as well as radio. Not only that, she created a huge sensation when she acted as the leading heroine in an Urdu film made from the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. A natural in front of the camera, Eva Asao was an artist of impeccable grace and beauty. Her glamour is still captivating 27 years after her death.
Eva Asao was born on 10th April, 1940 in Sivasagar in a cultured family. She completed her graduation from Sivasagar College in 1958.
Much before she made her entry into movies, Eva Asao had taken a envy to her siblings, who have already achieved fame with acting. Her elder brother Duncan Asao was the leading hero of Assam’s fourth film ‘Rupahi’. Her elder sister Dr Rebecca Asao was a skilful stage and cinema actress. So quite naturally, Eva developed a strong interest in the performing arts, and she followed their lead into acting.
Eva Asao made her debut in cinema with ‘Piyali Phukan’, which was released on December 2, 1955. During that time, her father didn’t allow her to act in movies due to the prevailing insular, orthodox attitude of society. However, in the end, Eva’s father relented when her elder brother and sister somehow convinced him.
In 1955, Eva Asao arrived with the unit to Kolkata for the film’s indoor shoots. Initially, Eva Asao was terrified but it was only after director Phani Sarma assured her that she gathered enough courage to face the movie camera. The famous song ‘Gaonre Jiyari, Sapoon Sundari, Gaonte Sarag Rosu Moi..’ rendered by Gunada Das was picturised on Eva Asao the very next day.
After ‘Piyali Phukan’ was censored, a special screening was held in Kolkata on November 25, 1955. It was lauded by the prominent critics of the time. Eva’s performance did catch the attention of several filmmakers, including Dr Bhupen Hazarika, who cast her in his maiden film ‘Era Bator Sur’, released in the year 1956. It was followed by ‘Bhakta Prahlad’ in 1958.
In 1957, two movies of Eva Asao got released. ‘Kesaxun’ was released on May 29. ‘Kesaxun’s songs became phenomenally popular. Her second release in the same year was ‘Puwati Nishar Sapoon’. The everlasting hit song from the film ‘Kahuwa Bon..’, rendered by Bhupen Hazarika and Ela Bose, is hummed by people even today.
In the early part of 1958, a nation-wide ‘Talent-Hunt’ competition was organised by the popular Filmfare magazine. Eva, helped along by friends, joined the competition by fluke. After getting a call from Filmfare, she went along with her brother to Mumbai. But to her and everyone’s surprise, she was declared as the winner from amongst girls. And a rugged handsome lad from an infamous village in Punjab, named Dharbinder Singh Deol, who became famous as Dharmendra, became first amongst boys. That year in 1958, she became good friends with Dharmendra and that friendship remained lifelong. In the same year, one of the issues of Filmfare carried a cover story on her. A number of Eva’s colour and black and white photographs were published in the front cover and inside as well. She made her state proud by that rare achievement.
Soon, she was beckoned by the Hindi film industry with movie offers. Renowned director of Hindi cinema, Bimal Roy offered her the leading role of the heroine in his upcoming film ‘Sujata’ after winning box-office glory with ‘Madhumati’ just before that. The hero was to be Sunil Dutt. Besides, Guru Dutt and Kishore Kumar had also offered her leading parts. But Eva had to reject all those offers due to a lot of intervention from her conservative family. There are obstacles galore and she had no choices left. After knowing her rejection, Bimal Roy cast Nutan in her place for the leading role in ‘Sujata’. Nutan went on to win the Best Actress award for her performance in the film. Besides, she also got opportunities to act in Bengali film ‘Baghini’ opposite Anil Chatterjee, with Kishore Kumar in ‘Paglababu’ and opposite Biswajeet in ‘Trishna’. But Alas! The same family intervention came in her path. However, she did shoot for a couple of days for ‘Paglababu’ with Kishore Kumar.
In the year 1960, she was assigned to play the heroine’s role in the Urdu language film titled ‘Dur Hai Sukh Ki Gaon’, which was made from the then East Pakistan. This time around too, she was prevented from acting by her father. He finally agreed to let her act after a lot of convincing from her brother Duncan Asao and director Karder.
After landing in East Pakistan, Eva was taught Urdu by a teacher for 3-4 months. After Eva mastered the Urdu language, director Karder went ahead with the mahurut of ‘Dur Hai Sukh Ki Gaon’, which was held at a famous place in East Pakistan called Cox Bazar. Apart from dramatic scenes, Eva Asao was also made to lip sync two songs in the film. The songs were rendered by none other than the legendary singer-actress Nurjahaan. The film got released in Pakistan in 1961. Even though she was specially invited for the film’s premiere show, Eva Asao couldn’t go as she was busy simultaneously shooting for films ‘Lachit Borphukan’ and ‘Sakuntala’. She thought she would watch it upon its release in India. But due to political impediments, Eva never ever got to see her own movie in her lifetime.
During that very time, the world famous magazine ‘Life’ carried a picture of Eva Asao on its front cover page and a story inside. Besides that, East Pakistan’s famous magazine ‘Bichitra’ also carried a cover story on Eva Asao.
‘Lachit Borphukan’ was released on 29 September, 1961, to a rapturous reception in the theatres. The song ‘Jouwane Amoni Kare..’, which was on Eva Asao’s lips, became enormously popular. The advent of colour in Assamese cinema started with ‘Sakuntala’, which was partially coloured. Audiences were captivated by the sight of a colourful song on the silver screen.
In 1962, Eva Asao’s ‘Narakasur’ was released, followed by ‘Matir Swarga’ in 1963 and ‘Maniram Dewan’ in 1964. She worked with nearly all the top directors and actors of that period. Eva Asao exuded confidence in whichever role she played, and she always did justice to her acting abilities and expectations.
Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s much anticipated film ‘Pratiddhani’ got released on 22 January, 1965. The film is considered a milestone in her acting career. Playing a Khasi girl, Eva Asao really blends into her character with perfection. In the same year, ‘Pratiddhani’ was adjudged the Best Film in the regional category at the National Film Awards. A special show of the film was held in New Delhi.
Eva entered into betrothal with stage actor F.R. Rafel, whom she married in the year 1966. After marriage, her named was changed to Rani Rahim, though she loved to introduce herself as Eva Asao Rahim.
After her marriage, Eva Asao joined Akashvani, Dibrugarh Kendra. As a result, she had to stay away from films for a number of years. She returned to movies with the 1972 release ‘Bhaiti’, which was the first Assamese full-length colour film. After ‘Bhaiti’, Eva acted in ‘Mamata’ (1973), ‘Parinaam’ (1974) and ‘Santaan’. In 1975, she acted in her last film ‘Sunti’, which was shelved even after completing more than 75 percent of it’s shoot. Interestingly, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan also acted in the film.
Eva Asao also made her forey in mobile theatre, acting on stage for one full session with Anirban Theatre in 1982-83.
Eva Asao died on 14 June, in the year 1988 after ailing for quite some time. She left behind two daughters. Her husband predeceased her just two months earlier on April 3.