Author: Maharram ZEYNALOV Baku
A person's destiny can be changed once and for all by fate or a chance happening. He can be given the opportunity of a new life which he had never dreamed of before. This is precisely what happened to Hasan Mammadov who thought it was his destiny to be a research assistant, but became an actor.
Gasan Mamedov, one of the country's most popular actors, died 10 years ago, on 26 August 2003, at the age of 64. Right from childhood Gasan Mamedov had found exact sciences easy. When he was 18 years old, spurred on by his interest in them and partly influenced by his father, he came to Baku where he became a student in the physics and mathematics faculty of Azerbaijan's state university (now Baku State University [BGU]). Although he enjoyed his studies, two years later Hasan left the university and applied to the acting faculty of Azerbaijan's theatrical institute.
"After I came to Baku, I used to go to theatrical performances often and became really attached to the theatre without noticing it. So, when I left the university, I applied to the acting faculty of the Azerbaijan State Theatre Institute. It took me two attempts to get a place. At that time, I was working as a radio presenter at the State Radio and Television Broadcasting Committee and took part in crowd scenes at the Academic Drama Theatre." After he got his acting qualifications, Hasan Mammadov worked at the Azerbaijan Drama Theatre for 10 years, acting in big and small roles. But in 1969 fate took him irrevocably into a career in film.
The face of the new cinema
Throughout the first half of the 1960s there was an unprecedented cultural upsurge in Soviet film-making owing to a certain "thaw" in the social environment. Whereas comedy and musical films were relatively good, feature films had been full of propaganda highlighting zeal and enthusiasm for communism. Soviet films never featured anything topical or even close to real life.
At that time, at the end of the fifties and sixties, the great French and Italian cinema was becoming a real trailblazer and an unprecedented creative bond formed between the Soviet Union and France and Italy. The enormous demand for new, really good actors became quite obvious. Where else should they be taken from if not from the theatres?
For Azerbaijan Gasan Mamedov became a fresh face in these topical films. The young actor, who was not hampered by the restrictions of the "old" cinema school, was able to create realistic, many-sided, truly complex characters. The director Habib Ismayilov discovered Mammadov's talent when he saw him acting in a performance which formed part of his course. He offered him the small part of the collective farmer Garas in his own, what was generally speaking a typical labour-related film "The Great Buttress". It was not an outstanding part in an outstanding film. But, nevertheless Hasan Mamedov was very serious about the way he played it and gave it his all. One interesting story is that during the filming the young actor asked the quite strong Alasgar Alakbarov, who was acting in the film's main role, to slap his face hard, in a realistic manner. It took a long time before Alakbarov agreed to do it.
That was back in 1962. Hasan Mammadov didn't act in another film until three years later. At that time the director Tofiq Tagizada was auditioning 400 actors for the parts of Askar and Gulcohra in his remake of the musical "Arshin Mal-Alan". They all understood what they had to do to make a success of it, except perhaps that the director made some technical errors in some of the scenes and replaced them with scenic views. Many people did not like the film, including Rasid Behbutov, who is known to have played the main role of Asker in the film version of the operetta in 1945. In this film Gasan Mamedov played Asker. Although the film was no better than the "Rasid" version, the latter did nevertheless telephone Hasan Mammadov to draw attention to himself.
After this, Hasan Mammadov starred in a new film every year, sometimes even two films per year. The actor was increasingly in demand.
Real works of art followed
Not only a new type of actor appeared with the breakthrough in the national film industry, but also young film-makers. At the end of the sixties the film "In One Southern Town" came out. The young directors and screenplay writers Eldar Quliyev and Rustam Ibrahimbayov made their debut with this film. Besides, Rasim Ocagov, a young, but already experienced cameraman (who was only a cameraman at that time), worked on the film too. He had already worked on six films before that. In this new situation the talent of Hasan Mammadov as a dramatic actor could really be revealed. People were stunned by the realism and innovation in the film. It was no less of an artistic achievement than those of the outstanding Italian film-makers of the time, and their influence on the actual filming was sufficiently obvious.
He made several more films after this, among them historical and "labour-related" films and serious, well recognised films. These included Ojagov's and Ibragimbekov's "Interrogation" and Ojagov's "Tahmina". Hasan Mammadov also starred in some films in the Soviet Union's other republics.
"He was a very quiet, person who never argued or got drawn into the squabbles at the theatre or on set, and was very much immersed in his work," Rasim Balayev recalls in an interview with Regionplus. "It is a blessing that he didn't become a scientist at that time. As an actor, he breathed new life into the Azeri film industry. If he had chosen another profession, then those films would never have been made."
Gasan Mamedov had a tremendous influence on other Azeri film actors. "Many looked to him as a role model. When I myself saw the first films starring him, I definitely decided that I would become a film-maker," Balayev admits. He recounts that before Hasan Mammadov appeared, well known actors from the Soviet republics were very often offered the main parts in Azeri films. "When Hasan made his appearance, that practice stopped, because no-one else was needed once we had him."