Published in: The Daily Star on May 18, 2019

Before starting the interview, we would like to explain to our readers what ‘Cross Talk’ is actually about and how it is relevant to Star Showbiz. Over the years, our committed readers have come across stories of different television artists, musicians, dramatists and prominent personas from the film fraternity. However, they have never had the opportunity to hear what the experts have to say about the showbiz industry in Bangladesh. Hence, we present ‘Cross Talk’, a platform that highlights the views of our cultural influencers.

RAFI HOSSAIN: Welcome to Star Showbiz Cross Talk. Today we have with us, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Chairman of Nagorik Television, Rubana Huq. She is also a cultural and literary personality. She can sing, recite and also write poems. We also have with us, prominent architect Iqbal Habib, who is known for his distinctive views and sharp remarks at talk shows. And finally, I would like to introduce popular actor and director, Ferdous. Now with this versatile group of people around me, let’s indulge in a great conversation focusing on the current situation of our entertainment industry.

I personally feel that our entertainment industry is going through a critical situation right now. I feel that all the programs we see on our local television channels are repetitive, lacking in originality and creativity. If we remove the logos of the TV channels it will be very difficult to differentiate between them because of the similarity of their content. And the few good movies, music artists and bands we have in our industry are still very underrated and hidden from the limelight. What is your take on this?

RUBANA HUQ: I would not say good movies are not being made as there are still good contextual movies being directed in our country, but maybe the number of such releases are below average.  And the reason behind it is the lack of patronage to create something original and unique. We have failed terribly in this department. I also find it difficult to accept that our country is not producing good music. There are still plenty of talented artists and good musicians out there, but the problem is that we are facing difficulties in understanding the taste of our audience. We are less focused on audience preference and more on creating commercial pieces. Now, if we talk about television then it is fair to conclude that if we remove the ‘logos’ then everything is the same. It is absolutely true especially in the case of news channels. When we talk about entertainment, there are many quality contents available but we pay less heed to them. We have turned away from watching television and the social media is to blame for this situation. We have access to watch almost everything on YouTube, Netflix and similar other platforms.

RAFI: Do you think internet is a positive medium for entertainment?

RUBANA: I view the medium as a positive platform but I cannot always applause the programs they show because of their contents. Television channels have certain censorship parameters for broadcasting any program; whereas the internet is a free media where there is no form of censorship. This generation has a very laid back approach towards everything and that is why I like calling them the Dhurro (dissatisfied) generation. Whatever you ask them, they will answer you with this one word, Dhurro. They don’t seem to be content with whatever they do, and start taking shortcuts to reach their goals. Just to gain quick fame attractive music videos are being produced. So, music is now mostly viewing rather than listening. Even in case of films, people try to relate themselves immediately to the conventional plotline of aggression, action and thrill and they forget that the world of cinema is not confined within these. And due to all these, I personally feel that the touch of originality has been lost.

IQBAL HABIB: I think a certain sense of negligence is at work here and we have created an ambiance based on it. This could be the beginning of a huge setback ushering in the march of hopelessness in our cultural part. And as Rubana mentioned earlier, the innovative mentality that prevailed back in our times does not exist anymore. Now everything is delivered as prescribed. I use the word negligence here because with this aura of frustration no one can bring a positive change to the society. Growing up in ’71, we had nothing, but the amount of hope we had in us was incredible. There was no place for frustration. But this confidence disappeared after a successive period of time, especially after the 90s where the level of depression grew rapidly. For example, if I am having an informal chat right now about the traffic system or dust pollution of Dhaka, an entire research will commence and mostly it will be based on the negative remarks. But nobody for once looks at the bright side; Rajshahi was recognized as the only city in the world where 40 percent reduction of dust pollution was achieved in just three years, and this created a worldwide record. This story never got wide news coverage. We are the enemies of our own heroes. Basically, what I am trying to say is that if we continue to create such environment then who will take the challenge to bring change to this scenario?

RAFI: We have to accept the current reality, but this does not mean that it is the end of everything. Television still has viewers but the shift of viewership from national to foreign channels is quite evident. For example, the recent heartthrob of our nation, singer Nobel has made a mark for himself just because we noticed him on an international platform. The scenario would have been different if he was in a national competition. I am not demeaning our industry, there are good contents being aired on our local TV channels. Somewhere along the line we all will have to bear accountability for this and take measures to fix this issue. What’s your take on this, Ferdous?

FERDOUS: I feel that our film industry is going through a transition period right now. And to improve the situation, we need the involvement of this generation. Until and unless, they become passionately engaged into the betterment of this industry, we cannot create a proper balance. Every day new technology and systems are being developed, and it is difficult for the older generation to embrace these changes. Entertainment platforms have evolved as well. People now want multipurpose entertainment centres rather than cinema halls.  So, cinema halls are gradually going extinct.When I entered the industry, there were 1400 cinema halls and now it has gone down to around 200. We have been hearing about the plan of building cineplexes in every district of Bangladesh, but until this plan is executed, we cannot change the medium of entertainment for our viewers. Already, we can watch movies, web series in the comfort of our homes, so why step out? However, I do not think that the film industry will be completely wiped out because this is the ultimate form of entertainment. People still enjoy watching movies on the big screen as it gives them a thrilling experience; there is no substitute for this. So, to make sure our audiences enjoy the movies we make, we need to alter our contents. And yet again, the lack of sponsorship and funding also contributes to our failure. If one has to knock every door to get financial support for their films then no one will be interested to work in this industry. Previously a six-digit budget was needed to make a drama, but these days dramas are being made with five-digit budgets. Everything around us is improving but our finances seems to have taken the wrong turn. If we were focused on promoting the good movies we are making, the scenario would have been different today. Quality movies are still being made but in limited numbers because of a lack of patronage.

IQBAL: Media has a key role to play in addressing this situation. Every sector of the media needs to improve their content based on the evolving tastes of their audience. When Habibur Rahman produced Padma Nadir Majhi, do you think he received huge patronage? He had to struggle a lot, but in the midst of all the hurdles, he gained immense appreciation. The government, film critics and many others helped him during the production process. But now it is all about quick production, lack of investment and innovation. Be it music, art, poem, lyrics or anything, people want quick service and this culture of taking shortcuts has developed right in front of our eyes. We got so absorbed in the quick culture that we allowed it to become a new normal for us.

RAFI: Rubana apa and Iqbal bhai, you both are very successful in your professions, you are also closely involved with literature and the arts. Your roles in the society can bring about the changes needed for the industry to turnaround. Both of you had previously taken initiatives to bring likeminded people under one roof. Similarly, what else can be done to improve the current situation of the industry?

IQBAL: We always discuss about the problems of urbanization, but we never try to find solutions. And based on those issues, Rubana and I along with some of our friends, felt the need to do something as citizens of this country and formed Urban Lab. When we witnessed the birth of Nagorik television, the dream project of Rubana and Late DNCC Mayor Annisul Huq, we came up with the idea of making a program called Shomadhan Jatra, adapted from his mayoral campaign. We decided to turn the television box into a platform where, day to day issues related to urbanization could be solved. The program focused on finding solutions and the outcome was brilliant. When we got a versatile batch of people together under one roof, all sorts of fun and innovative solutions came up for implementation. We started to connect with our viewers. Television and social media both are influential platforms and if we can connect everyone through the strengths of these mediums, change will be visible.

RUBANA: I am going interrupt my friend here because, the program Shomadhan Jatra was created with the motive to turn television into a public service platform to get our viewers hooked.

RAFI: Why are we not doing it then?

RUBANA: There is no fund; Iqbal’s Shomadhan Jatra will not gain TRP. The show will only come to attention when we will rope in superstars like Ferdous for promotion. So, if we want to incorporate better contents in our business schemes, we need to be clever and work together with humility. Everyone starting from channel owners to program designers need to think together, work together and support each other to improve the industry. I feel that we will not be seeing improvement any time soon, but I am hopeful for the future. And I talk about business over here because it is related to the budget issue which we spoke about earlier. The reason behind low budgets is mass production. So, the business minded people are getting what they need in a short span of time. They will not pay extra penny if they are getting what they want so quick and easy.

RAFI: I get amazed when I see the young generations embracing our culture and I have seen on social media platforms that they are interested to know more about their roots. I believe that it is our responsibility to get them involved with our entertainment industry. I think that if we can come up with a constructive plan and work together hand in hand our mediums of entertainment will not be lost. Ferdous, I am coming back to you again. What sort of idea or practical plan can be implemented?

FERDOUS: I think that we should start doing what Rubana apa had previously suggested about getting celebrities to promote Shomadhan Jatra. We should use what the audience wants for the benefit of television programs. I feel that we need the combination of both entertainment and intellect to provide our viewers with good quality programs. If we do so, we would be able to get quality work without having to make compromises. Truth be told, not everything can be achieved with money. I recall Basu Chatterjee once saying to me, that even if someone gave him 5 crores to make a cinema, he will not be able to make it because his story doesn’t demand such a huge amount. So, money alone cannot make better content; teamwork, determination and intellect can result in good programs, films, music and so on. If I go back to what I said earlier, films were made, are still being made and will be made. It is just going through a phase because of the ever changing world around us, but soon we will learn to adapt and create better platforms for our audience to find the joy of watching cinema on the big screen again. I believe we can bring change if we help each other during this transitional phase.

RAFI: So, Rubana apa would you like to take the helm to steer us towards this change?

RUBANA: More responsibilities! (Laughs). I am always ready to take on responsibilities and that is why I believe in our youths and I love their energy and youthfulness. If we can loop in our next generation into the work we do then this nation will be able to see overarching glory in every sector. There are groups of likeminded people in this country, and they should start growing in numbers. I also feel that people like me, Ferdous, Iqbal and many others should join that force. And referring to our earlier conversation regarding Urban Lab, I feel that we need more collaborative platforms for our vision and culture to not only promote entertainment but also help shape the interest of the masses. We are failing so badly in this, that we are not being able to give proper direction to the next generation. We have drifted so far away from our roots just to embrace the changes around us that now we cannot guide them back to where we all began. In the era of fusion, we see everyone is trying to blend the old and the new together, forgetting our rich cultural aspects. It is not just my responsibility, and I would like to request everyone to take time out of their busy schedules to sit with their younger ones and share about our old music, cinemas and dramas. I was so delighted the other day when I saw my younger daughter watching a Satajit Ray movie. Even Netflix has old movie collections, so we can actually take a stand on reaching them through all these different platforms. We should stop complaining and start taking action. If we take the time to explain to the youths the situation and speak the truth, then they will listen and help form a unified platform. I believe when we speak the truth we talk about our failures and we talk about our modesty. Our youths are always eager to hear these stories because they understand them easily. They understand that we have lost our base and we need reformation to rise.  All we have to do is, agree to the failures and speak up about them. If we are to be the guiding example for them, then first we need to start working with humility and honesty.

FERDOUS: I would like to add that proper research and background studies are also necessary when it comes to planning and reforming.

IQBAL: We cannot do anything individually. We need to come together and create a platform where our ideas can collide and coincide for the betterment of the industry.

RUBANA:  Be it culture, profession or passion, people are always running after money. If you do good work you will receive recognition and fame. I feel that if you are able to affect many lives through your work then money does not matter, your true reward will be your good influence on the others.  One must always think about the welfare of the society, because that is the ultimate goal or purpose of our lives.

RAFI: Through this interview I would

like to invite everyone from the entertainment industry to step up and join this likeminded force and create a better platform for our next generation. Thank you so much for this wonderful conversation.

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