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    Volume 9 Issue 19| May 7, 2010|

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Banning Foreign Culture
Not the Only Solution

Elita Karim

Ours is a young country and, though slow, is still going through a phase of transition. Much is left unexplored, day to day discoveries in the country baffle us, and the waging wars between the powerful and the weak is an everyday issue. Truly, Bangladesh represents Darwin's quintessential concept of 'survival of the fittest'. The transition and discoveries in Bangladesh have always been flanked by the forever effort to protect our culture from foreign infiltration. In fact, the war against the Pakistani army, which was fought three and more decades ago, was not only to liberate our land and preserve our mother tongue, but was also an effort to safeguard our culture.

Continuing with the 45-year-old ban on the import of Indian films to Bangladesh was such a step, which was taken to protect our film industry. Surprisingly enough though, debates have been sparked amongst the younger generation, unlike in the early 70s when the people of the newly liberated nation had supported the ban wholeheartedly so as to bring their art to the forefront. This might be due to the fact that the younger audience is much more exposed to foreign films in Bangladesh as compared to the older generation, in spite of the fact that showcasing foreign movies in halls are illegal in the country. Thanks to downloads on the internet and increasing piracy by CD and DVD owners, watching the latest movies or listening to the latest music, both Hollywood and Indian, has never been an issue, especially in the last decade or so.

In 1972, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had decided to continue with the ban on the import of Indian films in the country, which was initially slapped by the Pakistani regime in 1965. This was a necessary step, especially for a country, which had just gained independence and needed to create its own identity. That was almost 40 years ago, and sadly enough, the film industry today still leaves much to be desired.

The ban on the import of Indian films to Bangladesh was taken to protect our film industry.

Veteran filmmaker and winner of several national awards, including the Ekushey Padak, Chashi Nazrul Islam, says that the ban on the import of Indian films into the country is very much necessary to protect our home-made films and art. However, he also agrees that not much is being done to develop our films in Bangladesh and banning Indian films alone will not protect our films or our artistes, who, except a handful, receive very little remuneration. “The exhibitors or the hall owners, who are all for the lifting of the ban on the import of Indian films, obviously have a good amount to invest in the films to be shown in their halls,” Islam reasons. “Why not invest the money to develop our film industry itself? They can use the money to get the industry a proper and a modern laboratory where filmmakers can work on the post-production work, they can even invest to make the FDC a better place with up-to-date equipment and technology.”

In the last decade, young students have been opting for unconventional study programmes abroad, for both their undergraduate studies and post graduate studies, namely, filmmaking, technical development, scriptwriting, art direction and much more. Unfortunately, many such makers sometimes decide to stay back in the foreign countries, because the skills and knowledge that they develop abroad can hardly ever be used here in the country. Alex Mckenzie Mendez is a 22-year-old who has just returned to Bangladesh after finishing his undergraduate studies at the New York Film Academy. Mendez has worked in New York for some time and now that he has returned to his home country, he is full of ideas and wants to work in the industry. Starting with music videos and other small experiments, Alex feels that it would be very difficult to implement even half of his ideas in the industry. He speaks of a very basic but very significant element of filmmaking -- post-production. “If I want to blow up a film done in a 35mm camera, I would have to do it in either Singapore or London,” he explains. “It would not be possible to do it here in Dhaka.”

“We have a very rich talent pool in this country,” says Chashi Nazrul Islam. “Many of them spend dollars and pounds to study filmmaking so that they can do something in the country. But what can they do when there is no technological support or the platform?” Islam also laments on the poor role the government plays in this case as well. “The government takes a revenue from the filmmakers for the films, but this is done at the cost of our hard work,” he says. “Unlike the government and the industry in India, our government does not get involved in our work, does not contribute to the development of the industry. In Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, amongst other places, they have cinema complexes where both the government and the owners share the revenue, thereby a good audience is created who appreciate good movies and like to watch them in the halls. I have had the honour of speaking to both Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman in the past, with regards to developing filmmaking in Bangladesh. And I must say that both of them have done a lot to develop the film industry back in those days. Back in 1972, Sheikh Mujib had decided to continue with the ban on South Asian films being imported to Bangladesh so that we could concentrate on working on our own films and develop them. This was a very necessary step back then. Ziaur Rahman built a laboratory and also gave away a 400-bigha land where the film city stands today. However, the people running the governments afterwards did nothing for the film industry.”

Dio Haque, a student of media studies and anthropology at the Independent University of Bangladesh recently wrote in his article, 'Ban on Import of Indian Films' about how the government and the people of Bangladesh have very significant roles to play to develop our culture, not only in the fields of cinema but also music and other forms of art. “There have been stories abound for several years of how lakhs of takas were spent on bringing in Indian and Pakistani celebrities to perform in Dhaka, and in the same event a legendary artist of Bangladesh came to the show in a rickshaw while his foreign counterparts were afforded helicopters and five star treatments,” he writes. “We cannot be hypocritical about the foreign threats to our culture if we don't even know how to respect the people who culture that culture. The Indian influence goes on unabated through the uncontrolled medium that is the television, as well as the illegal DVD trade. The introduction of Indian films, albeit in a regulated manner, in my belief would have ensured and brought about some much needed reform in our own media industry, which in turn might have helped us actually identify and deal with the actual problems which our culture faces today. Too many of our decisions and opinions are based on our emotions, ideology and political stance. If we cannot tackle problems without giving them the due merit and objectivity, we will forever be in the cycle where bigger problems keep heaping up on us because we choose to dust the problems of the past under the rug without finding a proper solution.”

In this day and age of globalisation, putting an embargo on cultural exchange is probably not the only way to protect our art forms. We would also have to take steps to educate ourselves, thereby developing our assets, making our resources accessible to young filmmakers and also be open to different norms and foreign ideas.


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