Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 41, Tuesday, October 19, 2010



Special Feature

Media-bringing depravity home

Whether it is media that influences popular culture or popular culture that imitates art has long been a point of controversy and more often than not, wayward behaviour and alleged social debacle have been blamed on filmmakers, their depicted content or their big banner casts.

Drug movies are generally inclined towards depictions of a central character that will, at least for the better half of the movie, be charismatic, smart, smooth and fearless. And not necessarily in a good way. Be it Johnny Depp in Blow, where he plays the role of a man who finds his wealth in dealing drugs or Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, there is a common element of glorification that works to blur the line between the positive and negative. So sneaky are they in their ways and so quick-witted is their rise to riches, that an easily impressionable mind cannot be blamed for being more engrossed in lukewarm hero-worship than in the end morale of the plot.

Usually, but perhaps not adequately enough, most drug movies end on an apparently negative note, directed at discouraging substance abuse. But before that end note is reached, one too many viewers are already bathed in awe of the young man from a not-so-privileged background who suddenly comes into the wrong, but sleek, company of some socially corrupt individual who will mentor him into exploiting the loopholes of society. This fast track into intelligently gained power and wealth is usually what makes a bolder impression than the near-inevitable dooming fate that these smooth operators will finally succumb to.

Even in movies as haunting as the Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly starrer, Requiem For A Dream, where the absolute highs and irretrievable lows of drug abuse are showcased in detail, an element of sadistic attraction comes into play. Stemming from the same roots that induce morbid poetry, grotesque art and extremes such as wrist-slashing, it is perhaps the attention-seeking dysfunction that fantasises about and even aspires for a self-destructive, self-pity inducing take on life.

The same can be said of Indian cinema, where hero-worship is more strongly focused on underworld villains and all too powerful gang leaders. With movies such as Vastav and Khal Nayak, despite being jailed and/or shot dead in the end, Sanjay Dutt developed a near cult following. To be fair, it was less the violent streaks that were awe-inspiring and more the entire personas that these roles brought to life, complete with little stylistic appeals and idiosyncrasies.

In end-note, the qualitative nature of the question of whether media directly influences detrimental trends or not, keeps the answer divided. The matter of fact lies in that coverage of these issues, and coverage to such staggering amounts, makes child's play out of crime, drugs, sex and cigarettes (think Friends, Sex and The City, How I Met Your Mother, or almost any other show where promiscuity is depicted in a mundane, humourous and even desirable light). Anything that is as oft-seen, oft-heard and oft-read as these issues immediately has the effect of becoming casual and ordinary, invoking, at best, off-handish reactions and achieving a state of normalcy due to the sheer number of times they are portrayed to public. If something is constantly part of our movies, part of our books and part of our music, it is by default part of our lives and what possible reasons can there be to be wary of things that are such everyday affairs?

By Subhi Shama

Special feature


The roar of a powerful engine, backs pushed against the seat by an invisible force, the road becoming a blur, adrenalin pumping, your life in your hands. That is the addiction of speed. This is not another piece on drugs, but the addiction is almost as strong, and the effects potentially even more devastating. Although you may not see them or feel the force of their addiction in the daytime, speed junkies do lurk the streets of Dhaka. Underground racing is real, and it has gripped a small but affluent section of the country's youth.

Closely linked with the racing phenomenon is the 'souping up' of cars; installing components and parts that ensure high performance and extreme speeds. Rayaan, a car enthusiast and someone who has been part of the underground racing scene says, “The most popular upgrade is the cold-air intake. It is the cheapest and the quickest enhancement to get done on your car.”

The cold air intake upgrade basically increases the air flow though the car, thus increasing speed. These upgrades are done in select shops around town, and, Rayaan says, can also be done at home. The parts can be imported or can be found in the shops specialising in such products.

When asked about what influenced him and others to risk such high stakes on a weekly basis, he said, “There are two major influences, 'Fast and the Furious' and NFS.

The first is a movie about, you guessed it, underground racing, and the second is a popular series of racing games, one of the editions of which is named 'NFS Underground' where gamers have to win races and points to get upgrades that make their cars perform better and faster.

“Races are held on a certain night of the week, after 2am when the roads are empty. Usually there is a drag race on a stretch of long, straight road, and a sprint, usually down Airport Road,” explains Rayaan.

A drag race is usually done with cars with manual transmission, and it is to see which car is best in terms of raw speed and acceleration on a stretch of straight road. A sprint is a more traditional car race. According to Rayaan, boys as young as twelve sometimes take part in these deadly games. Otherwise the age range of participants is usually between eighteen and thirty.

The speeds reached will run a chill down most mothers' spines. “180, 200 is probably the maximum you can drive on Dhaka streets. Racers go round bends at 180.” Not surprisingly, but tragically, accidents have happened. “Although it doesn't happen so often now, some time ago, bad accidents were not unheard of, and lives were lost.”

These are shocking words to hear and one can only imagine what drives these youngsters, who have everything to live for, to risk their lives and their families' happiness, even after seeing examples of families devastated by the loss of a young life due to such unnecessary risks. As it has been going on for so long, we can only hope against hope that they realise that the actor in a racing movie gets to go home without ever coming close to real danger, and the gamer can just start again if his ride is totalled. You can't do that in real life.

Photo: Ashraful Awal Mishuk
Names of interviewees have been changed to protect their privacy.


Around town

Although we would all like our weekends to be dotted by sugar, spice and everything nice, waking up on a Friday morning and spotting a 1000 taka note left on your bedside table by your super cool mom (yes, since we are done with our teen years, moms are back to being cool!), instantly means having to cut down on most things 'nice'.

So how do you go about maximizing your weekend wish list in this exceedingly expensive capital city with just Tk.1000 in your wallet? Unless you are the type that cannot ride buses and won't dine anywhere other than 5-star bistros, and unless you don't draw yourself back on the thought of trying out new things, you have an array of activities right around you in the metropolis to choose from.

Since Fridays start a little late because of Jumma prayers, you can start planning the afternoon with a tummy-teasing experience with friends in one of the many lounges that have mushroomed up all around the city. Whether you want to treat your taste buds, discuss the busy week with your friends, or just sit around and watch a game of football or cricket, a café like The Bench or Floor 6 are worthy options. And all these will draw only about a quarter of the money that you put inside your purse earlier.

What's next after the delicious delicacies then? If you are willing to unleash your sporty skills with your bunch, hit a pool hall from the lot that has the Dhaka Billiard Centre (DBC), Dhanmondi Level 4, or VIP at Uttara indexed on it. This also could be your chance to show off your benevolence by buying your buddies a game of billiard. No! I'm not trying to empty your pockets here because one round of billiard costs just TK. 20!

A Friday evening could also be best composed of a movie of your choice. Take a chance. Don't rush to the plush theatres of Star Cineplex right when you hear the word cinema. If you're going out in a group, try out our legendary 'Balaka', 'Jonaki' or 'Madhumita' theatres. You will be surprised at the level of entertainment they have to offer. Whether it's “Abujh Bou” or “Number One Sakib Khan”, every one of the movies comes with an amusing style of makeup, wardrobe and script. By the time the movie ends, your cheek tendons are sure to have been blessed with some good exercise and you'll be ready to swear that nothing beats our Dhaliwood Cinema when it comes to beguilement.

Understandably, the crowd and atmosphere of these true-Bengali 'cinema halls' might be a setback to many of your pursuits. If all else fails, Star Cineplex is always there to give you entertainment that comes with a cozy seat and genteel neighbours. Bangla movie tickets are priced similarly across all theatres ranging between Tk 80-150. If you are inclined towards English movies, all you have to do is pull one more 100 taka note from your pocket and you are off to the loud darkness of the movies. While you are rolling up the escalators of the grand mall, there's no harm picking up the absolutely gorgeous waist wear that you have admired countless times while passing by the clear Perspex of a particular shop. Make that two more hundreds extracted from your purse.

If Friday gets all the fun, what should Saturday brag about? Wake up early on Saturday for a change, call up your colleagues, cousins or chums, and make sure one in the cluster owns a handsome SLR. If it's you who is the proud owner of the camera, tuck it inside your backpack with a sipper and shades and make your way towards the ancient mysteries of this four centuries old city. When it comes to rich heritage and the age-old architectural eminence of Dhaka, Lal Bagh fortress has no near competitors. This pink fort (which once used to be not so pink at all), located at the Old Town will surely give you the feel of living in a place that once used to be ruled by kings and queens. Go ahead, buy the TK 10 tickets, explore the site, even if you have visited it before, and take some exquisite snaps of the Mughal relic.

One of the newest additions to the transportation system in town is the waterbus service around the city in a circular river route. Rush to Gabtoli, purchase a ticket for Tk.30 and off you are to be ferried to Shodorghat via Kholamura and Bosila in just about 50 minutes. The panorama of the edges of Dhaka, if not breathtaking, will still be quite a view to enjoy. Hydrophobics are better advised to keep themselves off the water and visit something that has the sky and space instead, like the Novo Theatre.

If all this site-seeing has made you crave for some snacks, gather your pals and glide to the lakeside phuchka stalls. One plate phuchka or chotpoti isn't supposed to demand more than 40 taka from you.

If you also happen to maintain a love life, try devoting the Saturday evening to your special one. Skip the phuchka with friends and save some space for an early dinner with your partner. Give them a bunch of roses or butterfly lilies, and see how the fragrance can curve the perfect little smile on your loved one. As long as you are good at bargaining, you'll be able to manage an assortment of each flower within Tk.60-80.

If all these weekend plans are still too small to please you, grab your two-day pocket money, catch a bus to Birishiri, and enjoy the serene blue lakes and rocky mountains just a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of Dhaka. The city can wait for you with its charms till the next weekend!

By Sanjana Ahmed
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed




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