We've developed a strange relationship with “cereals” and “serials” -- both rooted in the west and both marching towards us at a rapid pace on the street-ways and airwaves. But which one is the more likely to leave its mark?
What was an uncommon sight not too long ago is now an everyday matter on the streets. Just as the tender kernels burst into mouthwatering popcorns, street venders of all ages with oily cellophane packets (or often suspicious looking packets) dart towards likely buyers in cars and buses waiting at the red lights. But the traditional “jhal muri” is putting up a strong fight, for who can resist huffing and puffing over the crunchy puffed rice with mustard oil (or what looks like some sort of a dark-coloured oily liquid), green chilies, tomatoes and fresh coriander leaves? Even as one wonders the exact contents of the two “cereals” it's quite clear that the only impact either is likely to leave on the consumer is probably going to be limited to the tummy.
That brings us to the “serials” -- the super-mega, marathon types on the popular channels. Where are we with those?
An acclaimed actor-director was in two minds. On the one hand it's a great opportunity for aspiring professionals to have such a platform where so much talent can find the right form of expression. On the other hand, are we stretching ourselves too thin by over-producing drama serials and shows in search of the “golden goose”? His extensive experience with the media for forty years endorses the fact that most of the people behind production of such TV content have little or no technical credentials and grab at any opportunity without due thought or planning, he said.
Eminent media personality Professor Momotajuddin Ahmed seemed equally gruff about the quality of TV plays telecast on the sprawling TV channels. “It is extremely harmful for our culture,” he says, “as TV plays have become commodities. Anything and everything is now for sale.”
“The directors seem mostly detached from reality. The contorted use of language is incomprehensible and has a damaging effect on our culture. Even the repetitive actors or (monotonous) roles can have a negative effect on the viewers. Many people could see this as cultural infiltration and a creeping attack on the audience in an attempt to fill up screen time, which often fails to please audiences,” he says.
On the positives, there have been a number of serials with a dash of deshi spices that have achieved wide audience support. Set up against a rural backdrop, depicting colourful lifestyles of people, these plays have gained wide popularity. With a simple storyline, the serials convey powerful messages on values and folklore.
At the other end of the spectrum (non-mega serials), several short and crisp TV plays also have a positive impact on the audience.
Besides regular programmes, Eid provides another event-driven bonanza of shows, with directors and promoters making a frenzied dash to finish the race to telecast the most, the best, the longest coverage of programmes. Many would be astonished to know that during Eid, viewers are treated to around 200+ TV plays on different channels. Over a seven-day period, that's nearly a choice of over 30 plays a day.
That's not to say that Eid doesn't produce some of the more innovative and creative productions. One example is a show planned and directed by Shykh Seraj and based entirely on the farmers of Sirajganj. Nothing could match the innocent smiles on the 10,000 farmers as they competed against one another in traditional games such as swimming, hadudu and more. It is easy to see how it won the hearts of viewers across the country.
Many feel that young directors are pressurised by the 24/7 culture, with an almost insatiable demand for TV content. As a result, most directors are forced to rush production, or in worse cases have inexperienced directors running the script in a bid to match the portfolio of programmes of competing networks. As a result quality can languish and story-lines monotonous. And the “need” to be hip, trendy and westernised can end up making the show look a strange hybrid of language and culture -- not a liberal and dynamic one as was probably intended. While many people would rightfully support the need for culture to be an “open-minded” one, a conscious director would also see the need to avoid an overdose.
One new dimension to local TV is that many of programmes including shows and TV plays are now packaged into DVD's and distributed globally. This by itself is a fantastic initiative to reach out to Bangladeshi's spread far and wide. But if the quality of the programmes is questionable, both in terms of content, depiction of values and language it poses a big question. In that case, it exposes not only the expatriates but also the next generation of Bangladeshis with minimum exposure to Bangladesh to a whole new barrage of ideology, one which can leave them in limbo when trying to understand their identity.
There can be many steps towards addressing this issue. Setting up training programmes for directors, tracking audience-response, popularity ranking to attract the most advertisers for the leading programmes are some of the many choices the networks can work on. As a member of the audience, my choice would be to hit the “Off” button on my remote when sub-par shows are aired. And when the quality shows are on? I'm happy to go with either the popcorn or the jhal-muri.