News Flash. Hatirjheel and the bridge connecting Banani with Gulshan-2 are not places to catch up with friends. Nor were these places built to meet your date for a romantic rendezvous. Hatirjheel was created to moderate the traffic situation, and the Banani bridge is a BRIDGE! So where do we go? Great question! Dhaka is a metropolis; there are a number of places where you can have a good time out with friends, family or your date. Allow us to take you on a guided tour (not literally, of course) to some of these places, which are actually meant for your recreation purposes.
Comedy, Concerts and More
What do you get when you cross a tyrannosaurus rex with fireworks? Dino-mite! You see what we did there? It's a pun on words! It's supposed to be funny, see. It's kind of hillar. . . oh, never mind. That was kind of lame. But if you want to have a good laugh, and are in the mood for some clever humour, head to Naveed's Comedy Club in Banani.
The first ever stand-up comedy venue in Bangladesh, Naveed's Comedy Club began in 2010. The club is open for all, and features both Bangla and English comedy in front of a live audience. Unlike our futile attempt at making jokes, Naveed's club is basically an interactive adda session where the comedian “speaks about his/her own experiences to which the audience relates.” Performers usually interact with members of the audience, having a casual, one-on-one conversation with them that is laced with humour and wit. Moreover, the club is an ideal platform for budding stand-up comedians, as they offer open mic nights, where interested performers can sign up to show off their comic skills in front of a live audience. If you think you have what it takes to be a comedian, and are interested in being a regular performer at the club, you can attend the open mic sessions or drop off a CD of your performance at the club for review.
“The acceptability of those who visit the comedy club is actually quite high. They come here to have fun, and that's what the club is for,” says Solaiman Shukhon, a stand-up comedian at Naveed's Comedy Club.
Shukhon further says that as there are limited venues for public speaking in the country, the club endears itself to patrons who are always on the lookout for intelligent, sharp, and unserious insights on society and culture.
“The tendency of the young generation of Bangladesh is to go to places and talk about other people. They go to restaurants and gossip about what the person at the next table is wearing or eating. They go to Hatirjheel to compare cars. We are in desperate need of more interactive sessions. I believe there should be more hangout places, like sport zones. Cycling, for example, is becoming more and more popular because it's a physical activity that only requires a road and bicycle. The crowd is ready, but nobody is taking the first step,” says Shukhon.
For people complaining of the lack of good concerts and music shows in Dhaka, there's news. Places like Red Shift Coffee Lounge, Cozmo, Alliance Francaise, Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre (IGCC) and Goethe Institut regularly hold concerts featuring both national and international artists. Red Shift Lounge, in Gulshan, recently organised a concert by Los Amigos, a Latin Jazz band based in India. The IGCC too regularly organize shows featuring Indian musicians at their Gulshan and Dhanmondi venues.
“We organise two to three musical concerts every month, and the lounge also holds movie shows twice every week on Friday and Sunday. This is basically for people in our client list but people present at Red Shift can also join the audience to enjoy international movies,” says manager of Red Shift Lounge Sharafat Hossain.
Kozmo was the go-to hang out place for youngsters when the lounge was first launched in 2005. However, not many know that the restaurant, which began the lounge culture in the country, regularly organise shows that feature young musical talents who regale patron with original music as well as foot tapping cover version of popular songs. The CEO of Kozmo Lounge, Arif Hafiz, says that the lounge was established with a view to give emerging young artists a platform. “Youngsters can spend their time productively with food and good music,” he says.
Drop by at Alliance Francaise de Dhaka (AFD) or Goethe Institut in Dhanmondi if you want to have a good time without spending too much money. Both these cultural institutes regularly present music shows, poetry sessions, literary discussion, art exhibitions, and much more, which more often than not are free of cost. Even their cafeteria munchies are affordable, and thankfully, taste great. Le Fleuve, a tri-monthly publication of Alliance Fracaise gives you an idea of what will be happening in AFD for the next three months. The publication is available for free for members, so be sure to sign up ASAP!
Theatres have an old time charm about them that cannot be replaced by any of the newfound entertainment sources. Those passionate about literature and live theatre should pay a visit to Natok Shoroni for the must-have experience of watching a play unfold in front of you. Plays are also often held at the Shilpakala Academy, and other cultural institutes of the city. Be sure to check the newspaper for schedules of the play you'd like to watch.
Who says that you need to party to have a good time? You don't need to shut off your brain cells to enjoy a day out. Art galleries have become a major part of our culture in the past few years, and if you think that you will only find art exhibitions in these galleries, you are sadly mistaken. Galleries like Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, Bengal Art Lounge, and Dhaka Art Centre regularly organise unique installation art and craft shows, along with the regular art exhibitions.
“Last year, a friend managed to persuade me to accompany her to the Bengal Art Lounge for a solo art show by the master artist Dhali Al Mamoon. I was intrigued by the installation works presented there, all of which were part of a series called 'Aponayan.' An installation work called 'Aponayan 2', which basically was a massive beast made entirely of coarse, black, braider hair was particularly overwhelming. I later learnt that the show was a representation of the Liberation War of Bangladesh, and that made me see the whole show in a different light, and I revisited the exhibition. I couldn't believe that art could have such resonance with me,” says Jui Ahmed, a fourth year student of a private university.
The Mastercraftspersons Awards and Crafts Show, organised annually by Bengal Arts Gallery of Fine Arts, would appeal to those who have a more traditional approach towards art. Bengal Arts Gallery often organise art shows that feature the works of the traditional crafts people of the country.
“Even if I am not part of the young generation, I can say with certainty that galleries can definitely plan an important role in offering a place for youngsters to gather with friends. Galleries are all around in Dhaka starting from Uttara to Dhanmondi to Shantinagaor, and most of these galleries also offer a place to eat and hang around after you are done browsing through the artworks. So why not visit a gallery to enjoy a productive day there?” asks Director General of Bengal Foundation, Luva Nahid Chowdhury.
Why not, indeed?
To be a Child again
Wishful thinking? Not really. In the past one year, Dhaka has become home to not one but two centres which you can visit to rediscover your childhood days. The arcade at Saad Musa City Centre, and the mini-amusement park in front of Jamuna Future Park are not merely dreamlands for your younger siblings or kids, but offer a range of fun activities for you as well.
“I organised my birthday party at Saad Musa last month. And it was a blast! All my friends and I ran around the arcade at the centre like little kids, fighting with each other for the next turn at air hockey. We went crazy playing arcade games like Typhoon and Terminator Salvation,” says 23-year-old Sumaiyah Khan.
You need coins to play the games at the gaming zone of Saad Musa, and you can get four coins for Tk 100. The maximum that one game can cost is 10 coins per play, but the average is four coins for the good games. There is also a food court in the gaming zone for when you get hungry, and want to take a break from the overload of games.
Jamuna Future Park has only just started its operation, and most shops are yet to be inaugurated but the mall has gained an enormous reputation for its theme park. The roller coaster rides are especially thrilling, but you can also check out the Flying Disco, Tower Challenger, and the Pirate Ship. There is an entry fee of Tk 50 for the park, and each ride, apart from the roller coaster, costs Tk 150.
If you are not in the mood for thrilling rides, go for a movie with your friends. Jamuna Future Park's theatre, Showtime, has seven cinema halls in total, and they usually show the latest movies in town. However, if you are not ready to pay for the relatively steep ticket prices, there's the ever reliable Cineplex at Bashundhara City in Panthapath. Fortunately, the days when Bashundhara would show movies a year after their release are finally over. 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier,' and the yet unreleased 'Maleficient' are two of the movies that are on their list of upcoming movies.
Why travel all the way to Puran Dhaka, you ask? Well, basically because you'll never know the real Dhaka if you haven't visited the old part of the city. One visit is obviously not enough to learn about the four hundred year old history and culture of Dhaka city, but you could definitely plan a day trip with your friends on a weekend. There's the Lalbagh Fort, Ahsan Manzil, the two Katras, Dhakeshwari Temple and the Armenian Church that you should give a visit. Also, don't forget to drop by at Patuatuli and Islampur to get amazing products at bargain prices. After the long day of roaming around, when your stomach has had enough, you could eat out at the 'world famous' eateries of Puran Dhaka. The list of good restaurants in that part of town is wide and varied; however, Nanna Biryani, Hotel Al Razzak and Beauty Boarding are some names that come to mind.
The Green Side
You will be hard wired to find a clean spot of greenery in our hustling and bustling Dhaka, but the city can still boast of a number of sites that still retain a sense of tranquility and peace. Dhanmondi Lake isn't one of them. The lakeside is by a busy road, and it's almost always crowded. However, this age-old favourite of youngsters, still maintains its appeal, as it does not cost you a dime to spend a dime there. If you do want to do more than take a stroll down the lake or engage in a lively adda at Rabindra Shorobor, go for a boat ride around the lake with the special someone. You could also have an impromptu party at the numerous food joints sprawled over the lakeside.
For a picnic with friends or family, look no farther than Botanical Garden. Ticket prices are cheap, and the scenic beauty offers a respite from the concrete jungle of Dhaka. Then there's Ramna Park, which is ideal for the group of friends who crave a place to get fit but don't have the means for it. Jog around the park or organise yoga lessons for your friends there; exercising in the open air is bound to feel better than confining oneself in a enclosed gym.
Much More to Do
Dhaka obviously has much more to accomplish in terms of recreation centres for the young and old alike. We are far behind when it comes to offering entertainment for the people of the city, and even when there are places that deserve a visit, they are overlooked because of a lack of public exposure and promotion.
“Most countries have a city centre which is treated as the heart of the city. People can go there to hang out with friends, window shop, and even draw graffiti on the walls. This might not be our culture; we as a people love to engage in addas. We love to have our friends with us, have a cup of tea and engage in long conversations. Unfortunately, Dhaka is dominated by this 'restaurant culture,' where we just eat, talk a bit and then come back home unsatisfied with the whole experience,” says President of the Institute of Architects, Bangladesh, architect Abu Sayeed M Ahmed.
In days past, the Shilpakala Academy, TSC and Shahid Minar belt were known as the cultural corridor of the country, adds Ahmed. People would gather there to meet friends, and have lively cultural exchange with each other. As Ahmed rightly puts, we are in desperate need of such open cultural spaces.
Moreover, the public places are not maintained properly. Take a look at heritage sites like Lalbagh Fort or even Dhanmondi Lake. Garbage is strewn callously all over the lakeside, while the walls of the historic Lalbagh Fort are crowded with posters and other such monstrosities.
“We always blame the government for everything, but the truth is that as a nation we lack the culture of maintaining our public places. We need to have a management that will oversee the proper maintenance of places where the public gather. We can't complain about things when we are the ones throwing chip packets and empty water bottles down the lake or the picnic spot. If necessary, we need to implement a new law to change such a vile culture,” says Ahmed.
Your City, Dhaka
Obviously, there's a lot to be done to improve the condition of entertainment and recreation spots in Dhaka. We can take a leaf out of our neighbouring countries to understand what can be done and how things can be improved. But the city still has a lot to offer. We have listed only a few places that you can visit with your friends or family; there are many such places that need to be discovered. For now, however, stop complaining, and rediscover Dhaka!