Hanif Sanket on entertainment for social change
On 'Spicy Bites', cultural personalities face questions on issues from all angles.
Over a career that spans 24 years, Hanif Sanket has become a household name with his role as a leading TV host and director for “Ittadi”, along with his writing and directing of TV plays. A proud recipient of the Ekushey Padak in 2009, Sanket has earned much acclaim for seeking out outstanding personalities from various regions of the country.
The host of the most popular TV show in the country, Hanif Sanket recently came to The Daily Star to join a 'Spicy Bites' session.
“Ittadi” brought a massive change to the concept of TV shows in the country. How was it possible?
Sanket: While I was studying for my intermediate exams, I began writing. As part of my job, while visiting the construction site of the auditorium for BTV, sometime around 1979/'80, I met renowned media personality Fazle Lohani. With time my acquaintance with Lohani grew and he inspired me to join the electronic media.
From the very inception, I was determined not to make a stereotypical, inane show, but to create a unique programme. I spent two years in the US and France for studies and had the chance to visit many big studios in those countries. I thought of using my experience for the new show. Nowadays, a stroll through a TV station will surely mean running into a TV host, but in those days, hosting a programme meant juggling five tasks at once. Anyway, I planned to mock society's shortcomings -- using songs, skits and reports to present the problems of the people and raise awareness. I observed the inadequacies and developed ideas. I can proudly claim that there is no show like “Ittadi” in the world. There might be quiz shows or different programmes, but bringing so many issues under a single programme is a challenge in itself.
Is “Ittadi” a comedy show?
Sanket: No. There is a difference between comedy and satire. We focus on the satirical part. But sometimes people mix the two. I believe that people demand entertainment, and if the truth can be expressed in an entertaining way, it will be engrained in people's mind.
How do you plan the programme?
Sanket: We have a team that roams around Bangladesh to collect information. We share ideas within the team and discuss contemporary issues. Our team is always on the lookout for human-interest stories. We featured the environmentalist Gowhor Ali who planted over 20,000 trees. We also featured pioneer of the book reading movement -- Polan Sarker, who later received the Ekushey Padak.
You've also visited many universities with your team…
Sanket: We went to many colleges and universities, including Dhaka University, Chittagong University, Rajshahi University, Comilla Victoria University College, Rangpur Carmichael University. We organised quizzes among students, with the top five being chosen to appear on “Ittadi”. This inspired them to learn more.
How do you select the locations?
Sanket: A lot of research goes into planning. The first outdoor shooting was at the National Museum, which prior to that occasion did not allow any shooting in its premises. Then we wanted to go outside the box, so we did shows at Shishu Academy and Jatiya Shangsad Bhaban. When we wanted to show historical and significant places to everyone, we staged the programme at Dhaka's Nagar Bhaban, Lalbagh Kella, Ahsan Manzil, Sonargaon, Narayanganj's Sonakanda Fort. We also took on tougher challenges when we visited more distant sites like Puthhia's Zamidar Bari, Dhonbari Zamidar Bari, Nababganj Zamidar Bari, Mahasthangar and Comilla's Shalbon Bihar. Our team included around 200 people. In Puthhia, we had an audience of 40,000. Everywhere we went, the local residents and administration assisted us immensely. I don't have the energy like before, but I cannot shut down the show that is a part and parcel of the people and me. The show is running for 24 years with millions of viewership.
You once featured a differently-abled senior citizen and that created much stir…
Sanket: Yes. That elderly individual, who had no one to take care of him, visited 39 districts on his wheelchair. He set up a store -- 'Jibon Shongram Store' -- selling candy, cookies and chanachur to kids. He could only afford to eat two cookies during the day and a plate of rice at night. We featured him on “Ittadi” and offered him Taka 2 lakh.
What other special stories did you cover?
Sanket: We featured a non-Bangladeshi doctor, who was also later featured by the daily Prothom Alo. The local villagers call him “Doctor bhai”. His dream is that another Bangladeshi will take up the charge of the hospital he had established. Another story that we did was on a school built by 17 workers in Modhupur. The group of labourers toiled to collect the funds for constructing the school. They then gave up their own living space to start classes -- which eventually encouraged people of the village to give up some land for setting up the school.
These are in fact the greatest people of our country.
If you were given the duty to solve the city's utility problems like water and gas shortage, what would you do?
Sanket: The first priority should be to create awareness. Despite the abundance of TV channels, there is hardly any informative show. Only a few news reports cannot create mass awareness. The implementation of law is also a necessity. If people pay bribes to sign up for a power connection, then the law is not being enforced. If it can be made clear to everyone that all these ill practices are creating bigger problems, only then can the issues be tackled.
How can the awareness be created?
Sanket: Through television and newspapers. Instead of issuing statements, action needs to take place. Media can play a massive role in making people aware of the problems and their solutions.