Friday. A lazy day; the entire family is home, relaxing. My three-ish year old self decides to place herself comfortably on Janu's lap (our house-help of the time) on the floor while my mother sits on a chair reading the newspaper. The early noon sun pouring into the room; a light breeze tickling the curtains and a fly or two hovering over the half eaten loafs of bread on the dining table. The little television comprising of a single channel is placed in the middle of the room and a re-run episode of Auyomoy is being broadcast.
I often remember BTV through rose-tinted lenses. As the only child of two working parents, a good deal of my time in the day is spent watching random ads and waiting for the children's hour on BTV. Every afternoon, I used to sit down to watch Captain Planet or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—my little escape from the mundane flow of my days.
From compelling drama serials, to an hour or two dedicated to children every day, BTV, in my opinion, did a surprisingly sophisticated job of catering to its public with whatever limited resources it had, well before the advent of cable TV. Other than broadcasting some of the best stories of our local talents, it also curated reputed shows hand-picked from all over the world, giving people an outlet to see what lay beyond our borders. Which one of us did not marvel at the use of MacGyver's creative methods of using materials from his surroundings to get out of tight situations and manipulate circumstances to suit his advantage? Every kid who grew up with MacGyver waited throughout the week for his next appearance. We looked up to him—we wanted to be like him.
I cannot forget the dark and wonderful David Lynch show, Twin Peaks. In the years to come, I'd have plenty of recurring nightmares of the Dancing Dwarf from the Cooper's Dream scene, only to become a typical cult follower of David Lynch and an avid listener of Angelo Badalamenti who composed the hauntingly beautiful score for the show. Fast forward into the future and I'm making friends in the States and having detailed intellectual conversations about the almost ludicrous brilliance of Lynchian characters and absurd story logic, solely based on the memories of my BTV days and the initial emotions these shows triggered in me.
BTV also shaped my tastes in the arts and ignited my interests in history and mythology. To deny it would be an abomination of logic. I don't think I'm just speaking for myself when I say that the dubbed Tipu Sultan series kindled a curiosity and love for the Mughal History, giving us an insight of South Asian history and what it meant to be a just ruler standing tall against oppressors.
Alif Laila, with its elaborate costumes and theatrical make up, on the other hand, was every child's lesson on morality and the world wars between good and evil—in addition to being entertaining as hell. Who can forget Malika Tahudi with her poofy hair and stare of evil or Malika Hamira with her deceptive charm trying to plot against the fall of Sindbad? And what kid has not argued with his/her friends about what s/he would do if s/he had a magic lamp?
Enough about the positive foreign influences; what about the influences of our own stories? I cannot resist the temptation of talking about a few trailblazing shows of the time. The first name that comes to mind is—you guessed it—Humayun Ahmed. My father used to affectionately call me Kaan-Kata-Ramzan (yes, my family can be strange). When Baker Bhai (played by Asadduzzaman Nur) was executed in the last episode of Kothhao Keu Nei, people came onto the streets to protest, demanding a change in the plot. Ahmed, of course, stayed true to his story. A similar thing happened when Tuni, a young girl, from his drama Ei Shob Din Ratri, died of Lukemia at the end of the series. This is how involved we used to be with our fiction.
This was a time when families all over the country sat together at a certain time of the day, waiting intently to watch what would happen next. We empathised and lived with Humayun's characters. We wept for and loved these living, breathing people of fiction. Such was the power of our entertainment.
While we are on the topic of local talent and entertainment, I must bring up our very own version of a talent show for kids and teens—NotunKuri. A wide array of budding talents took part in the nationwide competition. Back then we didn't need to draw inspiration from India or the West, we tried to develop our own style and format of conducting performances and competitions that successfully reached the hearts of our population.
Another very originally designed program–one loved by kids and adults alike—was none other than the brain-child of Hanif Sanket, the magazine show Ittyadi. It consisted of a series of segments that beautifully articulated the many layers of idiosyncrasies of our lives. Rich in humour and satire and propelled by a drive to inform and entertain, Sanket brought up important social and cultural issues in such a thoroughly pleasurable way that it was difficult to ignore his message. Some of his well-known segments included Nana Nati (the ruminations and debates of an ever-curious Nati with a perpetually irritable Nana, the dubbed sections of English comedies put in the Bengali context , small story-episodes with a full cast of expats trained to speak and act in Bangla, witty songs speaking about social issues (such as Dhaka Traffic) and special guest appearances from people from various walks of life to illustrate their stories of struggle and passion, etc.
Amongst the other bits of entertainment, we of course had the occasional musical programmes. The stages with their colourful drapery and lights, columns and pillars that were possibly meant to add a sense of drama, with the singers just standing (often very stiffly and without expression) and singing, while the camera caught them from various angles against this “dramatic” structure of the stage—to this day remains synonymous with BTV. If you switch on BTV today, the stages look almost the same (except very bright and fused with multi-coloured lighting) and you still see a singer or a set of bauls standing in a line singing their songs with full awareness of being on television. This gives way to a rather psychedelic experience charged with nostalgia! There's something oddly beautiful about knowing that some things don't change and that there will be a place of familiarity that will not be lost.
Saiq'a s. Chowdhury is an artist.