Entertainment in Dhaka city

Ershad Kamol

Entertainment remains a sore point in our scheme of urban living. Most people do not have anything to do on holidays. However, some dynamic and innovative men are coming up with new ideas. Bright pictures are emerging with their experiments. Talking to eminent civil society members and cultural activists instantly reveals that there is enormous scope for making Dhaka a livelier place. We have to rediscover and reassess the entertainment value that many of the familiar sites and places have in this ancient city. It's only a matter of better planning and a little more thinking..

Some parks, movie theatres, a zoo, a botanical garden, a planetarium and a few other entertainment sources are all that Dhaka has at the moment. But the civil society demands more outdoor entertainment sources, and quite rightly at that.

Architect Enamul Karim Nirjhar thinks that by proper planning the entertainment sources can be enhanced within the available limited resources. These can be developed at different corners of the city. Nirjhar says, “I think money is not the major problem, but the problem lies with our vision, planning and initiatives. The major problem is in fact the lack of idea amongst the planners. We don't have a clear idea from where to start and what should be given priority for entertainment. First of all, it is important to know the psyche of the city dwellers. Most of the city dwellers have a dull and boring life. They have plans for the working days; however, in most cases they do not have any plan for holidays. Urban planners have to emphasise family entertainment, so that people can make a plan to spend the holidays. To do it successfully, we have to create entertainment sources based on children's entertainment with the available infrastructural facilities. Zoo, shopping malls, restaurants can be suitable places for family entertainment, if these places are developed properly.”

“Say, for example, the Zoo and the Botanical Garden at Mirpur area can be developed as very nice places of entertainment. A little initiative is needed to transform the garden into a mini safari park. And 'light and sound' event can be introduced at the zoo, which will attract people. Even movies can be screened at the zoo, where people can watch movies underneath the sky. And thus these areas can become a quality entertainment zone as well as a profitable sector for government”, added Nirjhar.

Professor Sirajul Islam, an eminent citizen of the country, gives priority to the local sources of entertainment. He thinks community centres at the wards can be the main source of entertainment. He said, “In every ward of the city, there must be a community centre, which should be operated through a committee including local people. In the community centres, there should a library and enough space for indoor games and cultural activities. The committee will ensure regular cultural activities in every ward. The City Corporation will not necessarily bear all the expenditures, but they can patronise the activities of the committee by providing infrastructural facilities. Moreover, there must be some open spaces where people can walk and spend their leisure time. Though there are many community centres in the city, the City Corporation is renting those only for wedding parties, which is not expected at all.”

The cultural activists of the country believe that the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) should come to an agreement with selected theatre groups, popular singers, bands. Thus they can set programmes in different halls and community centres at different corners of the city. Tickets of those programmes can be sold at the office of the ward commissioners. And thus, the DCC can easily patronise our culture. Through these activities the DCC can inspire the local cultural troupes to put up shows. To collect tickets for the shows, the city dwellers will go to the office of the ward commissioners.

Theatre personality Ramendu Majumdar said, “Besides ten halls owned by the City Corporation, there are many community centres at different corners of the city, which can be good venues for regular entertainment of the city dwellers. By renovating these community centres, the DCC can offer the theatre troupes to arrange shows at different corners of the city. It can be a source of income for the theatre activists and would be a step towards decentralisation of cultural activities from the centre point of the city.”

“Though privatisation of the highlands has effectively developed the beauty of the city. Cultural activists want the privatisation of the halls owned by the DCC”, commented the viewers of cultural events.

Kamaluddin Nilu, Secretary General of Centre for Asian Theatre said, “ The DCC can lease out the theatre halls to the private sectors on one-year contract basis. In that case the group will bear the total responsibility of that hall. So the individual troupe will have to take the initiative to make it a popular venue. At the same time that group can encourage other local troupes to put up shows. If the DCC invites us we are eager to enter an agreement like this.”

And it is a positive sign that the DCC is also thinking in the same way. Sadek Hossain Khoka, the mayor of Dhaka said, “We are thinking about privatisation of the halls and community centres, but we have not yet discussed it in our 'board meeting'.”

Dhaka city has few heritages, which can also be a good source of entertainment for the city dwellers. To comment on the development of the areas, which have heritage value, architect Nirjhar said, “The architectural heritage of old Dhaka can be a very good entertainment source for the city dwellers. We arranged a 'light and sound' event at Lalbagh Fort to show our architectural heritage to the foreigners. And it was a big success. I believe initiatives should come from the local community to develop a good entertainment source in the area. The inhabitants of Lalbagh could continue the 'light and sound' event at the fort taking our help. Similar ideas can be implemented on the Buriganga river or even Dhanmondi or Gulshan lakes”, continued Nirjhar, “If the inhabitants of Dhanmondi plan to present the history of the area on the bank of Dhanmondi lake through dramatic presentation people will enjoy it and it will be a source of income for the artistes.”

Nirjhar thinks that even the restaurant business needs to be entertainment oriented for better business. He said, “Restaurants can be a source of entertainment. I have successfully done it at my restaurant -- Voot. We present supernatural events dramatically , which people find quite interesting. It can be a very good restaurant business policy, and at the same time it offers the performers the opportunity to take drama as their profession.”

Popular movie theatres of the city are not profitable at the moment as the middle class viewers are no longer interested in them. Lack of quality movie is not the only cause behind it. Lack of quality movie theatres is another major cause. Nirjhar thinks that establishing cine-complexes at the shopping malls can renew the interest of the city dwellers. And it can be a good business policy. He said, “For better business, besides establishing cine-complexes, shopping malls and supermarkets should develop new entertainment sources giving priority to family entertainment.”

The author is cultural correspondent of The Daily Star.

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