The massive banner on the front side of the Balaka Cinema Hall publicised yet another movie glamourising the dashing underworld don. Of late, the protagonist in almost all Bengali movies is not a man from what we call the civilised section of society.
He is not a journalist (too bland), not a doctor (outdated), definitely not a singer (impoverished), or a government servant (staid), but a gangster who is the epitome of everything forbidden.
It’s good to be bad and so, heroes now-a-days are gun-toting mastaans, although I find no similarity between the screen goons and the real life ones.
The Robin Hood template vs reality
Growing up in Elephant Road and seeing several such underground leaders operate during the tumultuous periods, I must say, the reality is less flattering.
For starters, none of the gundas ever spoke coherent Bangla. I often wondered about their stock of words which included, bichi (bullet), machine (pronounced maaachine, indicating the gun), chapati (machete), fit deya (extortion demand), size kora (beat up), etc.
Anyway, in films, of course, the top don is the best looking guy around. Despite his raw and aggressive side, he also possesses a heart of gold. I mean, all of these people are regular Robin Hoods.
Don’t forget the chivalrous behaviour in front of the ladies. He is also articulate. These virtues attempt to neutralise all the killings and the illegal acts shown on screen.
This is in contrast to what I saw during my university days when a political leader came to my department and demanded romance from the class belle.
You have to love me.
She capitulated; her other, not so bellicose amour, was slapped with a warning: “Ar konodin jeno na dekhi (I better not see you anymore).”
Er, well, if I recall the goons in our area, who are now well laid in their graves (all shot and killed), I don’t remember any altruistic deeds that they carried out. Wait, there was this “Loti chera Bablu” (Bablu without an earlobe), who reportedly rehabilitated one from his gang who lost his hands making a Molotov cocktail.
Anyway, Bablu is now a store keeper, the fiery days of the 80s, when his presence sent all of us packing, are long gone.
In fact, he is more than willing to give credit to people who buy from his shop.
Travesty called joint production
For Eid we went to see Boss 2 -- another movie where the don-like life is lionised. This time the person in question is called Surya, or Shurjo. The part is played by an Indian actor who is seen delivering social reforming messages for his country.
Surprisingly, the country shown with special emphasis on the flag is not Bangladesh. Therefore, the faint underlying development message of the movie is not aimed at this country.
One can easily dismiss my concerns as just frivolous fun, but when year in year out we are given movies in the same template, there has to be some impact on young minds
It’s a joint production film -- we are reminded in bold sentences. But shouldn’t a joint production flick have equal number of actors from two respective countries?
Sorry to say, the film is blatantly skewed, with only a few roles played by Bangladeshis. In fact, the part of a senior Bangladeshi police chief is shown in a derogatory way, the character played by a bumbling novice.
One of the baddies is also a Bangladeshi.
Denigrating sexual overtones
In one scene, the hero is seen taking refuge in a shrine somewhere in Dhaka to evade the police. With law enforcers encircling the shrine, the hero asks for divine guidance, uttering the line “poth dekhao” (show me a path) and voila, a woman covered in a shawl bumps into him, slipping a mobile phone in his pocket.
And it’s not any woman -- but a svelte bombshell to ignite Surya’s fire.
The phone rings, the female voice asks the hero Surya to follow her and what do you know, at the backside of the shrine, an ultra-hedonistic mystical dance session is going on, where heady puffs from large shisha blends with heart stopping pelvic thrusts and strategic navel onslaught.
So, we are given to believe that in Bangladesh, if you go to the backside of a shrine devoted to a mystic then you will most certainly be sucked into a vortex of sensuous excess.
A perverted final message
Yes, one can easily dismiss my concerns as just frivolous fun, but when year in year out we are given movies in the same template, there has to be some impact on young minds.
The main issue is about the central role, which is that of a mastaan, a goon. We are glamourising the life of a person who lives at the edge of the social system. For levity, this can be done once in a while, but just take a close look at all the movies that have been released in the last few years.
Off the top of my head I recall Shikari, Top Terror, My Name is Khan, King of Dhaka, Sultan, where the main role is that of an underground terror. If the main role is spared, there will be side characters who are mafia dons.
What is fueling this obsession with transgressive bravado?
Maybe in schools we should now ask bright young students: “Baba, what do you want to be when you grow up -- a doctor, engineer, sports person, writer, or the ‘top terror of Dhaka’?”
Also, in the name of joint production, we are fed films advocating the progress of another country. How the censor board gave clearance to this is a puzzle.
I personally felt that the movie, in a very shameless way, sent some disparaging messages about Bangladesh. Sorry, we simply cannot brush it aside as just another film.
Driven by blind rapacity, our producers are investing in movies which do not represent this country fairly. What is worse, people are watching this garbage.
Well, seeing the movie I felt like looking at the sky and saying: Poth dekhao (show a path) to our movie producers.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.