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Nuhash speaks out after controversial CHT advert

  • Published at 12:24 am May 26th, 2019
Nuhash
Nuhash Humayun | IMDb

'Since the ad says 'a Nuhash Humayun film,' I chose the concept, refined the script, trusted my sources, and even picked the best font to type out my name on screen'

Popular Bangladeshi filmmaker Nuhash Humayun released an official statement—on his verified Facebook profile—on Wednesday, apologizing for a recent controversial cellphone advertisement he directed.  

Tecno Mobile, a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer based in Hong Kong, made the commercial that divided opinion, on social media, after its release on Facebook on May 19. One group is praising the message behind it while the other is complaining that it lacks sensitivity toward the subject-matter.

The advertisement, titled “Running Rafee,” claimed to be inspired by a true story. It featured a young Bandarban local called Rafee who runs door-to-door between the houses of every Muslim family living in Bandarban, during the month of Ramadan. He runs to every Muslim person's home during the time of Sehri at dawn, and Iftar at dusk, to announce the time for fasting. This is because the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) only has a few mosques, and the Muslim locals cannot hear the sound of the "Azaan" (call to prayer) to break or start their fasting on time.

Though praised by a lot of people, influential media personalities, journalists, and academics have heavily criticized the misrepresentation of the CHT in the advertisement shot in Bandarban.

After staying quiet for almost a week, the renowned director, son of Humayun Ahmed— who is one of the most talented and beloved authors of Bangladesh—took to Facebook and wrote: “There’s been a lot of conversation around a recent phone commercial I directed and I would like to add some thoughts to the discussion.

"I directed the commercial based on a concept presented by a third party. I liked the core idea, which was about family - set in a remote village where Muslims were a minority...a Ramadan campaign that focuses on unity, togetherness instead of religion alone. I made sure to have ethnic contributors in my team as well as consultants and actors to make sure the story was authenticHowever, since the ad says ‘a Nuhash Humayun film,’ I chose the concept, refined the script, trusted my sources, and even picked the best font to type out my name on screen. It is my duty as a director to take responsibility and show leadership; I would like to apologise to those I have hurt or misrepresented as well as clarify that this was never, ever our intention."

He continued: "The plight of the CHT community is complex, and their stories are not very often told in the mainstream audiovisual media. Therefore, when these stories are brought forward, they are viewed with extra scrutiny. 

"Our story is a simplistic, feel-good fictionalized one but there are other more important stories that need representation.

"I hope in the future that better research and more care is taken in representing these voices in our industry.

"I am receiving enormous [amounts of] feedback, some positive, some critical - what I appreciate is the dialogue and the conversation being created. I hope that this dialogue can inform us to be better.

"However, I also see that a lot of this conversation is focused on personal attacks on me, my character and my family as if the entire campaign is something I personally spun out overnight. 

"I understand this too: we can be emotional when our sentiments are piqued and we need to pick a target, a face - to rally against. I have been under the public eye from before I was even born, this isn’t an issue.

"But the more complex issue is that this is part of a bigger system of misinformation and lack of accountability: what if I told you that we had layers and layers of feedback to ensure an authentic story and entities who were paid to ensure the concept was well researched and formed but there were still certain lapses in information?

"The young boy who stars in the commercial has been receiving violent threats. 

"The media is more interested in defaming my name in the headlines (and drawing attention to other campaigns I’ve taken part in) rather than focusing on the actual issues of the communities represented," he added.

Nuhash then emphasized: "It is important to focus on the issue at hand which is the rights and representation of the CHT people depicted instead of resorting to violence online or offline. I see a lot of hate but not enough meaningful discourse: What would you do differently? How would you tell the story? Do we not tell it at all? Would changing one or two details make it more appropriate or is there a bigger issue at its core?

"When we received the concept and worked on it, we wanted to create a campaign that has a simple message of people coming together. 

"It breaks my heart to think it can create division.

"To everyone writing about this with so much passion - I want you to know that I am listening, learning and growing,” he concluded.

Nuhash Humayun shot to fame with the acclaimed TV drama “Hotel Albatross.” It was aired in 2017 and was his directorial TV debut. His recent “700 Taka” and “Pizza Bhai” also received massive audience approval. 

He also directed the segment "The Background Artist" in the anthology film “Iti, Tomari Dhaka" ("Sincerely Yours Dhaka”) written by Rahat Rahman. The Impress-Telefilm- produced feature claims to be the first Bangladeshi anthology film and premiered at the 23rd Busan Film Festival (BIFF) in October 2018. It was selected for BIFF—in the Window on Asian Cinema section—as the only entry from Bangladesh that year.