Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

6Jun/080

Analyzing our times

With the dearth of engaging and educational cultural programs, many across the country, especially the younger generation are unaware of the true essence of Bengali culture and social standing of the country. Much of what we have today is indeed quality entertainment, but the kind that lacks analysis and critical focus on issues that make up our culture.

Having seen 44 unique episodes of Ntv Samoyiki, a weekly program, we can perhaps, safely say it has paved ways for a shift in the nature and forms of cultural shows that we have. The program that is aired every week on NTV deals with a range of literary, cultural, social, and political issues, particularly the ones that are either neglected by the dominant, or too obvious to capture attention.

‘We picked up the simplest things around us,’ says Azfar Hossain, the host who has successfully captured the attention of not only Bangladeshi viewers but also those living abroad in the past months. ‘Some of the topics we have covered so far are jokes, silence, joy, signboards, nostalgia, acting, the struggle of weavers, the cultural politics of media and metaphors and even mathematics, the politics of seeds, rice, waiting, etc.’

According to Azfar, the show reflects a weekly magazine in the form of electronic media- a brainchild of poet and writer Alfred Khokon who produced this program. ‘We wanted to be able to reach out to greater number of people through this approach- a critical weekly magazine in the form of electronic media- that targets people from all sphere of life- farmers, academics, students, workers and more,’ says Alfred.

Alfred Khokon, is an eminent young poet, producer and filmmaker and has several books to his credit. Apart from Samoyki, his notable TV programmes include Aajker Shokal, Ke Tahare Chinte Pare, a feature programme on Lalon music, Rabindranather Moner Manush, a special programme on Rabindranath Tagore’s Baul songs.

‘I had thought of this idea way back but did not have a person in mind who could actually do justice to a program such as this,’ remembers Alfred. ‘When I met Azfar and he attended some of the episodes of the Lalon Program I produced, I was awed by his critical analysis and depth in thought, and I knew he is the one.’

Azfar Hussain has made his mark as a critic, theorist, pedagogist, poet, translator, editor, activist and much more. At the moment, Azfar also teaches English at North South University after moving from US where he taught English, cultural studies, and comparative ethnic studies at Washington State University and Bowling Green State University. He has produced an enormous and significant body of work on world literature, critical and cultural theory, and on politics. An activist, he is currently one of the coordinators of a cultural activist organisation JanaSanskriti Mancha.

‘Some of our goals are to create critical consciousness among our viewers about the very world we inhabit today; to see that what we call ‘culture’ and ‘knowledge’ are not politically and ideologically neutral; to recuperate lost and forgotten historical figures in the interest of democratic cultural struggle; and, overall, to advance the cause of the marginalized. And I have no hesitation in telling you that like my books, the TV show I host is decidedly interdisciplinary,’ says Azfar.

Samoyki also featured special issues on Edward Said, Akhtaruzaman Elias and more recently, poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. With guests appearing for critical discussion and various sections of the program that cover Bangladesh culture, art, life, politics and more, the program has gained much popularity.

‘We can see this media could emerge as a communication tool in place of a cheaper recreation box. This is a hope before us. I believe people involved with this media have to be educated as well along side audience,’ says Alfred. ‘We have a long way to go, and hope to make further contribution in restoring our culture.’

As for the responses, both Azfar and Khokon have received so far from here and outside the country (particularly the US, Canada, England, the Middle-East). ‘They have been rather unexpectedly quite positive and overwhelmingly numerous. One question that I got asked on several occasions was this: ‘Are you a professor of Bangla literature?’ Folks wonder how I avoid using English words or phrases while using Bangla. And some folks keep complaining that we have not yet gone for more air-time that we have now, despite many requests. Let’s see. I feel we have a long way to go,’ ends Azfar.

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18Jan/080

The promised land

‘When we were born in this country, even before knowing that we are human beings, we were told we are “Pakistanis”,’ says an eighteen-year-old Bihari living in Geneva camp. ‘Often, the first thing that we heard in the morning would be that we are stateless and we do not have a home. But, for some of us, Bangladesh is our home- we have grown up here, even though the country refuses to give us that right.’

‘I have waited thirty-six years. I have dreamt of my own home, every night. Tell me now, where is my home, where does my existence lie?’ asks Khaleda, a Bihari woman in her late 60’s.

For many decades, about 160,000 Biharis reside in isolated camps and settlements across Bangladesh. This issue of much discussion and debate is yet to be resolved, and the result is that these Biharis- the young and the old, remain stateless and are yet to receive recognition.

Left behind by their own country Pakistan, which feared a mass influx of Biharis who could destabilise the fragile and culturally mixed population which share no similarity, these people, till date, even after decades of settlement, find themselves unwelcome in Bangladesh.

Tanvir Mokammel’s recent documentary Shapno Bhumi- The Promised Land, captures the lives of this community and goes on to explore their roots and their suffering that dates back to 1947.

‘This community has been abandoned twice- once in 1947 and again in 1971. They were promised a land of their own and none of those promises were kept,’ says the director, Mokammel. ‘This documentary does not aim to minimize the sensitive issues associated with it, rather the core of this film is simply the plight of this community and the need for support.’

The Promised Land is originally another name for the Land of Israel. According to the Bible, the land was promised by God as an everlasting possession to the descendants of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The title of Mokammel’s movie is significant, perhaps because it aims to throw light to the yearning of this community whose promised land was never given to them.

The documentary begins from the roots of the Bihari’s and their plight that began during 1947, when they migrated from Bihar to East Bengal before and after the partition of India in 1947. The communal riots in Bihar immediately before and after the partition led to a large scale migration of the Muslims to East Bengal from Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. Mokammel’s documentary captures the footage of these riots and more.

The most reawakening scenes captured by the young director, are the settlement’s of these bihari’s, their 8”x8” houses, the desperate bids of a father to see her daughter’s wedding back in Pakistan, the struggles of people and the smiles of children, through the odds that they live through, each day.

There are countless visual scenes of the various overcrowded camps in Dhaka and elsewhere. Moreover, the documentary includes footage of the genocide during 1971 and captures the many settlements of this community in places like Dinajpur, Shantahar and others, where people speak of their experiences and memories.

Apart from the scenes brilliantly captured by the director, the documentary includes interviews of Bihari victims, Bangali victims of 1971 genocide, researchers, the Pakistani High Commissioner Alamgir Babar and many others who bring light to the present situation surrounding Biharis and the need for taking into considerations of their fundamental rights.

More importantly, Mokammel does not minimize the incidents that occurred during 1971- when the Pakistanis used the Biharis to attack the Bangladeshi people. Naturally, during post independence Bangladesh scorned the Biharis for having supporting the Pakistan army. To this the director says, ‘Indeed, there has been much loss. But years have passed by and for the sake of the new generation, their rights need to be taken into account.’

With neither country offering citizenship, the Biharis have remained stateless for years. Organisations like refugees international have urged the government of Pakistan and Bangladesh to “grant citizenship to the hundreds of thousands of people who remain without effective nationality.”

Moreover, Mokammel interviews international figures such as the representative of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who states that, after all these years of settlement, ‘these people are also Bangladeshis- the only difference is their language and nothing more.’

According to UNHCR report in 2006, it is estimated that there are about 240,000 and 300,000 Biharis in Bangladesh who live in 66 crowded camps in Dhaka and 13 other regions across Bangladesh.

In all, the documentary not only deals with a serious issue and urges the much awaited recognition of this community, but also brings back to life the images of history. The cinematography of the documentary is brilliant. Effortlessly, as Mokammel’s lens captures each alley, homes, expressions of Biharis across Bangladesh and flashbacks of history- it pulsates the lingering emotions of not just Biharis but also those who lived through the periods of genocide and more.

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6Jan/080

Special people

THERE is an unmistakeable spark of recognition in her eyes when she runs her fingers slowly and softly on her gold medals and poses for a photograph. She is concerned about the gold and silver medals not coming well in the photograph. All of a sudden, the sound of the plane flying overhead disrupts her attention from the camera.

As she looks up through the open balcony, her doe-shaped, innocent eyes follow the plane. ‘I got on one of those,’ she tells me excitedly. ‘It went up, up and away. I was scared at first but then it was all right. And then we went to this dream town Shanghai!’ she giggles and mumbles a bit more, trying to remember the things she did.
For eighteen-year-old Shiuli Shaathi, these medals are the most precious thing in her life. In fact, these medals and her badminton racket have for the first time instilled within her self-confidence and strength to live through the sheer adversity of her life.
Having spent her entire childhood being called pagal (mad) and always taunted by the kids in the Gulistan slum that she lived in, Shiuli had started to believe that she was mad. ‘I wanted to play with the kids in the neighborhood, but no one would play with me. Everyone would say I am crazy and should be stayed away from. Even the parents and people around would say I am not normal and I did not know why I am not like others.’
Indeed, Shiuli is not normal; she is, in fact, special. She laughs and plays like there is no tomorrow; she dances as though no one is watching her. At eighteen, she has a cherubic face and thinks like an eight-year old. It is difficult for her to keep track of things around her or often she fails to remember what she was saying, about five minutes ago. She repeats most of the things and loses her temper when she cannot express herself.
And, it is Shiuli who has brought back two gold and silver medals for her outstanding performance in badminton at the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2007 in Shanghai, China. She is one of the 49 intellectually and multi-challenged children who participated in this year’s international event where more than 165 countries participated.
‘We did not know there was something wrong with her until she was four,’ says her mother, Kulsum. ‘She would not talk and respond to anything. As she grew up, my worst fears came true. My child was not normal.’
Shiuli’s father is a rickshaw-puller and can barely afford a day’s meals for his six children. ‘We never thought our daughter would actually do something so big,’ says her mother. ‘I have so long cried about her fate but now my tears are of pride – my daughter is special.’
Shiuli goes to a school that was formed by the Society for Welfare of Challenged. It is through the school’s students that Kulsum got to know about the Special Olympics office in Bangladesh. ‘They learn singing, reading and much more, but nothing changed her as much as sports,’ she says.
‘We have had so many special children who were teary, silent and often uncontrollable and it’s amazing how sports changed them,’ says Ashraf-UD-Dowla, chairman of Special Olympics, Bangladesh. ‘Being a parent of a multi-challenged child myself, I know exactly how it feels and that is the reason why, despite the many barriers, I never gave up and formed the Bangladesh Special Olympics team.’
In was through a unique opportunity that Ashraf, who was then on in the oard for the Society for Education and Care for Mentally Challenged, was invited to Menopolis in 1991 by the Special Olympics director.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of the slain US president John F Kennedy, founded the organisation in 1962, inspired by her late sister Rosemary, who was intellectually challenged. It has the objective of helping people with intellectual disabilities develop self-confidence and social skills through sports training and competition. Among other activities, Special Olympics conducts the Special Olympics World Games every four years. In 1988, it was recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
‘We headed out with five athletes and two coaches and had no expectation. But that small team performed so well that we were asked to start a programme. The formation process was perhaps the most challenging part.’
While Ashraf was adamant about forming a team and participating in the next event, he received no support. ‘The issue of Special Olympics was sadly a matter of least importance on the government’s agenda. When there was no other alternative, we arranged the money from our own pocket.’
By 1994, it had been accredited and Bangladesh was officially recognised as a participating team. ‘We participated in the first Asia-Pacific Special Olympics in 1996 with a total of 15 athletes and 7 coaches at our own cost.’
As the team succeeded and brought back medals and recognition, it finally began to capture the attention of many who had earlier refused to recognise it. ‘By 1999, we had received full government support to participate in the Special Olympics and also train our teams,’ says Ashraf. ‘The whole procedure was so lengthy. Yet, as I look back, I know that each bit of energy I put in running like crazy and making sure this programme survives has been worth it.’
This year, at Shanghai, Bangladesh won 31 gold, 16 silver and 18 bronze medals in the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2007 held in October 2-11. The Bangladesh team won the medals from athletics, badminton, table tennis, bocce, swimming and cricket competing against 165 countries across the world.
‘It’s more like training your own child,’ says Nazneen Farhad, a coach for the Special Olympics team. ‘We get so emotionally involved with them, simply because, we don’t just teach them how to play; rather, we support them, stand by them and help them understand each and every move and step.’
‘Hats off to the trainers, coaches and volunteers,’ Ashraf says. ‘It would have been impossible without them.’
‘I love all the coaches – they are my friends,’ says Rusho Muhammad Bin Abdullah, one of the intellectually challenged athletes. ‘I loved the training. The place had a huge field and trees,’ he says referring to the three-month training at Bangladesh Krira Shiksha Pratisthan.
‘Now I have so many friends and she is also my friend and we play together a lot,’ says Shiuli pointing at a girl sitting in the distant chair lost in her own world and humming something.
As Shiuli tells her to sing a song for us, Shammi (19) sings ‘Bhalo lage’ in her angelic voice. As soon as Rusho stands up to sing along, these special athletes clap, smile and sing along joyously and unstintingly.

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30Nov/070

A rare tribute to the Doors

At the beginning of this year, when the town’s happening spot Kozmo Lounge introduced a weekly event that gave an opportunity for new musicians to perform, little did one know that it would go on to become a huge success in the months to come. Today, the spotlight has been taken up by not only some of the renowned artists in the music industry, but also promising new talent.

Last Friday, Kozmo presented what could be one of the best performances that the city’s music lovers had seen in a long while. The show was planned as a tribute to the legendary 1960s band The Doors, and the performers, a group of five young university students, faithfully recreated the music and voice of the legendary ‘Lizard King’ Jim Morrison.

The performances was reminescent of the depth, energy and emotion of Doors concerts as they were back in 1967-1970, and the band succeeded in capturing the hearts and minds of the jampacked audience.

‘I was simply overwhelmed by their performance myself,’ says Arif Hafiz, CEO of Kozmo and the man behind this idea. ‘I had always wanted a tribute of this sort and when this young group came along; I wanted to experiment a little. Little did I know that they would actually do justice to The Doors and relive the very essence of Jim Morrison.’

The show titled ‘A Tribute to the Doors’ ran for about three hours and the packed audience made their way on the floor, just to get a glimpse of what most of them called as the ‘rebirth of Jim Morrison’. The vocalist Salzar Rahman, dressed in a black T-shirt with the sleeves hacked off and his curled black hair, reminiscent of the 1970s, won hearts instantly. The young singer, in possession of a supple, demonstrative voice that sounds incapable of a flat note, began the performance with the epic ‘The End’ and his gang followed The Doors’ sophomoric chord changes that left everyone awestruck.

Their other songs, including classic hits Riders on the Storm, Break On Through, Light My Fire, and Back Door Man only dazzled with equal fervour.

The band, composed of guitarists Imran Ahmed and Saadat Hamid, bassist Saad Muntazim and Sabbir Hossain on the drums, managed to complement Salzar’s vocal mastery effectively with unrestrained enthusiasm, faithfully replicating each note, chord and drum solo as first heard on the Doors’ records four decades ago.

What is more impressive is that none of the band members, apart from Sabbir, already a successful musician with the bands Vibe and Reborn, had ever performed for a formal audience before. For them playing and singing has been more of a passion than a vocation. ‘It’s always been something we do for fun, whenever we get together,’ says Imran.

‘I think a special appreciation goes to Sadaat who always ensured we get together seriously and practice right before the show,’ says Salzar.

Although lacking a keyboardist, the hallmark of the Doors’ iconic sound and music, the band managed to transcribe the tunes of the keyboard effectively on to the guitar, thus adding to the atmosphere and eclecticism of the performance. Guitar solos by Imran and Saadat enriched the performance, complimented by the smooth basslines laid down flawlessly by Saad and the frenetic drumming by Sabbir.

The evening was enhanced by the packed audience, who sang along faithfully with the band on each and every song. ‘The performance was truly amazing,’ says Nasfia, an ardent fan of the Doors. ‘The entire band sounded so good together. I think that it’s great that these guys got the chance to express their creativity and talent in such an amazing way.’

Forty years after his death, Jim Morrison lives on in the hearts and souls of thousands of adoring fans. For some of them, Friday night’s performance was an unforgettable delight.

The band, meanwhile, is slated to do a Beatles tribute concert very soon.

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12Oct/070

The scent of roses

For an unfamiliar visitor, Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazaar is a striking place to visit. The narrow roads, the alleys, the people and the place itself pulse with energy and colour. ‘This is place where traditions comes first — even if they have been long forgotten and left behind in other parts of the country,’ says Ali Uddin, a shop keeper at Chawkbazaar.

Indeed, Old Dhaka binds itself with some of the most traditional and historical aspects of the city. Perhaps one such long standing portrayal of tradition is the attar (fragrant perfume) and tupi (traditional and religious caps) shops that you will come across near the mosque close to Islampur. These traditional attar shops in old Dhaka have existed for generations. The tradition is more than hundred years old.

‘It has been the business of my fore fathers,’ says Israr Ahmed. ‘This shop that I now own has passed hands from one generation to the next for the last hundred years and even more.’ Israr claims to run the oldest attar shop in the country and has some unique collection of fragrances. ‘We have the oldest and the most traditional fragrances such as Mustabar, Gulab, Ferdous, and Darbar,’ he explains. The prices of these scents range from Tk 300 to as much as Tk 12,000 per ounce.

Modern perfumes are almost exclusively made from synthetic odorants that are commonly synthesised from relatively cheap organic feedstock. ‘Synthetics can provide fragrances which are not found in nature. But the reason why the tradition of attar has not diminished is its natural fragrance,’ says Darbar Alam, an attar seller who moved to Bangladesh from Pakistan during Partition in 1947.

‘Our forefathers and chemists thought for over 100 years that the main constituent of rose oil was limited to certain components,’ explains Israr. ‘But during the 1960’s and 70’s they found more constituents that were essential to a rose fragrance. Today there are about 300 different components used to often make a single fragrance.’

‘These attars are natural perfume oils that are the purest non-alcoholic fragrances and the most long lasting perfumes,’ says Kolimuddin, who imports a variety of attars from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. ‘Natural perfume oils have the unique quality of maturing over time. As they grow older, they go thicker, darker and more pleasant in fragrance.’

For most of the old Dhakaiates, attars are associated with not only tradition but also deep religious belief. ‘For most people, using attar also has religious bindings. Mosques almost always require such fragrances. This is exactly why you will see tupis being sold in these shops as well. During Eid, this is undoubtedly a thriving business for us.’

The tupis that are sold in these shops are intricately designed by craftspeople in Lalbagh. ‘There are a good number of women who work on these tupis. The quality of their work is such that buyers often feel that they have been imported from abroad.’

‘Most of the work is kantha stitched and sometimes cross and gittu work,’ says forty-five years old Amana Islam, who works on the handwork of the tupis. ‘Although the more conventional tupis are white, there are also darker shades such as blue, red and green, often adored by the younger generation.’

There are more than fifty workers who work on these tupis. ‘The more traditional and intricate work is often done by the older women, who have known the designs and work very well,’ says Aklima, an 18-year-old worker. A good deal of the handwork done on the tupis is also done by Biharis who concentrate on kuruskata work.

‘The work demands long hours, as the designs are very intricate,’ says Amana. ‘Before Eid, the work pressure is more, as we must supply double the amount we usually do.’

The tupis come in plain cotton to ones with handwork and silk, and cost from Tk.30 to Tk.150.

While tupis are in demand across the country during Eid, attar is more desirable by the people at Old Dhaka. ‘I use attar during Eid more for the traditional and holy side of it,’ says Rakibul Azam, a student.

‘In this part of the country, attar remains part of almost everyday life,’ says Joynul Islam, a resident of Old Dhaka. ‘During Eid, you can see the younger generation respecting the tradition as well, which is very appreciable.’

In Bangladesh the biggest attar manufacturer is Midford and much of their attar is exported to Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia. However, some of the timeless fragrances are produced in Bulgaria, Morocco, Iran and Turkey. Recently, China has begun producing rose oil as well.

Iranians are regarded as the first manufacturers of perfume and discoverers of decorative and cosmetic powders and sweet-smelling oils or beauty creams. In fact, Iran remains to be the oldest and finest manufacturer of attar in the world. For thousands of years, they have passed on the myths associated with fragrances. According to the stone inscriptions of Achaemenian periods, as well as the Greek and Roman sources, Iranian’s attention to, and interest in, various kinds of perfumes, incenses and sweet aromas was very strong for a long while.

It is said that Iranians named flowers according to persons and places. ‘The tradition is strong and it has withstood for centuries,’ says Kolimuddin of Old Dhaka. ‘Names such as Jasmine, Murbaza, Ferdous are in fact are the ones that were named after people and passed on by the Iranians.’

Growing and cultivation of many kinds of plants and fragrant flowers, obtaining perfumes and golab (rose water) from them, preparation of perfumed oil, manufacture of perfumed materials and preparation of sweet smelling incense were widespread in ancient Iran. ‘Cultivation and growing of many of the perfumed flowers and plants, which was prevalent in ancient times, continued for several centuries after Islam, and a few of them still persist till date,’ says Israr.

Due to the labor-intensive production process and the low content of oil in the rose blooms, rose oil and original attars are very expensive.

‘For those who use attar, the idea is to use them frequently enough so that they have an affect on their home as well as mind. Each scented oil, whether it is jasmine or amber, has at least one therapeutic quality,’ adds Kolimuddin.

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21Sep/070

Coffee Houser Adda on television

‘Shei shaatjon nei, aaj tebilta shudhu ache,
shat-ti peyaala aajo khali nei,
aki she bagaane aaj, esheche notun kuri,
shudhu shei shediner mali nei,
koto shwapner rod othe ei coffee housey,
koto shwapno meghe dheke jai,
koto jon elo gelo, koto jon-i aashbe,
coffee house-ta shudhu theke jaay’

Decades on, the song still pulsates within the memory of countless people. Almost everyone, at some point, can relate to Manna’s Dey’s classic song Coffee Houser Shei Addyata.

Tucked in a corner of a busy street, as seven friends share endless experiences over a cup of coffee and smoke from endless number of cigarettes spiralling up to ceilings- the sight beckons from every nook and corner, the essence of the Coffee House in Kolkata. ‘It seems like many aspects of the song- the friends, their lives, and their stories have come to life on screen,’ says 45-year-old house-wife Selina.

Indeed, more than fifty years after the establishment of the legendary Coffee House and almost twenty-five years after Manna Dey’s dedication to his favourite place-the story of Coffee House, the tale of friendship, joy and sorrow, has been brought to life on the television screen.

‘It is difficult to justify such a sensitive song through any sort of serial or story,’ says the young director of the TV serial on Channel one, Coffee House, Mezbaur Rahman Sumon. ‘But, there are countless people who associate themselves with this song in some way or the other. This is the reason why we just took the concept of the song and built on that.’

Sumon, who is an honours student at CharuKala, selected each of the characters according to their real life professions. ‘Since the story is based on strong ties of friendship and also the struggles of separate individuals, I picked most of the people around me, who suited each character, in order to bring the natural and raw touch to the plot.’

Although the 26-episode long serial which comes to an end this week has a different plot from the song, Sumon managed to keep some aspects of the song intact. ‘Things like the names, professions, Nikhilesh going to France, Amol struggling, and all the other little details were adapted from the song to keep the flavour of it alive,’ says Sumon.

The role of the seven friends has been played by Apurbo, Joya Ahsan, Afroza Banu, Tisha, Shajal, Milon, Mahmudul Islam Mithu, Dilip, Papia, Sabyasachi Hazra and Shibu Kumar Shill.

Interestingly, Sumon and the script writer Masud Hassan Ujjal based the whole story against the backdrop of present time Dhaka. So, the Coffee house where the seven friends chatted and spend time is actually the Coffee House situated in elephant road.

‘The characters and the content naturally suit the present time and it’s more like the story of young friends in Dhaka,’ explains Sumon.

‘For me, it was easier to act in the serial because Sumon is from CharuKala as well and he knows me and he wanted me to be myself,’ says Shibu Kumar Shill, who plays the role of Amol. ‘I did not really feel that I was acting, rather I was being the way I am all the time.’ Shibu, who is a student of CharuKala feels the story was relevant and has captured the emotions and essence of the song, if not the actual plot.

According to Sabyassachi Hazra, who played the role of Nikhilesh, the success of the serial lies on the ability of the director to bring out the original characteristics of the actors and mould them in to the plot. Hazra, who is also a student of CharuKala works for the Bengali newspaper, Shomokal. Although, he had worked in set design for Praccho Naat, years ago, this experience is very new for him. ‘I certainly enjoyed myself more because the plot was so much like our daily life.’

Despite the inherent success and the sense of nostalgia that it has brought to many, a few do feel that the story was not justified. ‘I felt the story did not do justice to the true essence of the song- the life, the strength in their friendship and the emotions associated with how friends part. Moreover, the set did not have any form of resemblance with the actual Coffee House,’ points out forty-six year old Banker, Jaiyyan Rahman.

‘The truth is that the serial lacked that speed, that colour and life that the original song has,’ admits actor Dilip Chokrobarty who plays the role of Moidul. ‘The story lacked a lot of detail and also interaction between the friends. Although I was a part of the serial, I personally felt it was not at all justified to the essence of Coffee House.’

According to Sumon, however, adaptations from historical stories always attract a lot of criticism. ‘But the truth is that we did not attempt to make another Coffee House, because we knew it would be a difficult task. Moreover, if you look at Devdas- the movie was improvised and made in the present time. True, it did not do justice to the original story but it did bring back the essence and established its own style.’

The original Coffee House located in Calcutta traces its roots to the Albert Hall which came to being in April 1876. Decades later, the Coffee Board decided to start the Coffee House from the Albert Hall with the aim of popularising coffee. As the popularity of the café grew, the management decided to close it down. But the workers formed a worker’s co-operative - something Kolkata had never seen - and took over the running of the Coffee House in 1958.

From that day till date, Coffee House is of historical significance for being the rendezvous of innumerable versatile people. People like Jagadish Chandra Bose, Ritwik Ghatak, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, other writers and editors of the magazine Krittibas have been just a few among the regulars of the restaurant. Several literary magazines owe their origin to the inspiration from the adda sessions at this coffee house.

The coffee house today is famous for its adda sessions, and as the breeding place of several political and cultural personalities and movements. It has also become one of the major tourist attractions of Kolkata. Moreover, the prestige of the Coffee House increased with regular visitors such as Satyajit Ray, Manna Dey, Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen and Aparna Sen. During the 80’s, when Manna Dey sang the song Coffee houser shei addyata, the fame of the place grew even more.

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14Sep/070

The star of the year

As she steps up into the spotlight, her heart skips a bit. With a deep breathe, she moves gracefully across the stage. She is being watched, talked about. She is one out of the thousands of aspiring young women who have come from far flung areas of Bangladesh hoping to bag a crown- to be this year’s Lux-channel-i super star.

This past week, in a glitzy and dazzling show, the final round of the 3rd Lux Channel-i Superstar affirmed that the organisers are taking yet another step ahead towards their focus- to search for a raw talent.

On the third year of Lux and Channel-i’s association, the colour, life and glamour that was added and experimented, was distinct in terms of style and presentation. From the final ten participant’s graceful moves to Ayub Bachhu’s song, to their dance numbers and special appearance by stars like Tinny, Kushum Sikder, Shanu, the cast of Daruchini Dweep, Fahmida Nabi, Bappa Majumdar and many more- the show was exclusive.

What added to the anticipation and sheer excitement to the show was last year’s success story- Mamo and her debut in Daruchini Dweep, written by celebrated writer Humayun Ahmad and directed by Tauqeer Ahmad. The film that has been released very recently, is running successfully and has been appreciated by many. ‘I think this show gives you the kind of platform that not only enables proper exposure but also proper training and a life changing experience,’ says Zakia Bari Mamo, last years’ superstar.

The competition this year was also much more rigorous, as the finalists needed to qualify not only in terms of looks, but also in terms of their acting abilities, dance, performance, style and elegance. The top ten finalists – Ambrin, Alvee, Diba, Faria, Joya, Mim, Nafisa, Raha, Upoma and Urmi, who were before the audience last week at the China-Bangladesh Friendship Convention Centre hall, were handpicked out of twenty-five candidates.

These twenty-five women, who had to undergo an extensive grooming session and training for months, away from home, were again selected from a pool of over thousand candidates across the country by the panel of judges that consisted of Shuborna Mustafa, Tauqeer Ahmed, Sara Zaker and Asadduzaman Zaman Noor.

This year’s super star Bidya Sinha Saha Mim from Comilla is a determined young student who wishes to pursue her career as an actress. ‘We learnt everything from posture, speech, acting, to being a part of the new world we were about to enter’. Mim has already started her first work in Saiful Islam’s Cholona Brishti te Bhiji, a telefilm to be showcased on channel-i.

‘It is still difficult to believe that all of this is true,’ says the nineteen-year-old star who will also star in Amar Ache Jol, written and directed by Humayun Ahmed.

According to the participants and the organisers, the two months of intensive training plays an immense role in the quality of the candidates, to a great extent. ‘I think the intensive training changed us completely. Back at the camp in Manikganj, our day would start at 6 o’clock in the morning with two hours of physical exercise and whole days of grooming,’ remembers Mim.

The girls also followed a long session of choreography, where they are not only taught how to walk on ramp but also how to speak gracefully. ‘After lunch, we would have this Fashion Instructor who would teach us all about fashion and trend. We also had classes on drama,’ she remembers fondly.

The girls attended a two hour class where they were given lessons on acting, how to be camera friendly and other skills of acting. ‘At the end of the day, we would get to know so much and also share a whole new experience with each other,’ says Mim.

Sheikh Samroz Azmi Alvee and Farhana Shahreen Faria were the first and second runner-ups.

Perhaps the longest running talent hunt, this show had started in the form of Lux Anandadhara photoshundari back in 1988. The contest, however, only focused on photogenic qualities, rather than having a regular beauty pageant, at the time.

The process of posting in the best photograph, after which they were short listed by Anandadhara and Lux and finally chosen by a panel of judges, continued for many years.

In a span of just a few years, the focus of the contest has changed completely. Today Lux-Anandadhara’s Miss photogenic has undergone a complete conversion. The brand new Lux-Channel-I Superstar is claimed to be more focused on talent rather than looks only. Its last year’s search of a star for Humayun Ahmed’s Daruchini Dweep set out the criteria rather bluntly—they wanted a talented person, not a beauty queen. Therefore, the criterion for becoming ‘the one’ was much higher and the candidates were required to prove their skills to the fullest extent.

The selection of last year’s star Mamo, who is pursuing Drama and Dramatics in Jahangir Nagar University, perhaps indicated that the organisers were finally looking for raw talents.

‘Just being a part of the contest made us learn things which we did not know about,’ says Mamo. Mamo agrees it was difficult for all the contestants who had to perform an array of roles. ‘We had to be good at everything- be it comedy, melodrama, and even dance.’ Mamo, who grew up learning these forms of art, feels she has been lucky.

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14Sep/070

The star of the year

As she steps up into the spotlight, her heart skips a bit. With a deep breathe, she moves gracefully across the stage. She is being watched, talked about. She is one out of the thousands of aspiring young women who have come from far flung areas of Bangladesh hoping to bag a crown- to be this year’s Lux-channel-i super star.

This past week, in a glitzy and dazzling show, the final round of the 3rd Lux Channel-i Superstar affirmed that the organisers are taking yet another step ahead towards their focus- to search for a raw talent.

On the third year of Lux and Channel-i’s association, the colour, life and glamour that was added and experimented, was distinct in terms of style and presentation. From the final ten participant’s graceful moves to Ayub Bachhu’s song, to their dance numbers and special appearance by stars like Tinny, Kushum Sikder, Shanu, the cast of Daruchini Dweep, Fahmida Nabi, Bappa Majumdar and many more- the show was exclusive.

What added to the anticipation and sheer excitement to the show was last year’s success story- Mamo and her debut in Daruchini Dweep, written by celebrated writer Humayun Ahmad and directed by Tauqeer Ahmad. The film that has been released very recently, is running successfully and has been appreciated by many. ‘I think this show gives you the kind of platform that not only enables proper exposure but also proper training and a life changing experience,’ says Zakia Bari Mamo, last years’ superstar.

The competition this year was also much more rigorous, as the finalists needed to qualify not only in terms of looks, but also in terms of their acting abilities, dance, performance, style and elegance. The top ten finalists – Ambrin, Alvee, Diba, Faria, Joya, Mim, Nafisa, Raha, Upoma and Urmi, who were before the audience last week at the China-Bangladesh Friendship Convention Centre hall, were handpicked out of twenty-five candidates.

These twenty-five women, who had to undergo an extensive grooming session and training for months, away from home, were again selected from a pool of over thousand candidates across the country by the panel of judges that consisted of Shuborna Mustafa, Tauqeer Ahmed, Sara Zaker and Asadduzaman Zaman Noor.

This year’s super star Bidya Sinha Saha Mim from Comilla is a determined young student who wishes to pursue her career as an actress. ‘We learnt everything from posture, speech, acting, to being a part of the new world we were about to enter’. Mim has already started her first work in Saiful Islam’s Cholona Brishti te Bhiji, a telefilm to be showcased on channel-i.

‘It is still difficult to believe that all of this is true,’ says the nineteen-year-old star who will also star in Amar Ache Jol, written and directed by Humayun Ahmed.

According to the participants and the organisers, the two months of intensive training plays an immense role in the quality of the candidates, to a great extent. ‘I think the intensive training changed us completely. Back at the camp in Manikganj, our day would start at 6 o’clock in the morning with two hours of physical exercise and whole days of grooming,’ remembers Mim.

The girls also followed a long session of choreography, where they are not only taught how to walk on ramp but also how to speak gracefully. ‘After lunch, we would have this Fashion Instructor who would teach us all about fashion and trend. We also had classes on drama,’ she remembers fondly.

The girls attended a two hour class where they were given lessons on acting, how to be camera friendly and other skills of acting. ‘At the end of the day, we would get to know so much and also share a whole new experience with each other,’ says Mim.

Sheikh Samroz Azmi Alvee and Farhana Shahreen Faria were the first and second runner-ups.

Perhaps the longest running talent hunt, this show had started in the form of Lux Anandadhara photoshundari back in 1988. The contest, however, only focused on photogenic qualities, rather than having a regular beauty pageant, at the time.

The process of posting in the best photograph, after which they were short listed by Anandadhara and Lux and finally chosen by a panel of judges, continued for many years.

In a span of just a few years, the focus of the contest has changed completely. Today Lux-Anandadhara’s Miss photogenic has undergone a complete conversion. The brand new Lux-Channel-I Superstar is claimed to be more focused on talent rather than looks only. Its last year’s search of a star for Humayun Ahmed’s Daruchini Dweep set out the criteria rather bluntly—they wanted a talented person, not a beauty queen. Therefore, the criterion for becoming ‘the one’ was much higher and the candidates were required to prove their skills to the fullest extent.

The selection of last year’s star Mamo, who is pursuing Drama and Dramatics in Jahangir Nagar University, perhaps indicated that the organisers were finally looking for raw talents.

‘Just being a part of the contest made us learn things which we did not know about,’ says Mamo. Mamo agrees it was difficult for all the contestants who had to perform an array of roles. ‘We had to be good at everything- be it comedy, melodrama, and even dance.’ Mamo, who grew up learning these forms of art, feels she has been lucky.

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8Jun/070

‘It’s the music that binds us’

Bangla has undoubtedly come a long way — from a group of youngsters singing for fun to forming one of the most popular folk-fusion bands in the country to becoming internationally acclaimed artistes.

In 2002 when Bangla, then featuring Anusheh, Buno and Arnab, released its maiden album Kingkartabyabimurha (confounded), the response was tremendous. Unique tunes, soulful lyrics, masterful combination of folk and fusion made every number of the album hugely popular and earned the band the acclaim of being a leading folk-fusion exponent in the country.

Then came its second studio album Pratyutpannamatitva (ready wit) last year, after a break of almost two years. Another instant hit, the album not only consolidated the band’s position at home but also earned it international acclaim.

Bangla will perform in Rostock, Germany this week in a concert, titled Your Voice against Poverty, organised by an anti-poverty movement with the support of one of the biggest icons in world music, Bono, the lead singer of U2. Bangla will be the only band from Bangladesh in the concert and share the stage with bands from eight other countries, including South Africa.

Last week, amidst last-minute preparations and daylong practice sessions, we caught up with Bangla. Even in the late hours of night, the well-furnished and neat studio on the top floor of Jatra, a crafts shop owned by Anusheh, was abuzz with well-wishers, fans and artistes who had thronged there to celebrate the band’s success.

‘It is still difficult to digest that we will be sharing the stage with so many great artistes,’ said Buno, the bass guitarist and vocal of the band.

Amidst the tension and nervousness, the spark of enthusiasm in their eyes was unmistakable. ‘Just being part of a musical concert such as this is a great honour,’ he said.

Bangla’s journey began sometime in 1999; its founder members were then students of Santiniketan. ‘Our music came from our sour-searching addas,’ Buno said.

The initial challenge was to raise enough money to get the band going and release its first album, he said. ‘We had very little money. The three of us worked tirelessly to raise the funds and give life to our aspirations.’

Now, the challenge is to make the time to be together, Arnab said. ‘Now that we have all grown up and have separate lives, it is difficult to make the time to get together and perform. But, at the end of it all, I guess, it is the music that binds us together.’

‘I think we understood each other musically and that’s what brought us closer,’ Buno said.

Despite the challenges, the band has managed to stay strong and, over the years, has developed and expanded. It now has two members — Kartik, a renowned guitarist of the country, and Ismahil, who has played for internationally acclaimed bands like Shakti.

The Rostock concert is not the first time that Bangla will be performing overseas. It has performed in England, France and India. ‘We have travelled so much and performed at so many places, both in and outside the country. All of that was a wonderful experience,’ Buno said.

‘In England, France and India, more than just being able to perform, the honour was to meet great artistes like Vikku Vinayakram, Sam Mills, Illa Pandey, Tonmoy Ghosh, members of Shakti and so many others. We obtained a wealth of knowledge from these people who are undoubtedly some of the greatest musicians in the world,’ Buno added.

Ishmail, who is primarily working with Jazz and also Shakti, is now a strong part of the band’s development. ‘Getting an opportunity to do something different and that too a unique tone is an amazing experience itself,’ he says. ‘I think Bangla has a different flavour to its music — the kind that’s just not something you hear all the time.’

Ishmail played with them for their recent album. ‘Playing with them is a unique experience.’

Their second album Pratyutpannamatitva is perhaps the continuation and development of their first album. ‘Our music in many ways comes from our personal experiences and life and much of what we do is reflected through what we produce,’ Buno said. ‘This album took us a long while, because we are developing, discovering, learning and trying to make another unique tune.’

Indeed, the music this time is very ‘off the mainstream’, reflecting perhaps how the band has matured over time. The songs in this album are vivid as they portray true feelings regarding the recent atrocities in the country in the name of religion and God. Some of the famous age-old compositions have been fashioned by the group with a mixture of instruments like tabla, mrindangam, ektara, dhol, bangla dhol, trumpet, guitars, drums, etc.

While countless fans, celebrate its success, the band is more enthusiastic about being able to represent Bangladesh in a big event such as this. They have already performed at Halle (near Leipzig) on June 1. The concert at Halle was sponsored by Netz Bangladesh, a German NGO dedicated to reducing poverty in Bangladesh.

Bangla’s journey of unique and heritage sound of Bengal has taken them onto many international stages, continues to motivate the young generation to listen to our traditional music and visit our roots. As Bangla hits the stage today in Germany, for a great cause, fans here and abroad know that the band has taken yet another quantum leap.

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18May/070

Facebook: be there or be square

It’s the misanthrope’s dream party. You can interact with all your friends at the same time, but only on your own terms. For a while MSN worked, but real time interactions are so nineties, and so socially demanding. The solution: Facebook. This enormously popular networking website has attracted a remarkable amount of attention in recent months across the world, and even in Bangladesh. Almost everyone who uses a computer is using it—from hip teenagers, to university students, to workaholics. In London, employers recently asked City Hall to ban the website at offices, a plea the city fathers refused. In Toronto, executives weren’t so lucky. Not a smart move given that the Facebook club has grown to 25 million members worldwide in just over a year, and could now realistically swing an election, especially in the US.

While curmudgeons may consider it a phenomenal waste of time, Facebook has its uses.

‘It was through Facebook that I got to meet my oldest school friends — I had never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would get to talk to them after seven years!’ says Sanjeeba Rahman, a student of English department at Dhaka University. ‘Through Facebook you can actually find your long lost friends because there is a group for almost every school, formed by the students or schools.’

In Bangladesh, the popularity grew in the last one year when students finally decided that hi5, another social network site was no longer ‘clean’. ‘We had been using hi5 for two years or more, but since anyone and everyone could view our profile and photos, it soon became nasty,’ says Zima Huda, a BBA student studying at BRAC University. ‘Guys started making lewd comments and one fine day, we realised, it was actually turning into a soft-porn site with some maniacs uploading outrageous pictures!’

It was perhaps then, about nine months ago that hi5 users soon shifted to Facebook, a site that allowed them more privacy.

‘I closed my hi5 account and shifted to Facebook, after a friend in Canada told me about it,’ says Nadia Alma, a BBA student at BRAC University. ‘In case of Facebook, not anyone and everyone can view my profile. Moreover, even if I add friends, I can determine what information I do not want them to see through the option of limited profile.’

A typical Facebook profile consists of a number of different sections, including information, status, friends, and friends in other networks, photos, notes, groups, and the wall.

‘I love the idea of wall, where you can drop a line anytime and keep in touch with friends who we never get the time to e-mail,’ says Kyoko Bhuiyan, an O-Level student. ‘More over, there are so many groups that you can join- groups like I am a Disney princess at heart, No, I Don’t Care If I Die At 12AM, I Refuse To Pass On Your Chain Letter, If you don’t know where my country is…then go buy an atlas!, Bob Dylan are simply awesome. You get to have so much fun to addafy on topics like these, that too with people across the globe, who have similar interests.’

Facebook was originally launched in February 2004, as a social network site exclusively for Harvard University students. Founded by a young Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, who ran it as one of his hobby projects with some financial help from a friend, the site was an instant success in the university. It allowed users to chat, post photos and comments, as well as connect with fellow students with common interests through online groups. The site quickly grew, first to other universities and later to high schools. In a year or less, it had spread to more than 30,000 educational institutions in the U.S., Canada, and other English-speaking countries.

Last year, Facebook opened its virtual doors to the general public by permitting registrations from people in hundreds of geographic areas. This caused the site to explode in popularity. Today, there are around 25 million Facebook users worldwide and the site is adding 100,000 new users each week!

‘I love the fact that there is a network of Bangladesh, where all Bangladeshis living miles away get to unite and connect with each other,’ says Nasfia Alam, a student of Pharmacy at the University of Asia Pacific. ‘I have countless Bangladeshi friends who have formed groups like I Miss Phuchka, You know you are from Dhaka when…, I love my country and no it’ not India, it’s a separate country! I think groups like these in some way or the other, ensure that Bangladeshis across the world feel strongly about their own nation and express the little things that they miss about the country through this site.’

For majority of the University students, Facebook has fast become an educational site- the one that raises awareness and could be for a cause. ‘I think Facebook is fast becoming a medium through which you can actually raise your voice on issues that would have been otherwise ignored,’ says Tasnim Khalid, an IBA student. ‘The fact that we have students forming groups that aim to raise money for the poor during disasters and joining groups like petition to invite Professor Yunus into politics, Say no to drugs, stand against religious discrimination and many others is a testimony that Facebook is reaching out beyond being just a site for chatting and keeping in touch. It is rather becoming a powerful platform for the young to be aware and to be able to stand against what is wrong.’

‘I actually sold my first painting for Tk 4500 through Facebook!’ says an ecstatic student Syed Abu Salman, studying Architecture at North South University. ‘I just put up the photos of my painting and sketches in the album of Facebook and tagged all my friends in my network. Soon, one of my friend’s uncle showed interest and asked for more samples and there it was. Many of my friends have followed this step- after all it’s a great way of showcasing our talent and make a living.’

Although, majority of the Bangladeshi users are University and college students, it is fast becoming popular among the middle-aged groups as well. For twenty-eight year old Arman Khan,a graphics designer at a Dhaka-based ad-agency, Facebook is a great way of socialising for workaholics like him. ‘When I joined two months ago, I couldn’t find a soul I knew in my age range. Within a few weeks, old classmates, friends, and coworkers swarmed in, as if collectively awakening from social networking hibernation!’

‘As I feed my own Facebook addiction, what’s most interesting is how this youth community site is growing up. Certainly, its evolution promises to change the way the world and the advertisers view it and incorporate it into media plans,’ says thirty-five year old Janvi Sarker, a teacher and a mother of a six year old.

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