First News
Volume:7, Number:26
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Cultural Invasion of Bangladesh

| Sharifunnaher |

Foreign influence, particularly that of Indian movies, television shows and music, is eroding into the ramparts of Bangladeshi heritage, tradition and culture

Along with the governmentcontrolled BTV and BTV World, at least 41 private television channels are currently on air in Bangladesh.

These channels telecast a wide range of programs every day that vary from news to magazine programs to talk shows to drama serials to movies and game shows, etc. Yet, about 70 percent of the Bangladeshi audience prefer Indian channels to local channels during prime time. Indian TV serials are immensely popular among Bangladeshi women regardless of age, social class, and education level. The impact of these shows is not limited to the TV screen only, as our fashion and festivities have largely been altered by them already. The effect of these programs is generally negative as they perpetuate very questionable messages. The dominance of foreign TV contents, specifically Hindi/Indian- Bangla daily soaps, is a great threat to our distinctive cultural elements as well as the contents of the local productions.

How it started

Bangladesh Television started its journey as a mass media in 1964,when Bangladesh was still under the Pakistani rule. From that time till now, BTV is largely controlled by the government and has earned somewhat of a comical reputation of being the incumbent governments’ mouthpiece. As a result, it fails to entertain the mass people, and as an alternative to it people started to shift their attention to the Indian channels. In 1996, only Z TV, Sony, and Doordarshan were available in Bangladesh. Currently, over 30 Hindi and Indian-Bangla channels, along with a large number of sports, animal life, solar system and religious channels, are airing programs in Bangladesh. India owns the transmission rights of these channels as well.

The reign of Hindi serial in Bangladesh began in the early 2000s, with the popularity of Star Plus production Kyuki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. In the following years, serials like Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Sasural Genda Phool, Kumkum, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehrahat Hai, Saath Neevana Sathiya, etc., became very popular in India and Bangladesh alike. These serials mostly appealed to the middle-class housewives because of the familyoriented themes and glamorized presentations. As most of the popular serials usually run from evening to night, the housewives can finish their daily household chores before watching them one by one. These serials are aired from 7.00pm to 12 am every day, and repeated the next morning.

Contents of Indian TV serials

No matter how different the serials are thematically in their first few episodes, they eventually end up following the tried and tested route of family drama. The most common features of pretty much any Hindi/Indian-Bangla serial would be family conflicts, extramarital affairs, multiple divorces and remarriages, clashes between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, clashes between brothers over the ownership of family wealth, misunderstanding, jealousy, distrust, berating relatives, crimes, etc. Three common themes can be found in most of the Indian serials. Firstly, clash, competition and jealousy among family members. Sometimes bad blood between close relatives is the central theme of a serial. The conflicts always involve small and large-scale conspiracies generally by the women in the family. As housewives and young women are the main viewers of these serials, they are being exposed to these toxic elements on a daily basis. Subconsciously, they are soaking in some of the things they see on TV. This system can completely alter a person’s thinking process, especially when it comes to the impressionable young adults.

The second common theme in Indian TV serials is extramarital affairs. Many of these serials portray the relationship between husband and wife in a very fickle manner. They often cheat on each other with one or multiple people, break up and get back together just to repeat the cycle of infidelity over and over again. Instead of focusing on the mutual trust between husband and wife, these serials promote mistrust. As a result, the daily viewers often end up looking at their respective spouses through the lens of these serials. Sometimes husbands and inlaws start to distrust the newly-wed brides solely based on the things they see on TV.

The third common theme of Indian serials is religion, more specifically divine intervention. No matter how unrealistic and morally questionable the climax is, most storylines usually end up in the temples. The makers of these serials center the stories on religious festivities and prayers. Sometimes the deities come out of their ways to help out the protagonist or smite the antagonist. Not only this portrayal is an exaggerated representation of a particular religion, but it also creates a false image of the relationship between God and human beings. Thinly veiled in religious devotion, these serials are spreading some age-old superstitions and outdated ideologies among the audience.

Kamrul Ahsan Chowdhury Professor of sociology in Dhaka University

Middle class housewives are the primary viewers of Indian TV serials. The effect of these programs on family life is clearly visible in our society. Backbiting, gossiping, spreading rumors etc., are on the rise. The family relationships, especially the relationship between husband and wife, are becoming volatile day by day. Rather than spending time with their children, many women are spending their spare times watching these programs. Not only are the housewives, the effect of the intrusive foreign culture is changing our new generation as well. A hybrid generation is growing up in our country. Their attitude, language, fashion, and food habits are heavily influenced by Indian and western cultures. The subtle changes over time are turning into concrete habits.

Why are Indian serials popular in Bangladesh?

Despite presenting a wide range of programs, our local channels are not whethbeing able to compete with the popularity of the Indian channels. According to the survey of an international organization, Indian-Bangla channels Star Jalsha and Z Bangla rank third and seventh respectively among all the local and foreign TV channels in Bangladesh. The main attractions of these channels are their daily soaps and reality shows. The quality of these programs, especially the soap operas, is excellent when it comes to the visual aspects, but the contents and performances are nothing special. On the other hand, the quality of Bangladeshi dramas and performances of many actors is highly revered among the audience. Yet, the audience is opting for the Indian channels.

One of the main reasons behind Indian channels’ popularity actually is contributed by Bangladesh. Bangladeshi channels show too many commercials during a program. The frequent appearance of ads breaks the audiences’ concentration and often completely kills the suspense of a storyline. Indian programs, no matter how problematic they are content-wise, maintain a very punctual schedule and has a limited time-slot for ads. As a result, many people prefer to spend their leisure time watching an uninterrupted program on Indian channels rather than getting frustrated with the ad-marathons in the local channels. “Bangladeshi channels have reached a point where they air programs in between the ads instead of being the other way around,” said Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan, professor of the Film and Media Department of Dhaka university.

Veteran actor and director Mamunur Rashid echoed the same. He said, “Over the last decade, a large number of new channels started their operation in Bangladesh. Naturally, the number of programs, especially drama, has increased. However, the quality of these productions does not really match with quantity. In India, most TV actors come from special grooming centers, which add a lot of pizazz to their performances. However, we do not have any such facilities. As a result, the good actors are often being overworked. As they demand more money, many directors cast inexperienced actors in place of seasoned actors.” “Indians have created a language for their TV serials. It is a little over the top, but the Bangali audiences on both sides of the border love it. Moreover, they know how to grab the audiences’ attention with the way they tell the stories,” said Wahida Mollik Jolly, actor and professor at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at Dhaka University.

While Indian TV serials are mostly popular among the women viewers, men are coming around too. “My mother and sister regularly watch these serials. Eventually, I started to watch along with them too. At a certain point I have realized that I am kind of hooked to the storyline, and eagerly wait to know what will happen next,” said Soumitra Barua, a male viewer of Indian drama serials. Many viewers said that they still have a soft spot for Bangladeshi dramas, but the excessive intrusion of advertisement is too much for them to endure.

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Professor Dr. Anisur Rahman Founder chairman of Department of Clinical Psychology, Dhaka University

If the dominance of Indian TV channels continues at the current pace, we will face a massive cultural crisis in near future. Those who indiscriminately watch these Indian programs eventually become addicted. Since these programs glorify a materialistic lifestyle, their viewers eventually develop a consumerist mindset. They also develop the desire for attaining quick and easy wealth without hard work and skills. Children who have satellite connection in their houses often get exposed to age-inappropriate contents. The middle class is more addicted to the Indian programs, while the upper class is to western ones. Children, teenagers and young adults are becoming increasingly influenced by Hindi language, music and movies.

Foreign serials on local channels

Bangladeshi channels have a long history of airing foreign shows, whethbeing er dubbed or not. Before the arrival of the private channels, BTV used to air a number of foreign shows such as Dallas, MacGyver, Dynasty, X-Files, Charlie’s Angeles, Fall Guy, Roots and others. Despite the language barrier, these shows were immensely popular among the Bangladeshi audience. During that time, most of the TV audience was city-centric. The making and visualization of these serials were the main attractions among the audience. New episodes used to be aired on every Friday, and people used to make their schedules according to the show times.

Although young students were most attracted to these programs, the entire family used to watch them together. There was a significant number of women viewers of these programs as well. During the transmission of these foreign serials, people used to rush back home as soon as they could, leaving the city streets barren at night. The growing audience interest in foreign dramas worked as a great inspiration to our local directors. Late Humayun Ahmed played an integral role in the popularization of contemporary Bangla drama on television. Some of his works, including Ei Shob Din Ratri, Kothao Keu Nei, Aj Robibar, etc., are considered as classics in our television history. Other makers such as Mamtaz Begum, Mamunur Rashid,Abdullah Al Mamun, Emdadul Haque Milon, and Mustafizur Rahman soon followed suit and created a strong fan base for Bangladeshi TV drama. Mamtaz Begum’s Shokal Shondhya became hugely popular among the audience. Not only locally, Bangladeshi dramas curved a niche in Kolkata as well. In many areas of Kolkata, people tried to catch BTV’s frequency by making alternative TV antennas with aluminum utensils. This saga continued till the late 1990s, before the quality of drama started to drop. Meanwhile, BTV stopped airing foreign serials as well.

The revival of foreign dubbed serials on Bangladeshi channels has been initiated by a new private channel named Dipto TV. The channel started its journey on November 18, 2015. Along with a few regular drama shows, the channel began airing a Turkish Drama serial titled Sultan Suleman. Dubbed into Bangla, this periodic drama quickly became immensely popular among the viewers and increased Dipto TV’s TRP drastically. Seeing Dipto TV’s success, other private channels are going with the flow and airing dubbed foreign serials. Maasranga TV is airing The Sword of Tipu Sultan, and Gazi TV is airing Alif Layla. Both of these serials were aired on BTV in the early and mid-90s. Another private channel, RTV is airing Bangla-dubbed South Korean TV serial Cinderella’s Sister. Dewan Shamsul Rakib, head of program of RTV, said, “In the past we aired two Korean programs. It is a kind of cultural exchange between the two countries. South Korea is going to air Bangladeshi program very soon too.”

Since November, Ekushey TV started airing two dubbed serials named Hatim and Shimanter Sultan. Farhana Nisho, head of program of Ekushey TV, said, “We have taken the initiative of airing foreign programs considering the business aspects and public demand. However, telecast of foreign programs should not clash with our local culture.”

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Tamim Shahriar An executive of Desh TV

Children are innocent, and they easily absorb things from their surroundings. However, if they get exposed to problematic contents, they will grow up with a distorted view of the world. They will lose the chance of developing their human qualities such as respecting the elders, loving the younger ones, helping the poor, etc. Intensive research on children’s psychology is needed before making kid-friendly programs. Moreover, parents have to be very careful about the impact of foreign culture on their children’s impressionable mind. We do not want our children to grow up fast and act like adults. They should not lose the innocence of their childhood until they have grown up.

Resistance against foreign programs

Unlike the 90s, today's local actors and directors are strictly against the decision of airing foreign contents on local channels. Recently, the Federation of Television Professionals Organization, an association of 13 television-based professional groups, has issued an ultimatum to the TV channels to stop broadcasting Bangladubbed foreign serials. According to them, the high-budgeted foreign serials are initiating an unfair competition, as the local production houses can never measure up to the production cost because of low budget. As a result, a number of TV professionals will be rendered jobless, they fear. Mamunur Rashid said, “Airing foreign serials is a great threat to our local industry. I think the government should take some quick decision regarding this issue.”

Renowned production houses like Asiatic, Alpha Eye, and PR production claimed that the local channels are slotting foreign serials in the place of local contents. One hour worth of airtime to a foreign TV serial means a local production has been excluded from that slot. As a result, the numbers of local dramas and telefilms are decreasing. If the private channels keep increasing the amount of foreign content, many local production houses will be forced to cut down their projects and manpower, leading to many job cuts in the industry. They urged the channels to stop airing foreign contents for the sake of the local industry.

However, the channels are adamant about the fact that airing foreign programs will not harm the local entertainment industry by any means. In their defense, they have raised questions over the quality of local contents. According to them, if the local directors and producers presented quality contents to grab the audiences’ attention, the channels would not even have considered buying the transmission rights of foreign programs. To compensate for the shortcomings of the local directors and producers, the channels are investing on importing foreign serials in a bid to make some profit, they said.

Mostafa Kamal Raz Film director and screenwriter

I have no objection to showing foreign serials on local channels. However, it should be done within a system. The channels buy these foreign programs with a lot of money. These programs are made with a huge budget. In fact, the money spent on one episode of a foreign serial is more than the budget of 10 episodes of local drama serials. The big budget makes a huge difference in the standard of production. How can we even compete with these foreign productions? Not only that, makers of these foreign programs are not even paying any taxes to our government, which is a violation of law. Our local channels are only focused on their own financial gains. They do not seem to care about our culture. We too want to entertain our audience. I am in favor of one foreign serial for every five local drama serials. But why should we cripple our own industry to uplift others? Our national interest should be prioritized.

Control over market

The incidents of multiple suicides and divorces over “Pakhi” and “Kironmala” dresses give a fair idea about the influence of Indian drama serials in Bangladeshi fashion industry. The shopping malls in Dhaka are trying to cash in on this demand by supplying dresses modeled after the protagonists of Hindi/ Indian Bangla serials. Shopping malls such as Bashundhara City, Shimanta Square, Almas Shopping Center, and various other malls in Uttara, Dhanmondi, and Gulshan have huge collec tions of Hindi/ Indian Bangla serialinspired dresses. These dresses are quite expensive, ranging from BDT4000 to BDT25000. Both price and demand of these dresses increase during the Eid seasons. “Masakkali”, “Jhilik”, “Akshara” and “Khushi”, all these dresses are named after the heroines of Indian movies or TV serials, and these have dominated the Eid markets. Some shop owners are taking things to another level by naming their shops after Indian TV channels. There is a shop named “Star Plus” on the third floor of Shimanta Square market, which exclusively sells Indian serial-inspired dresses. The high demand for these expensive dresses is not only a matter of concern for the low-income families, but also a huge threat to the local clothing industry.

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Shihab Shahin Film and TV director

People are naturally interested in foreign contents. This trend was alive in the past, and it inevitably will remain in the future as well. However, it should not be forcefully fed to the audience. We have destroyed our film industry by doing so. Now we are trying to recover from its damage. We have to keep in mind that we cannot destroy our entertainment industry by airing foreign serials. We have so many brilliant directors in our country who are not being able to give their best due to insufficient budgets. These makers should be given a chance. If that can be ensured, everything will fall into place.

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Chanchal Chowdhury Film and television actor

We have so many brilliant actors and directors in our country. Why should they be overlooked to make room for foreign serials? I am strictly against the telecast of foreign serials in our local channels. If I have any accountability, why would I air something that can put our own movie-drama industry into jeopardy? The foreign programs are so popular because they are big budgeted productions with excellent making. We can do the same if we get adequate budgets for our projects.

The violence factor

In the past, some isolated incidents of children being hurt or killed by trying to imitate the action scenes from movies or TV shows occurred, but not at an alarming rate. Most of those incidents were unfortunate accidents. However, nowadays children are being exposed to explicit images of violence from an early age. As a result, not only are they being somewhat desensitized to the blood and gore, they are also becoming fascinated with crimes.

Last year, three madrassa students, aged 14-15, abducted and killed their 11-year-old classmate. When police arrested them, they confessed that they got the idea from an Indian crime show.

Overexposure to violence on screen can hamper the psychological development of children and young adults. With the availability of Internet and satellite channels, they are being exposed to horrific images of violence. Sometimes, parents have no idea about the contents their children are watching. We have witnessed a surge of violent crimes committed by teenagers and young adults in recent years. The sensationalized Oyshi case shook the entire nation to its core. It is hard to believe that a teenage girl, addicted to drugs and party lifestyle at such a young age, conspired and carried out the brutal murder of her own parents. A few months later, three 17-year-old college students were arrested for murdering an innocent man. As it turned out, one of the teenage boys was having an affair with the murdered man’s wife. All three boys came from loving families and studied in reputed educational institutions, so their action took everyone by surprise. Although these cases are not directly linked to watching violent contents on screen, the frequency of similar occurrences and involvement of young people in highly diabolical and immoral acts are surely raising some flags.

The rapid expansion of technology has been a blessing and a curse at the same time. Exposure to immoral and age inappropriate contents, along with explicitly violent scenes are contributing to the rise of juvenile crimes in Bangladesh. According to the experts, technology and mass media are creating multifaceted demands and consumeristic desires in young minds. A generation of children is growing up with the belief that they are entitled to have anything they want at any cost. As a result, new occurrences of perverse and violent activities by young people are increasing rapidly.

Financial loss

Along with the cultural dominance issue, Bangladesh is facing massive financial losses by importing foreign channels and serials. Bangladesh has to pay over BDT20 billion a year to India as transmission fee for showing its channels. Unfortunately, none of the Bangladeshi channels are being aired in India. There is a huge market in the West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and other Bengaliinhabited areas of India, yet none of the Bangladeshi channels are being aired anywhere in that country. By watching Indian channels on a regular basis, we are getting introduced to Indian products. As a result, Indian products are doing well in Bangladeshi markets, while Bangladeshi products have next to no effect in Indian markets. The Bangladeshi private channels are losing advertisement revenue worth BDT4 billion a year due to the dominance of Indian channels. Star Jalsha and Z Bangla alone have been raking in BDT700 million worth of ad revenue from Bangladesh.

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Khurshid Alam Veteran playback singer

The influence of Indian culture is very visible in our music, drama, and cinema, and this tendency is only growing. It has a lot of negative sides, but strangely we are not taking precautions against this invasion. Indian artistes are being hired to perform in stage programs in our country. Not only does it cost the organizers a lot of money, it also neglects the local artistes. The government should take some measures to deal with this matter. However, expecting the government to make everything better will not work. At first, we have to be more conscious. We have to realize what elements of foreign culture should be embraced and what should be discarded. Parents have to be most careful about this issue. They have to create the habit of screening out good elements of foreign culture and avoid the bad ones for their children. In the age of globalization, banning foreign channels does not come across as a good idea. Rather, raising awareness is a much better option, I think.

Opinions of social and cultural experts

Writer and cultural researcher Fazlul Alam said, “I do not consider Hindi and Indian-Bangla TV serials as a cultural entity. These shows are products. Those who create these products are making millions of taka by selling them. They do not have the time to think about the social impacts of the contents of their productions. Moreover, they create these shows in a way that is easily digestible by people of all age groups.”

Bangladesh is not being able to compete with Indian channels due to technical shortcomings, he added. He also said, “Many years ago when the film Awara was made, it appealed to the people of all classes because the makers kept every one of them in their mind. However, today's TV serials solely showcase the luxurious lifestyle, expensive dresses, etc., of the upper class. This tendency has a business motivation,and the Indian serials are successfully promoting it. There is a huge contrast between the way we live our lives in this society and the kind of lifestyle that is shown in these serials. Everyone has to be aware and conscious of these differences.”

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Arifa Parvin Moushumi Film and television actor

If our local television channels could present quality contents, the audience would not have shifted towards the Indian channels. Neither would they have become so dependent on Indian TV serials. What is going on now is harmful to our society, but we have a lot to learn. We are learning the wrong things from the wrong sources. Many people are shamelessly mimicking the fictionalized contents of Indian serials in their real life. From weddings and other social events to our day-to-day conversations, elements of Indian serials are visible everywhere. Nowadays, most wedding ceremonies in our country are completely modeled after what is shown in the Indian serials and Bollywood movies. To get out of this cultural dominance, everyone must realize the importance of our own culture. Other countries do not allow so many channels of another foreign country. Our country too should allow only a specific number of good foreign channels in order to control the dominance of foreign channels and their negative social impacts.

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