Most people globally, including in South Asia, may not know about the emerging TV drama genre in Bangladesh. Natok, as drama is known in Bengali, was always in the cultural ethos of the region. In the present day, this passion for natok has metamorphosed into telefilms that are backed by extremely talented actors, actresses, film-makers, writers, musicians, and visionary producers and channels. Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, Nusrat Imroz Tisha, Mosharraf Karim, Tahsan Khan, Mabrur Rashid Bannah, Shihab Shaheen, Minar Rahman, Sajid Sarker, Mithila, Salauddin Lavlu are some names that come to mind. I got to know of this genre recently. Having viewed quite a few telefilms, I found some striking aspects worth mentioning.
They capture realistic social situations, yet in an entertaining potpourri
TV and cinema content in South Asian film industries have generally been larger-than-life -- almost like a slice of fantasy. However, Bangladeshi TV dramas address real-life situations that a common viewer can relate to easily. However, most of the realistic content comes in an entertaining package, unlike the 'art-films' genre which many find boring. These films traverse the fine line between realistic situations and entertainment content.
The underlying plot often addresses personal situations or social issues that matter. Personal situations include aspirations, expectations and realisations of the youth. It could be characters maturing personally and professionally, young women aspiring to work and be independent yet caught in societal expectations, men handling their insecurities as women go ahead, countering pre-conceived notions about certain sections of society, young people handling situations of chronic illnesses, young couples realising life's responsibilities as they start out on their own, parents striving to understand their children's decisions, etc.
"Most of the realistic content comes in an entertaining package, unlike the 'art-films' genre which many find boring. "
Social issues include trafficking of women through false marriages, girls forced to marry before completing their studies, widow's remarriage, pitfalls of illegal migration to the West, land-grabbing incidents, poverty forcing petty crimes, common prejudices etc. They show situations and archetypes that are a reality in most countries -- from 'creative bluff masters' to 'idle, educated youth'. Some telefilms also include a Hindu element in their characters or names, showcasing a tolerant and integrating society in an otherwise Muslim-dominated population. These real-life situations encompass both urban and rural settings.
All this realism is combined in an entertaining mixture, with elements of comedy, romance, music and suspense, which actually help retain the underlying realistic message. If the content is earnestly serious, then it may not convey the message in an impactful manner as audience attention would start wavering. Music has always found favour amongst South Asian audiences and these TV-dramas also often leverage on this. The accompanying songs are a sub-genre in itself.
Self-contained single-episode plots
Each telefilm is a complete story in itself which achieves closure in that same episode. They do not run infinitely unlike most other TV serials. Shows that run indefinitely result in unrealistic twists and continuations which actually end up causing agony to viewers and film-makers alike. Despite the brevity of each story, the characters are painted in shades of grey rather than black and white. Their behaviour, characteristics, desires and understandings are communicated with some complexity. The stories usually follow an arc in which a character matures during the story and resolves mistakes or dilemmas in the space of one episode.
Ample commercial promise
The content is worth a broader viewership, but it has restricted exhibition opportunities currently because the awareness of this genre is still limited amongst South Asian audiences. However, this is not an insurmountable problem. Today's age of dubbing and sub-titles helps negate language barriers. A commercial opportunity exists in exhibiting content which has common cultural traits. For example, Zee TV's Zindagi channel showcased some quality Pakistani TV-shows in recent months and plans to bring some shows from the Middle-East.
"For Bangladesh, creativity can be a major export earner if it is showcased in broader exhibition platforms globally."
Apart from the cultural connect across a South Asian audience based in this region or elsewhere, the Bangladeshi-only audience also comprises a significantly large expatriate block. Bangladesh is amongst the top-countries in the world in terms of remittance flowing in from foreign countries, indicative of the amount of Bangladeshis working overseas. India's Bengali TV/film industry had the benefit of legacy as Bengal's original film-making centre was Kolkata, not Dhaka. Moreover, proximity to Mumbai's TV/film industry has probably had a rub-off effect on Kolkata's industry too. Unfortunately, Bangladesh's Bengali TV industry did not have these benefits, so needs a boost of publicity.
Gains for the country
For Bangladesh, creativity can be a major export earner if it is showcased in broader exhibition platforms globally. More exhibition interest should fuel demand for more content, apart from increased monetisation opportunities for existing content. That should also fuel more production interest, which will make the sector more viable and help bring in more talent through increasing career opportunities. Unlike factories and production-assembly lines, creative pursuits do not require much upfront capital expenditure, and are thus easier to implement and realise.
The views expressed are entirely personal.