A television commercial of a cell-phone handset company directed by Nuhash Humayun has recently attracted a lot of criticism in different social media platforms. Many have blatantly dismissed the production claiming that it effectively misrepresents the socio-political reality of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The advertisement says that it’s based on a ‘true story’; if it is the case, then you have chosen to tell a true story in a decontextualised and wrong form — so wrong that the projection has made people’s opinions going berserk rather than empathising with the characters and thus the whole story now turned into an anathema, Ridwanul Haque writes an open letter to the director
DEAR Nuhash, please rise above ethnic chauvinism!
The promotional television commercial that you produced with your team has been stirred a lot of controversy on social networking sites. The reactions are that the contents are irrelevant and not true to life in CHT. Moreover the historically unaware contents can be deemed as disrespectful towards hill people’s long found homeostasis.
The talked about advertisement depicts a boy named Rafee who lives in a very remote village in Bandarban, resides in a house built upon raised platform, locally known as macha ghar, runs a tea stall and has a sense of emptiness because the sound of azan does not reach to the most part of his village.
His neighbours do not live close to each other and they come from both Pahari and Bengali background. During the month of Ramadan, as iftar or sehri time approaches, he runs far and wide to reach the villagers, goes door to door, window to window and notifies them that it’s time to have iftar or sehri.
One day when he was running from door to door a Bengali looking man comes out of his macha ghar soughing quite angrily — I am Hindu. Rafee acknowledges his mistake and carries on. He then goes on to knock other people’s door, the story continues until one day he couldn’t find his neighbours.
He looks around for them and after a while he found them gathering in nicely lit area under a tree. There he found them gathered around a table with delicious iftar items on it. It was a surprise for him. They offered him to enjoy iftar with them and handed him a smart-phone saying, he does not need to run from house to house to notify people about iftar or sehri time anymore. He can just use his cell-phone.
Then a message is delivered through the commentary about how people come close to each other. What a deus ex machina! But why are people so passionately complaining against such projection?
Nobody has ever seen Bengali people living in macha ghar, nor do the anthropological literatures suggest so. Hill people dwelling in the Chittagong Hill Tracts build such houses because of a number of practical reasons. Some major reasons could be keeping themselves safe from wild animals and reptiles, storing fire woods and rearing domestic animals and poultry underneath. The open extension of the raised platform is used for different purposes like drying their harvests, performing different rituals, weaving clothes and it acts as a vital element of their ‘liminal phase’ as hill people rest, gossip and their children play there. The structure of the house is environment friendly as it does not require cutting down the hills.
Then, nobody ever heard of any hill people named after Islamic lexicons, save a very few cases and such exceptions do not represent the prime simulacra.
The hill people are primarily Buddhist, Christian, Animist or Hindu. In this regard, no appeal of Islamic rituals can be found there. Azan, fasting and iftar are far cry!
These scenes are obscene as they misrepresent the long practiced life style of the hill people. These scenes are so internecine in false projection on people’s mind. These denigrate hill people’s long earned indigenous knowledge.
The way your team orchestrated a fairy tale modus vivendi in a grass root village in Bandarban, is a matter-so-out-of-place scenario in CHT’s real context. The advertisement is a kind of ‘Islamisation of macha ghar’ for plain land dweller Bengali people’s thoughtscape and sort of deindigenisation of hill people’s cultural practice which ultimately leads towards dehumanisation.
I can recall that your father late Humayun Ahmed produced appealing artworks — one of them was ‘Kothao Keo Nei’. There, a fictitious character named Baker bhai came to prominence as people held protests and mass demonstration when he was given death penalty by the court.
Mr Ahmed showed how a character can be brought to life in people’s thoughtscape whether it’s fictitious or not in artworks and produces empathy. Here lies the success of an artwork — it creates empathy in people’s mind for the characters.
The advertisement says that it’s based on a ‘true story’; if it is the case, then you have chosen a wrong story or a wrong place — so wrong that the projection has made people’s opinions going berserk rather than empathising with the characters and thus the whole story now turned into an anathema.
You could have thought of something different. You could promote harmony from a variety of perspectives. Hill people living there have been deprived of different rights: land rights, educational rights and political rights and most importantly their human rights are violated incessantly.
You could pick anyone or more from these and weave them into a single story. Because without fulfilling the basic rights harmony turns into nothing but a netherworld and development process gets hindered as well.
Do you know how many political activists could not make it home this Biju, Sangrai, Boishu festivals? Do you know how many hill students stood hand in hand with others during quota reform movement? Do you know that recently Monika Chakma from Bangladesh women football team scored a fabulous cracker and gave people a gala moment to cherish about?
Do you know that this part is world’s one of the most heavily militarised zones which is a major destabilising force? Do you know how many people lost their lands and that the number is increasing almost every day? And many more questions and problems need to be solved.
Couldn’t you pick one of these and visualise answers on-screen, push people think out of the box and appeal to the greater mass? ‘Manufacturing Consent’ in a constructive way could play significant role and it could be accomplished in a thought provocating way, only if you had wished to deal with the burning issues of CHT.
In our country people expects a lot from you, we expect you to be ‘like father like son’ or ‘more or less better than your father’. You have disappointed us.
Your previous television commercial for a colour paint company also made near similar impression as it did contain corporate capitalism’s interest driven assimilationist elements.
Please, do not disappoint us anymore. Read a lot, travel a lot and dig deeper into the real life scenarios before you start to make another television commercial. Make people believe that you are there to bring forth moving, inspiring stories through dramas, movies or other forms of artworks. At least, you are not going to denigrate nor disrespect people’s history, culture and identities.
People will surely appreciate that. Faith in you will be restored. You may start finding love for your inherent talent. People will find your father in you.
Please, Nuhash, rise above hate, be loved.
Regards, one of your well wishers.
Ridwanul Haque is interested in political economy and cultural anthropology.
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