Enter the brave new world of web cinema  

Shihab Sarkar     | Published: August 16, 2018 21:40:04 | Updated: August 31, 2018 21:35:26

A still from Amitabh Reza Chowdhury's upcoming web-series Dhaka Metro Ga 9106.

The growth and evolution of a nation's culture is a continuous process. It never stops. By changing character and forms, it keeps progressing from one phase to another. Moreover, it doesn't accommodate voids.  A vacuum in full-throttle cultural activities does not last long. The gap is filled by the mediums and types different from the outmoded ones. As part of a universal phenomenon, this trend continues without pause. Bangladesh is no different.

Coming to the popular domain of culture, music and stage performance have been seen dominating the country for ages. Prior to the emergence of cities and towns, the land's cultural activities remained centred on villages. The root of the country's mass culture thus lies in the broader rural life. Until the early 20th century, it was the village-based activities that constituted the basis of the popular concept of culture. Later it experienced a shift from the legacies of the past century. As part of the mobility characterising national cultures, the one of Bangladesh, too, has   undergone phases of transformation.

The start of the process of changes in cultural trends dates back to the 1960s. It is this period, when the land's entertainment media first experienced its entry into the new-age modes of culture. It was shaped largely by urban influences. The credit singularly goes to the transistor radio. It finally prompted a break with the pastoral languidness featuring the Bengalee mass culture. The radio was the first modern invention which brought about a revolution in the people's way of life in this land that includes thoughts, taste and different types of awareness.

Watching urban youths in 2018 turn to newer forms of online entertainment proves the universal truth of cultural progression. The phase of radio went parallel with cinema. But due to its broader audience-access and approval, the radio emerged as more powerful than movies. Likewise, after the entry of television, the audiovisual medium offered yet another entertainment outlet which ruled the roost in the country unchallenged in the following decades. Television's dominance continues with little signs of diminishing. In the meantime, the country entered the era of online media. Alongside information, the internet-based media outlet also brought into its focus items of the arts and entertainment.

Evidently in line with this trend, the country's young movie makers have initiated a highly innovative venture. With a view to raising larger number of audiences, they have lately embarked on the novel initiative -- web-based short films and serials. Although they sound similar, the online serials are closer to cinema, in terms of form and content, than to that shown on TV channels.

The web-based audiovisual entertainments presented in cinematic forms have already created a large audience for it. Started not long ago, the web serials and films are highly accessible with desktops and smart phones becoming the chief viewing outlets. Apart from raising a different audience group for itself, the web-centred industry can be credited with building its separate production fraternity. Aside from the movie and serial makers, artistes and technical hands, venturesome financiers are also coming up. The finance is generated through commercial advertisements. They are interspersed into the runs of a show. The larger the volume of adverts a producer or a director can arrange the better the prospects their productions enjoy online. With YouTube being the most widely preferred site, productions distributed by it online are now a staple for the movie and serial buffs. With young people comprising the major part of the web entertainment audience, lots of middle-aged and older viewers are also found developing a strong liking for the 'new-era' movies. Many acquainted with movie and serial making in the country have identified a new challenge the web productions pose to the serials and telefilms broadcast by the local TV channels.

The web films, though short in length, have lately emerged as a potential threat to the country's mainstream movies. The style of watching cinema has changed radically in the urban areas these days. Thanks to the crippling traffic gridlocks in the large cities, the younger generation now finds it convenient to watch films on their smart phones. As they can watch the web films while staying at home or in their own localities, or on education campuses during Addas, they are spared the hassle of arduous trips to the theatres. This change in the pattern of watching movies by youths has started having visible impact on the conventional shows of locally made feature films.

Disgruntled circles in the Dhaka filmdom blame the web movies for adding to the woes long chipping away at its survival capability. The critics, however, view the scenario from a different perspective altogether. According to them, the growing strength of the online movies speaks of the invincibility of digital innovations. It is part of the march of cyber technology, which is inevitable. Few countries, even those with well-developed film industries, are impervious to it. In India the audiences of online short films and serials have been on the fast rise over the last few years. What distinguishes the Indian spectacle is the creation of a new generation of makers and artistes. They are groomed specially for the online movie media. Artistes like Irrfan Khan, Radhika Apte, Nawazuddin Siddiqui et al have emerged as the new-generation performers, who have met impressively the demand of the digital medium. The directors include 'Ahlalya'-famed Sujoy Ghosh, Anurag Kashyap, Amit Kumar and many others. Making their debut in online movies, a number of them later carved out their place in the mainstream cinema. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Irrfan Khan are now two big names in Indian cinema.

Compared to the Indian online short films and serials, the spectacle in Bangladesh has just started taking root. Dominated by budding makers and actors, the area has already shown promises of being in place with a strong identity. Along with the amateurs, a few well-known makers and actors have lately joined the web media. They include Amitav Reza, the maker of the full-length Aynabaji, who has directed the web series called Dhaka Metro Ga-9106. After acting in the series Detective Lavlu Mia, group theatre activist and TV actor Azad Abul Kalam has got the task of writing the script for a web serial. Among others, Mabrur Rashid, Vicky Zahed et al have emerged as brilliant directors of  web fictions and short films. They are creative -- with a passion for the audiovisual media. Their commitment to the mission for exploring the full potential of web films in Bangladesh appears to be giving a new shape to the country's movie industry.

Notwithstanding the lacklustre performance of the country's mainstream cinema in regional context, it is far from being a dying medium. Talented and committed directors and actors are coming up. They belong to the new generation of short film and full-length movie makers. They have now been joined by the web film makers. No matter how difficult it is to arrange financiers, the budding makers find the web medium welcoming them with extended arms. The criteria that count here most are love for the audiovisual media and sparks of talent. An additional and invigorating aspect of online movie making is freedom. It is free of the common constraints that thwart many an ambitious project. The movie websites like YouTube present before the creative youths great opportunities to show their creative flairs. As few initiatives uploaded online go unnoticed, the movies made by even obscure youths do not fail to draw viewers' attention. To independent makers with humble financial strength, the web medium can be considered one with virtually no alternative.


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