April 15, 2009
The downtown of Vyborg, the closest border town to Finland, is always packed with Finnish tourists shopping for crystal, vodka and pirated DVDs which 98 percent of us will not admit to as we are the least corrupt country in the world. It is easy to stay uncorrupted when there is no scope for corruption. Now, on the other side of the world in Bangladesh, we have less scope to stay uncorrupted while navigating through the alleys of Old Dhaka or posh new shopping centres from Dhanmondi to Gulshan. Bangladesh is a haven for pirated DVD shopping and everyone from British Airways flight attendants to Bombay Rockers Navtej Singh Rehal and Thomas Sardorf buys loads of DVDs to take back home. Navtej though did make a request to their fans not to buy pirated CDs while keeping on rocking; a classic example of “do as I tell you to do not what I do” or would you believe that Navtej only purchased authentic local DVDs such as Catherine and Tareque Masud’s newly released “Matir Moina”?
Our current government is very concerned about foreign influences, especially from our neighbours, filtering into the country and corrupting our innocent minds and they have legally banned all films with sub-continental languages in Bangladesh. Though the English films have no obligations, the Bangladesh censor board has during the last year effectively stopped two English language films “Bend It Like Beckham” and “Bride & Prejudice” on the grounds of “the films having elements that may hurt the sentiments of any section of the public”. At the same time, the censor board has released local production titled “Noshto Maye” and the pirated Hindi version of the “Bride & Prejudice” starring Aishwarya Ray hit the DVD shops across town and local cable channels the day after the DVD’s release in India in March 2005. No red tape and bureaucratic hassle and smooth and efficient operation for Bangladesh! The government is least bothered about the illegal practice of DVD pirating which provides 700 percent profit to black market entrepreneurs but is very concerned about the “wrong kind” of content entering the cinema halls where the government would receive 57 percent tax revenue on the proceeds. Am I missing something.
How about starting a new section of RAB and calling it Rabbit for Rab IT to help protect the intellectual copyright in this country. The white Rabbits with ponytails should hop from Kemal Ataturk’s Lavender to Sheraton’s DVD shops and everywhere in between and load up all the pirated DVDs on Panthopath and call for Bob the Builder to roll the roller all over them with the smiling Honorable Minister of Information and Information and Technology looking over. That should stop the illegal activities and start bringing some life into the cinema exhibition industry in Bangladesh and give some more weight into the VAT returns from the sector. Especially when our government is so concerned about protecting the local cinema industry, they should stop the entry of the pirated foreign DVDs and persuade the viewers back to the cinema halls to enjoy healthy local and foreign films. India supports its exhibition industry by allowing new multiplexes a 5 year tax break which in turn helps the local cinema industry by providing more avenues for the films to be screened at. In order for any local industry to grow in any sector it cannot be kept blindfolded following the same old well-refined formula set by the earlier trendsetters but be exposed to quality work from all over the world. If our audiences love films from the surrounding regions maybe there is something to be learned from them. Maybe our commercial film producers in Bangladesh would take a hint or two for their scripts as well. Even Pakistan has agreed “in principle” to screen one of the great classics of Indian cinema, breaching a longstanding (40 year) ban on theatres showing Indian film. Indians also involve Pakistani artists in their mainstream productions and ensure that the totally unstoppable DVD piracy does not enter the cities and shopping malls but stays in the back alleys. Our government has shown its sincerity to protect the environment by banning polythene bags that were clogging our cities and causing harm to the environment. Likewise the government can easily control piracy if the political will to do so is there.
So maybe there are some things we can learn from our neighbours and not allow them to load pirated DVDs of films (often from their own countries) from our markets’ shelves while stopping by Dhaka. Let them follow the Finns and travel to Vyborg for that if they wish.
Mirka Kristiina Rahman, The writer is an Assistant Professor, BRAC University.