Dhaka's lokal baas

By Meenakshi Shedde | Mumbai

Updated: Sep 09, 2018, 07:34 IST

Dhaka city, with a population of over 18 million, is catatonic with traffic jams. Average driving speed is less than 7km/hour, and it is quite normal to arrive one or two hours late for an appointment

Illustration/Uday Mohite

In Bangladesh, they have Momtaz Begum, a popular folk singer, who has even become a Member of Parliament, if you please. She has recorded about 700 albums, and her song Local Bus has over 14 million views on YouTube. Local Bus, written in Bangla as Lokal Baas, is a national rage in Bangladesh. Bondhu tui local bus, she sings, ador koire ghore tulosh ghar dhoira namash (Friend, you are a local bus: you take me home with love when you want, and kick me out when done). Later, she calls her lover a "faporbaaz" — a bluff master — one of the most delicious words I have ever met.

I was in Dhaka with my senior colleague Dorothee Wenner, to present the Berlinale Spotlight on Bangladesh. Our mission was to discover new film talents in Bangladesh and guide them to various opportunities at the Berlin Film Festival, for which I'm South Asia Consultant. We had partnered with the Dhaka Doc Lab, Goethe Institut-Bangladesh and International Film Initiative Bangladesh. Apart from giving lectures, I listened to pitches for South Asian documentary film projects by young film talents in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, for the better part of a week, and advised them on how to strengthen their scripts, and advance their projects.

The Dhaka Doc Lab was held at the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka, that records the struggle of the Bangladeshi people to establish their own identity as a nation, freed from the British in 1947, till the War of Liberation in 1971. This followed the genocide by the Pakistan Army, in which an estimated three million Bengalis were killed and 10 million displaced. The museum building, that appears like an apocalyptic set piece from Mad Max: Fury Road, is nonetheless a spectacular space, with concrete, brutalist architecture, and poles poking into the building.

Soaring above an eternal flame, a concrete funnel gobbles passing clouds. You can gawk at the suspended life-sized model of an Indian Air Force plane, and have chai under a suspended Indian Alouette helicopter, both of which had supported the Bangladeshi Liberation War. The building is designed by architects Tanzim Hasan Salim and Naheed Farzana, who won a competition to design the museum. The extraordinary National

Parliament building, designed by American architect Louis Kahn, with its concrete walls and circular, cutaway windows, is very much on my list. Dhaka city, with a population of over 18 million, is catatonic with traffic jams. Average driving speed is less than 7km/hour, and it is quite normal to arrive one or two hours late for an appointment.

A filmmaker I know has simply stopped going out to the movies, because of the traffic. He has set up a 'theatre' in his home, with a projector, a 12-foot screen, and loads of downloaded films, with an addabaji after. Another Bengali friend visiting Dhaka, who lives in Kolkata, insists that the Bengalis in Dhaka are more familiar with Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and others, than those in Kolkata. Sigh!

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com.

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