a research blog by Lotte Hoek
The idea of a ‘Digital Bangladesh’ has been a running joke ever since it was introduced by the Awami League as an election slogan in the 2008 general elections. Apparently something to do with improving life on all fronts through the use of computers, the idea has become a laughing stock. But the notion of the ‘digital’ has nonetheless taken flight in Bangladesh. From digital mosquito nets to digital trees, the adjective clings to such a range of objects and ideas that even in the face of six years of business-as-usual Awami League rule, Digital Bangladesh might have inadvertently come into being after all.
One area where Digital Bangladesh can be observed in all its improvised splendour is the film industry. While government attempts to digitize the Film Development Corporation through policy and tenders have dismally failed (the ‘Digital Bhobon’ at the FDC closed down within a year of its opening, its newly acquired machinery sits broken and unattended), private entrepreneurs have been experimenting with digital production and screening for nearly 10 years. Early attempts at recording digital edits by shooting computer screens with 35mm cameras failed for all the obvious reasons. But the recent influx of high-end digital video cameras and the shrewd rent-a-projector operation by production company Jaaz Multimedia, has made digital cinema a reality in Bangladesh.
Celluloid, which lasted well into the 21st century as the only means of production and projection, has finally been vanquished and relegated to the cinema halls in the corners of the country where Jaaz does not want to invest or its rates are too steep. In its stead have come digitally shot and edited films that heavily rely on the attractive possibilities presented by the digital format. What industry workers call ‘animation’ is the use of special effects afforded by software packages such as After Effects. From exploding body parts to flying motorcycles and the inevitable slow-motion bullet, the possibilities of animation have been enthusiastically taken up.
In this video from recent fieldwork, I look at the changes brought to the sets of action films in Dhaka by the digital transformation:
Newly introduced digital technologies have changed in some fundamental ways the look of popular cinema in Bangladesh. The image resolution, the quality of projection, the lavish use of ‘animation’ and the increasing utilisation of television derived formats (linked to the penetration of the industry by so-called ‘media people’, that is, those who worked in television, alongside the introduction of cameras and editing platforms association with television), all of these look very different from the celluloid based popular cinema that until recently dominated the theatre screens. On the other hand, some things never change, as the soundscape, scripts, lighting principles and key personnel of Dhaka’s popular cinema has stayed put through this digital revolution. So while there is something new on offer at the cinema halls today, you won’t be disappointed if you’re coming to see the familiar thrills and pleasures of larger than life Bangla action cinema. Just like Digital Bangladesh itself, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.