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Honest review of August 14: Let’s talk obscenity

  • Published at 01:07 pm June 25th, 2020
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The debate could have been about how bad parenting and a lack of sex education from Bangladeshi families led to the horrific crimes committed by a troubled teenage girl

Shihab Shaheen’s August 14, is among the three recent Bangladeshi web series that come under fire for their alleged depiction of sex and violence. Shaheen’s work, inspired from true events, became the talk of the country receiving mixed reviews.

Weak storyline and acting 

The hyped August 14 is inspired from the infamous double homicide of August 14, 2013, when a Police Officer of the Special Branch of Bangladesh Police named Mahfuzur Rahman and his wife Shapna Rahman were killed by their daughter Oishee Rahman at their home in Dhaka. The horrific incident shook the entire nation. 

Popular actor Tasnuva Tisha played Tushi, which was based on the character of Oishee. 

The series, written by the director himself, lacks the pace of a proper international class crime thriller. Some sequences, including the opening sequence of Tushi searching for a friend around Dhaka, seemed too lengthy and would have been confusing at times had the audience not known about the Oishee murders beforehand. 

Tushi’s surrender and interrogation sequences also lacked proper care. How the case unfolded also felt boring as some police work done in the series felt extremely sloppy whereas the real case could have been dramatically re-written for the web platform.

Tisha did not strike as a good casting choice for the role as she does not seem like a O level student who is 16 to 18 years old. Her performance fluctuated throughout the six episodes.

In some scenes, Tisha acted beautifully portraying the mentally disturbed and drug consuming troubled teenager. In most other places, she was just over acting especially in the scenes where she is trying to search for her lover, Jimmy.

Even the talented Shatabdi Wadud overdid his lines, including the very comical manhunt scenes. 

In a recent interview, it was revealed that a complex project like this was shot in just 15 days. We can presume that the director did not have time to pull off all the necessary performances from his cast members in such a tight schedule. 

A very fresh look

After discussing all the negative aspects of August 14. we have to say that it is undoubtedly one of the great leaps towards the right direction. Though it had poor writing and acting, the whole look of the series felt nothing like what we have ever seen from mainstream Bangladeshi content on both big and small screens.

The intro sequence of the series is one of the best ever created for Bangladeshi content and had the right crime thriller-like-tone to it.

The visuals of Dhaka and Tushi’s dark and twisted world were well captured by the project’s cinematographer Nazmul Hasan. 

Also the lack of a major budget and poor performances were properly trimmed by its talented editor Jobaer Abir Pial. 

The obscenity debate

The netizens of the country went haywire as soon as the series was dropped. People all over social media platforms were divided into two. Some claimed that it is one of the best web series Bangladesh has ever produced, we should be proud and applaud such content. Another major portion were talking about the “unnecessary” sex scenes or “glorification” of sexual acts and so on.

On June 14, a supreme court lawyer named Tanvir Ahmed even sent a legal notice to the email of Secretary to the Ministry of Information, Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Chairman and Director of BTRC, IG of Police and Additional Deputy Inspector General of Cyber Police Bureau of CID. 

The notice said the web series August 14 violated the Pornography Control Act, 2012 and the Digital Security Act, 2016 which is also a threat to the culture and social order of our country.

The Bangladeshi entertainment industry is also divided on whether web series should be censored in order to separate obscene and immoral video content. On the heels of the controversy, 118 renowned makers released a statement titled ‘Global digital entertainment industry and our thoughts’ on June 19, in which they have condemned the possible censorship of web content in Bangladesh.

The debate should have been about how great the series is or how much better it could have been yet we are divided about banning sex scenes or banning web series completely.

The debate could have been about how bad parenting and a lack of sex education from Bangladeshi families led to the horrific crimes committed by a troubled teenage girl. The talking point as an educated society should have been why we can not talk to our children about drugs or pornography during their puberty.  

We could even have a debate about why consentual “sex scenes” are against Bangladeshi culture, yet it is one of the most densely populated countries with an enormous number of horrifying rape cases each year.

It is a country where sex is still a taboo, porn sites are banned, yet if we look at Google Trends site or Alexa top site listings, there are three or more porn sites among the top 50 searched things on Bangladesh web space each year. 

These are the facts we need to start talking about as a nation. 

Ban means losses

Even if the entertainment industry or the government does ban web series or decide to heavily censor them, then the foreign over-the-top (OTT) media streaming services will gain complete monopoly over Bangladeshi media consumers. Companies like Netflix, Amazon Prime, HoiChoi, Zee5 and many others are currently very popular in Bangladesh.  

They also have almost zero censorship policies with explicit, graphic and sexual content which is another major factor in their popularity. Even if foreign OTT platforms are banned, then they will still be used through VPNs (Virtual Private Network). So banning is not a solution for Bangladeshi creators and content providers. Whereas we should have a clear policy about OTT subscription model and 18+ content access modules on these local streaming sites. They should also have kids friendly packages and parental control modules like foreign services. 

Law enforcement agencies should also play a major role in the anti piracy war so local content creators can earn more and create more better content. They should also actively stop the spread of 18+ content from subscription based OTT sites to publicly available social media sites like YouTube and Facebook.

Netflix alone has more than 200,000 subscribers in Bangladesh, according to estimates of BTRC and a private management consulting firm, PI Strategy. Their estimation says if each subscriber pays nine US dollars to Netflix each month, then the company earns $1.8 million or Tk15 crore each month. 

According to that estimation, Netflix yearly earns almost Tk200 crore from Bangladesh alone and these numbers are rapidly increasing. 

If we do not nurture our local content creators and can not stop piracy, then this approximately Tk1000 crore content market per year will be dominated by foreign companies without any competition. 

Is August 14 really obscene?

As an audience member, I did not find anything obscene about the series. I also believe, in a free democratic nation, an artist should not be censored on how he or she should craft his or her artwork. 

Every teenage girl or boy whether she or he is a murderer like Tushi or not, will go through puberty and will explore their sexuality on their own terms. What we do learn is that she did have emotionally distant parents who were not supportive enough to teach her what is right and wrong in the world.

Her parents’ only solution was locking her up from the world and physically abusing her, which did more harm than good for all of them. A family which could have been living a happy and healthy life were completely destroyed.

August 14 is not obscene at all whereas it is a harsh reflection of our society and a push from its creators on why we should finally take a different approach in parenting our kids.
 

Siam Raihan is a film editor, producer and a former sub-editor at the Dhaka Tribune’s Showtime Desk.

 

 

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