“Forgotten Roots” – not quite forgotten
Shooting is finally over and the show airs on ATN Bangla at 8 pm starting 2 March 2012. The two phases of production were completed partially in London and primarily at Lalakhaal, Sylhet.
As the “Guide” of the show (Read: Host) I was fortunate enough to witness a reality show like no other on television. What went behind the scenes of “Forgotten Roots” was as interesting as what went in front of the camera. As soon as I returned I was anxious to share this wonderful experience with people but couldn’t do so because of the lack of time. The programme is now on air and I intend to serialise the sequence of events that made my experience something spectacular and definitely worth sharing.
Part I – I present the extravaganza that was the shooting and the people who played a part in it.
It was back in late 2011 when my dear friend Pradeep Bhattacherjee offered me a chance to spend three long weeks outside of Dhaka, And I just could not say “No”. I travel out of the city quite often but never had any reason to spend an extended period of time outside the metropolis. Pradeep had undertaken an interesting project – directing a reality show titled “Forgotten roots”, a joint production by Pillar Productions and Delta Bay, both stationed in London, UK and he offered me the most interesting position, that of the host!
In due time, I was introduced to Dilara Khan, an expatriate now living in London. “Forgotten Roots” was her brainchild. She was also the Executive Producer of the show. Dilara Khan explained to me that the communities of third or even fourth generation expatriates, have, for the obvious reasons, lost touch with their Bangladeshi identity. They were brought up in an environment and remain alien to the life, livelihood and culture of this land. Some of them have visited this country, their forefathers called their own, but they saw it with eyes of a ‘foreigner.’ “Forgotten Roots” – as a reality show – proposed to present an opportunity, for a band of youth, to encounter the life of rural Bengal, travel around the country and soak their feet in the rich culture of Bangladesh, all in the guise of challenges offered on reality television. This would be, for the participants, a once in a life time opportunity to experience the pathos, the joy and experience the celebration of life the Bangladeshi way.
The entire show was scheduled to be telecasted in foreign channels and the primary selection of participants, through auditions, was already done in countries with a sizable Bangladeshi expat population.
To give a solid patriotic start, the adventurists were to engage in a 16 day event, fighting for a net score of 1971 points involving 21 challenges. 26 episodes had been planned with the competitors vying for a cash reward of 10,000 pound sterling.
The director had appointed me the role of the “Guide” – the host of the show. My co-host, Nadia Ali had already flown in from London. Mainul Islam Mukul, the Producer of “Forgotten Roots” brief me of the shooting sessions staged in London.
I eagerly accepted the offer as it gave me the chance to present Bangladesh to new generation of youth. Although my role extended to the position of hosting the show, I gladly took part in the research that went behind the show and also in the formulation of its content. What bugged me the most was that I was to take up a role where contestants would hate the very sight of me and only learn about my other side as the show progressed.
Participants, from the UK and the USA arrived in Dhaka on 25 December. A press conference was scheduled in the evening, the very same day. As pre-planned, I shunned away from mingling with the adventurists, the participants of the show and did not attend the press conference. I was to be a keen and silent observer; my identity to be revealed only at the very end.
Up on returning to the hotel, the long chatting session ran deep into the night although the entire team of participants were arranged to leave for Lalakhaal, Joyinta Upazila, Sylhet at 10 am sharp the next day.
The advance team had already camped at the spot way ahead in time to make arrangements for food, lodging and selecting the locations for the shooting. Following their ‘wise’ instructions we stuffed out suitcases with warm clothes. Only to bring them back again to Dhaka without even taking them out from the bags!
D-Day and it was time to move for Lalakhaal. The adventurists got their wake up call early in the morning. Enthused by the thrill of the whole affair they became busy updating their current status on Facebook through the Internet and to friends and family via phone. They were enjoying their time, it was clear. Little did they know what lay ahead! To the participants, my identity, till that point of time, was shrouded in mystery.
As the cars moved through the snaking highway, the participants and the entire crew broke into songs. Some of the participants knew a few lines of popular Bangla tunes and they took this opportunity to profess their vocal prowess. Over the walkie-talkies that connected each of the cars, one could hear sounds of merriment from each vehicle. We did halt on the road for tea and snacks and the entire journey on the road was captured on camera.
The team broke the tranquility of Lalakhaal as we reached base camp at a nearby school. Our foreign participants were welcomed with garlands, as they entered a remote setting, truly far from the maddening crowd. And thus begin their experience of experiencing Bangladesh at its heart. Although simply put in simple words, the whole experience for the adventurists was warm; one just has to see the show to believe it.
The next day, the serene, the tranquil, the quite Lalakhaal took another form. Bustling with activity as the directorial, the art, the creative, the costume, DOP – all teams associated with the production – changed into active gear. Hundreds of spectators from the nearby villages flocked to see the shoot and amidst the soothing sound of the flowing Shari river, our cacophonous activities went on.
The selection of the participants was astonishing, each unique in their own way. And all credit went to Dilara Khan for presenting an outstanding group of young people to us.
Not only though the routine schedule of the show, their experience of mingling with the people was quite extraordinary. But what really posed as the biggest challenge was the language! None of them were proficient in Bangla and what little they knew was fused with the Sylheti dialect. Explaining Bengali to young Taslim, one of the adventurists, was an ordeal. Most of the time I had to repeat myself in English. Finally, we decided to shift our plan of staging the whole show, blending Bangla with English and I believe it worked out nicely.
From the very beginning, “Forgotten Roots” was an effort to introduce the life and culture of Bangladesh to the adventurist but there was this deliberate effort to introduce these youngsters to the language, the glory, the history and the culture of their forefathers. One thing common about all reality shows is that there are challenges. So did “Forgotten Roots”. No surprises there! The days were spent shooting while the nights were kept aside for cultural programs and other activities. After three long weeks, we were beyond recognition because of the tan on our faces courtesy of the sun!
Much can be said about the TEAM. After 21 days of hard labour, we are all left with fond memories, which after all has been the biggest gain from the venture. Some of these will be highlighted on the episode – Behind the Scenes (provided Mushfiq has done his job well!).
The directorial team was led by the able hands of Pradeep Bhattacherjee and his tolerance amazed me and amazes me still. He was assisted by the efficient team of Farhana Sharmin Shuchi, Noor Hossain Heera, Kazi Arefin Shashi, Imran Kabir Likhon and Moushumi Laizu. Dawn broke everyday with the voice of Heera bhai. I fondly remember how even after countless interviews Shashi never failed to put a smile on his lips and then there was his sharp sense of humour. Likhon will forever be remembered for his “Floor Silent. Silence Please” – words that signaled the commencing of shooting and more so for his loving remark “Brother, can I have a cigarette?”
Also noted in memory is the anxious to and fro movement of Moushumi as soon as the director said, “Cut!”. And of course there was the cameo of our Creative Director – Zahid Mahmud. The more I saw of that man, the more questions I had of him. One curious fellow he is!
The art team was as mysterious as the man leading it. They slept in odd hours, woke up at times odder still; they dismantled and then there were times when they reconstructed. Some even went about the whole affair whistling all the way. Special thanks to Mainul Hossain Rubel, Anjan Sharkar Jimmy, Maruf Hassan, Royal Nizamuddin. This creative band of people worked behind the scenes and made the impossible, possible. I had to take the initiative to break the ice and join in their fun-fare and lively chit-chat sessions. I will especially remember their unique delivery of even the commonest jokes.
Kamrul Islam headed the DOP team. His ever smiling face, even after gruelling 14 hours of work, come rain or shine, was beyond expectation. And for the videographers I extend my sincerest apologies for walking the extra mile for me. Literally!
I was terrified by Mushfiq and his camera. His “Action” began after all lights switched off. He would emerge out of thin air and ask for a small “Take” every now and then The pefect man to handle behind-the-scenes. Bhokto did sterling job with the still photography. He made quite a scene roaming around the whole production with his beloved camera neatly wrapped in a gamcha.
One day, I felt a tug on the hem of my panjabi. I looked around. No one! Another pull and I looked down only to be greeted by 5-year-old Arva, Dilara apa’s daughter. She was about the age of my son Arshan and maybe for that reason I shared a special bond with her. She used to wear an opulent white dress, like a fairy, and stay with us throughout the entire day. No one formally introduced us and it was not necessary. We became friends, so much so that she told me all about her plan of rearing a fish in an aquarium along with her seven friends. I was a little saddened when I heard she had cut her locks upon her return to London.
Nadia was a lively anchor. A barrister by profession, she was an accomplished TV host. No matter how rude I had been with the participants all day long, she would inspire them to take up the challenges the following day with her warmth and affection. Without her words of encouragement, there may not have been a show, as all the participants had had it with my make-belief, rude behavior. She was accompanied by her husband, Barrister Ridwan Khan. I was dumbfounded with their horror experience at the Dhaka Airport, a story I shared with a lot of people.
“Forgotten Roots” also gave me the opportunity to come in contact with Counsellor Abdal bhai who had flown in from London. I shared his interest in politics and our conversations were enlightening. I learned a lot about the life, livelihood and politics of Bangladeshi expatriates in London. I wish the very best for his project “British Bangladeshi Power 100.”
It would take more than a dozen pages to mention the names of the people who had touched my heart during the entire proceeding. But it would be imprudent not to mention Mohammed Salahuddin – Mr Manager – who bore with us all the hassle on behalf of Delta Bay. It was impossible for someone to be mad at him for long and his amiable behaviour makes him stand in a crowd. I will also remember Rajib and his song “Paharia Shaper Kela”. He was a source of musical entertainment for us. It would have been much better if we could reveal the reasons for Bappi remaining behind the scenes. Well. Can’t have it all!
And finally, my sincerest apologies to Tareq bhai, in-charge of vehicles for the entire programme. He somehow managed to provide vehicles for me to commute from the resort to the spot, some 40 kilometers, 24/7.
As the days passed by, the usual course of reality television took us to new levels of excitement. Each day dawned in with a new adventure; a new world that thrilled us at new levels. Just like the band of ‘foreign’, expatriate generation featured in the show experienced Bangladesh, we had a chance to encounter their world.
It was our sincere effort to uphold values like the mother tongue, the rich culture, the heritage and the history of Bangladesh to our young participants. Our success, or failure, is for the audience to judge, for they shall be our ultimate critic. But this I can say, “Those who came to their native land as foreigners left the country taking a part of it with them. Now their new found homes in foreign lands have lost their charms and they want to return to this beautiful Bengal, time and again”.
Beginning 2 March, 2012, “Forgotten Roots” is being aired across the globe on ATN Bangla at 8 pm BST. You are all cordially invited to watch..