Round-up of regional news

Lights on – sorry, off

With a turnover of close to USD 2.3 billion per annum and an output of nearly a thousand movies each year, the Indian film industry makes its Bangladeshi counterpart – turnover of about USD 50,000 per production for less than hundred productions a year – seem particularly Lilliputian. More than size, however, the matter is about quality. It is no surprise, then, that many Bangladeshis resort to videotapes and bootlegged DVDs of Bollywood's output, because Indian films, as well as those from the rest of the region, have been banned for four decades. The ban has been in effect almost since Bangladesh's independence, to protect the national filmmakers. Unsurprisingly, the number of cinemagoers in the country has dwindled due to the local industry's inability to supply enough films to satisfy audience appetite.It was to revitalise cinema halls across the country – the number of functioning theatres has dropped from 1600 ten years ago to 600 today – that the longstanding ban on the import of Southasian films was lifted in late April. Before long, however, the decision was suspended by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's cabinet, putting the ban back into effect for an indefinite period. Apparently, this reversal was to keep the ailing Dallywood – as the Bangladeshi film business is known – from crumpling further.Filmmakers across the country are arguing in favour of the ban, warning that an influx of celluloid from across the border would lead to the axing of some 25,000 jobs – not to mention that the Bangladeshi film industry would be 'completely destroyed'. Speculation was also rife that the now-deferred decision to lift the ban would have incited 'anti-government' and 'anti-India' campaigns by the opposition parties.Dhaka's dilemma is not unique. With Hindi cinema so dominant in the region, it inevitably overshadows the smaller film industries in Lahore, Colombo, Kathmandu and elsewhere. The obvious answer, of course, is that these countries begin to make better films. Yet even if the ban were to target only Bollywood, one wonders whether Bangladeshis would flock to see Nepali action flicks, Pakistani social dramas or Sri Lankan comedies.

Sad Sacks

The recent SAARC Summit in Thimphu could well have been an act of egging on a weakened horse – it is common knowledge that such summits through the years have been mere showcases, for the most part. Simultaneously, close by in another capital, Southasian citizens were thrashing the three 'devils' haunting them: poverty, the atomic bomb and water hegemony. Such was the scene at the Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka at the end of April, just as the 16th SAARC Summit was being inaugurated a little to the north.Enthusiasts in Dhaka made their own emblematic approach to ridding the region of what they believe are its three largest festering problems, by setting up what they dubbed a SAARC Mass-Stick Beating Open-Air Session. Three separate jute sacks, figurative representations of the three impediments, were beaten with sticks by the youth that gathered. Yet for all the fury that was unrestrainedly rained down upon the symbolic sacks, actually driving out these 'devils' from our region will remain far more difficult. Back to Thimphu, then, and the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu.

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Himal Southasian