Power, politics, and controversy in Bangladesh film industry

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Bangladesh, Courtney Coffey, Shakib Khan

The self-proclaimed high-budget film ‘Rajkumar’, produced by Arshad Adnan, a recently emerged prominent figure in Bangladesh film circle, is scheduled for release this upcoming Eid ul-Fitr, contingent upon smooth execution. However, concerns have emerged regarding the anticipated massive expenditure on filming of this movie in foreign countries, including the United States, although it is unknown if the producer of this film has obtained required permission from Foreign Exchange Control Department of Bangladesh Bank – central bank of the country. Moreover, amidst a backdrop of a foreign exchange crisis in the country, questions have been raised regarding the prudence of investing significant funds in foreign shoots. Some commentators cautiously suggest that unauthorized transfer of funds abroad could potentially violate the Money Laundering Act. Despite these concerns, public discussion on the matter remains muted, likely influenced by Arshad Adnan’s considerable stature in the film and drama industry, being the son of the President of Bangladesh.

The engagement of Arshad Adnan, the son of Bangladesh’s President Mohammad Shahab Uddin, in diverse entertainment ventures has drawn considerable scrutiny since his father’s assumption of office. This scrutiny has intensified amid accusations of alleged unmonitored expenditure overseas, devoid of regulatory supervision.

Nevertheless, public dialogue concerning this matter remains subdued, potentially influenced by Arshad Adnan’s substantial clout within the entertainment sector. With ongoing discussions, there emerges a mounting concern regarding the transparency and legality of financial transactions associated with the ambitious film project ‘Rajkumar’, particularly against the backdrop of the nation’s prevailing economic challenges.

Despite Arshad Adnan’s high hopes for the movie ‘Rajkumar’, the reality within the film industry tells a different story. It’s apparent that numerous exhibitors and booking agents display a disinterested or disillusioned attitude, suggesting they feel compelled to promote ‘Rajkumar’ through various means.

However, insiders emphasize that while pressure can push a film forward, its ultimate success hinges entirely on audience reception. Many express concerns that ‘Rajkumar’ may struggle to perform well at the box office.

Criticisms abound, citing weak merits, an average storyline, and a conventional production style. Despite the producer’s relentless promotion efforts in the media, public interest in the movie remains tepid at best. Moreover, there is extreme doubt within cinema circle in Bangladesh whether the movie shall be accepted by the audience as the lead female artist of this movie – Courtney Coffey, an American actress is not only rather an unknown name in Bangladesh, she also is totally unknown in her home country. Searching on the web, this correspondent did not find even a single news item related to Courtney Coffey in any of the US media, while a very large number of journalists in the entertainment world covering Hollywood have not even heard her name.

Meanwhile, an anonymous source claimed that during the release of ‘Rajkumar’, unofficial directives will be issued to district and upazila administrations to ensure theaters screen the movie. This revelation comes amidst preparations by numerous exhibitors to showcase other promising films during Eid. Allegations of coercion to prioritize ‘Rajkumar’ screenings amidst such competition have sparked widespread criticism.

Despite ten additional movies gearing up for an Eid release, their owners find themselves unable to disregard the dominating presence of ‘Rajkumar’. Succumbing to pressure to prioritize the screening of ‘Rajkumar’ could result in severe financial repercussions lasting for five consecutive months. Cinema hall owners lament the lack of support from the Hall Owners Association in navigating this predicament, as they struggle to assert their independence amidst the prevailing circumstances.

It is noteworthy that recently, the President’s son, in a remarkable display, repeatedly brought up his father in discussions regarding the ongoing crisis within the ‘Directors’ Guild’, an organization of drama directors. He openly disclosed his actions, including barring a minister from attending the Guild’s picnic.

Similarly, prior to the January 7 election, Arshad Adnan declared his intention to contest on the ruling Awami League’s nomination, claiming his father had sacrificed him for the area. However, he was not ultimately nominated by the ruling party. Nevertheless, there has been no investigation into whether such statements were part of a conspiracy, potentially involving the ruling party, to undermine the President Mohammad Shahab Uddin.

The movie ‘Rajkumar’ is directed by Himel Ashraf. His previous film, ‘Priyotoma,’ produced by Versatile Media and also produced by Arshad Adnan, emerged as a commercial blockbuster both domestically and internationally last year. While there isn’t an exact figure for the box-office earnings of Bangladeshi films, reports from newspapers and production sources suggest that ‘Priyotoma’ grossed over 10 million dollars. Starring Bangladeshi superstar actor Shakib Khan and West Bengal actress Idhika Pal, ‘Priyotoma’ enjoyed significant success both at home and abroad.

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