The rise of Bangladeshi online streaming content and the tales of ‘Mohanagar’

Screenshot from YouTube video by HoiChoi. Fare use.

Screenshot from YouTube video by HoiChoi. Fare use.

The availability of high-speed internet via 4G on mobile phones and broadband at home has enabled millions of consumers in South Asia to access the internet seamlessly. This has resulted in a notable surge in online streaming services, also known as Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms, particularly in India and Bangladesh. As a result, traditional cable and satellite TV networks are seeing a decline in their viewership as more and more people switch to streaming services.

During the 2010s, the cinema industry in Bangladesh took a significant hit, partly because limited quality content was being produced and partly because many movie theatres were closing down. However, since the onset of the pandemic, the country has witnessed a resurgence of long-form and short-form content, primarily due to the proliferation of OTT platforms. These Bangla language programs are not only popular within Bangladesh but are also well-received in the Indian state of West Bengal, where people share the same language and similar culture.

One instance of a show that has taken off in Bangladesh is the second season of the Bangladeshi web series “Mohangar” streamed from the Indian OTT platform HoiChoi.

The rise of Bangla content

In recent years, Bangladeshi content creators have produced some amazing Bangla OTT content that has received positive responses from both Bangladesh and Indian audiences. And a lot more are coming.

A film house that produced popular Bangla web series like “Kaiser”, “Karagar”, “Unoloukik”, and “Taqdeer” in the past few years announced in March 2023 that they will be commencing production of seven new web series and five feature films. In Bangladesh, OTT platforms such as Bongo, Bioscope, Chorki, Banglafix, Binge, Cinespot, etc., have partnered with local cellphone providers to offer discounted data plans to the ever-growing internet data subscribers in this country of 166 million people. Furthermore, Indian Bangla language platforms like HoiChoi, AddaTimes, and Zee5 are also gaining popularity in Bangladesh.

These popular OTT productions are well-funded, diverse in content, and made with care. Their strengths lie in their unique stories, talented casts, powerful performances, and international-quality production standards.

According to a 2022 study by educator S. M. Imran Hossain of the University of Dhaka, most Bangladeshi subscribers consider OTT platforms their primary source of entertainment, and their preferred content is Bangla films and web series. The future of the OTT market looks bright as there is a growing number of subscribers — corresponding to the rise in internet quality.

‘Mohanagar 2′ and the audacity to tell contemporary stories

Director Ashfaq Nipun’s web series “Mohanagar” (which means “metropolis”) has recently released its second season on April 20, 2023, on the Indian OTT platform, Hoichoi. The show features acclaimed actor Mosharraf Karim in the lead role of OC Harun, alongside other talented actors and actresses. The crime thriller, which offers nuanced socio-political commentary, has created a buzz since its release.

The first season was launched in 2021, and the teaser stated:

Dhaka Mohanagar (metropolis). Where the streets, lanes and by-lanes have a million stories to tell. Stories about the oppressors, stories about the oppressed, stories about the rise to power, stories about being defeated by the powerful. In this city, millions are crushed under the system every day.

Throughout the first season of episodes, viewers witness the events of one night and how the lead character, Police Officer-in-Charge (OC) Harun, navigates the worlds of the powerful and powerless through various crime investigations. While he was implicated in a corruption case, he maintained his moral compass and championed the oppressed against those in positions of influence, endearing him to audiences as a hero.

The second season, also covering another day full of events, has captured people’s attention due to its depiction of the harsh reality in Bangladesh. The story subtly depicted taboo topics such as political power struggles, surveillance, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings by special forces and many more. The season opens with the protagonist, police Officer Harun, being abducted and interrogated by a special forces unit because he stood up against a powerful adversary.

Journalist Muktadir Rashid Romeo tweeted:

In August 2022, there was an expose by Sweden-based independent news portal Netra News about a secret detention and torture centre run by Bangladeshi special forces. The Bangladesh government dismissed the report as false and fabricated. It should be noted that local news agencies often refrain from reporting on such news related to government forces due to self-censorship or fear of repercussions under the draconian Digital Security Act 2018. When OC Harun was abducted and taken to an unknown detention centre blindfolded, it was reminiscent of this report. This is just one of many examples of the bold nature of stories in that web series.

Exiled journalist Ashif Entaz Rabi wrote on Facebook about the story of the web series:

আশফাক নিপুন তাঁর মহানগর ওয়েব সিরিজের দ্বিতীয় সিজনে দেখিয়েছেন- কীভাবে অথরিটি ক্রমান্বয়ে অথরিটিয়ান হয়ে ওঠে। এবং সেগুলো তিনি নিয়েছেন একদম সাম্প্রতিক চেনাশোনা ঘটনা থেকে। কোনো মালায়াম প্লট নয়, কোনো হলিউডি মুভির কপি থেকে নয়। পুরো মালমশলা দেশি, ১০০ ভাগ অথেনটিক এবং অরগানিক।

In the second season of the Mohanagar web series, Ashfaq Nipun illustrates the gradual shift of the authority toward authoritarianism based on recent events in Bangladesh. The story is not inspired by any South Indian or Hollywood thriller; rather, it features fully desi ingredients that are 100 percent authentic and organic.

Journalist Sourav Deb discusses art becoming much more than art:

শিল্প সম্ভবত তখনই বেশি শক্তিশালী হয়ে উঠে যখন সেটি সময়ের অসংগতিকে রিপ্রেজেন্ট করে।
মহানগর সিরিজটি তেমনই। অনেক শক্তিশালী একটি ‘বিনোদন’, যেটি আপনাকে ভাবাবে।

Art can often hold the most relevance and potency when it reflects the peculiarities of the current time. Mohanagar 2 is a prime example of this, as it offers an incredibly impactful form of entertainment that provokes contemplation on various issues.

Journalist Ahammad Foyez points out the similarities the story depicts:

কি নেই এই মহানগরের গল্পে! নোংরা রাজনীতির কানা পথ, মিডনাইট ভোট, ইভিএম, কূটনৈতিক পাড়ার তৎপরতা, সোনা ব্যবসায়ীদের সভাপতি, দেশের প্রথম নারী মেয়র, অস্ত্র উদ্ধারের কথিত অভিযান, ক্রসফায়ার, ব্যবসায়ী বুলবুলের গুমের ঘটনা এবং আয়না ঘরের মতো কঠিন বিষয়গুলোর পাশাপাশি ভাই-বোনের অকৃত্রিম ভালোবাসর আসাধারণ উপস্থাপন।

What is missing in the story of Mohanagar-2? It encompasses a plethora of themes, ranging from dirty politics and midnight voting to the crimes of powerful gold traders, activities in the diplomatic neighbourhood, the first female mayor, the alleged arms recovery operation by police, crossfire [extra-judicial killings], the mysterious disappearance of a businessman named Bulbul, and even the complexities of sibling love.

Writer and editor Bidhan Rebeiro appreciated the details portrayed in Mohangar -2:

মহানগর যতটা না নির্মাণের জন্য আলোচিত হচ্ছে এই সময়ে, তারচেয়েও বেশি সমাদর পাচ্ছে এর সমসাময়িকতার জন্য। পার্ট টুয়ের ডিটেইলগুলো চমৎকার। [..] আর সবচেয়ে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ মনে হয়েছে এর টাইটেল সং ও ভিজুয়ালাইজেশন। যেখানে এক ভাস্কর্যে দেখা যায়: স্বৈরাচার নিপাত যাক, গণতন্ত্র মুক্তি পাক।

The buzz around Mohanagar-2 isn't about its production quality, but rather its contemporaneity. The second season is filled with remarkable details. [..] Additionally, the show's title song and visuals are noteworthy, featuring posters with slogans like “Death to the Dictatorship” and “Free Democracy” [ editor's note: popular slogans during the anti-dictatorship movement in 1990].

Blogger Dewan Tanvir Ahmed Srijon lauds the courage of the director:

নিঃসন্দেহে “মহানগর ২” তার একটি নির্ভীক, নির্মোহ এবং সাহসী কাজ, যেখানে তিনি আমাদের সমাজব্যবস্থা ও রাজনীতির নানান অসংগতি ও ত্রুটি-বিচ্যূতি তুলে ধরেছেন অসীম সাহসিকতার সঙ্গে। তিনি তার কাজের মধ্য দিয়ে স্পেইডকে স্পেইড বলে দেখিয়েছেন, যেটা করার সৎসাহস আমি বর্তমান সময়ের খুব কম মানুষের মাঝে দেখেছি।

Certainly, “Mohanagar 2” is a courageous and audacious creation by Ashfaq Nipun, in which he fearlessly exposes the numerous inconsistencies and flaws within our social and political systems. With boundless courage, he reveals the truth for what it is, a trait that few possess in today's world.

The surprising conclusion of the second season has sparked discussions among the viewers about the possibility of a third season of Mohanagar.

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