The third dimension

As the popularity of new programs like talk-shows on Bangladeshi television soars everyday, it is needless to say, that Zillur Rahman has given a new dimension to the concept and presentation of talk-shows and undoubtedly stands apart as a host and director of what has become the most watched and popular talk-show Tritiyo Matra.As Tritiyo Matra reaches a mammoth 1418th episode, Rahman is planning to change the face of the show, which has been aired on channel-i every night without fail for the past four years. Be it on special occasions like Eid or even on the night when the state of emergency was announced, Rahman has not taken a break from his show. There is nothing posh or glamorous about his show, yet Rahman’s direct and crispy attitude on screen and his ability to talk and question about controversial and political issues, has earned him an immense amount of popularity.

This week, as I meet him in his news and research agency, CCN, based in Dhaka, he tells me tales of struggle and sheer determination. His stories reflect much of what he is as a person- reserved, direct and focused. Seated in his small room, scanning newspapers, he emanates immense amount of confidence and strength of character.As I seat myself before the table that is swarming with papers and books, he tells me he was interested in politics from a very young age. ‘I grew up in family where discussion about politics and issues in the country was a regular part of life. Moreover, my father who was a lawyer spoke a lot about current issues and politics.’

Rahman was born in November 21, 1965 in Dhaka. While his father expected him to be a teacher, he was interested in writing on politics. Most part of his school life, unlike his three siblings; he read a lot and practiced writing.His nag for talk-shows grew during this time. ‘I had no idea I would end up hosting a show but I just enjoyed talk-shows that concerned debates, discussions and analysis of political issues.’Having passed his HSC, Rahman was sure he wanted to pursue his education in politics and social science. ‘While studying in JahangirNagar, I started contributing my write-ups on political issues in different papers. At the same time, I got into student politics,’ he says smiling shyly. He had become an integral part of student political group Jashod Student League.

‘Back then it was an active group and I spent a lot of time with them. But, soon, I got so much into journalism that I moved away from it.’The stories of Rahman’s struggle and sheer determination are perhaps far more fascinating than his success stories. In 1986, when Rahman started writing professionally, he also opted to live in the university campus. ‘The reason was simple- I had a terrible schedule, there were days I would stay in the newspaper office all night and come back in the morning and then go to University. This would mean there would be a lot of problem if I stayed home with my family.’ As a staff writer for Bichitra Magazine and later on Shaptahik Khobor, Rahman would travel all the way from Savar and come to Dhaka to work. Later, Rahman became the associate editor of Shaptahik Khobor and wrote intensively on political issues.

He recounts the turning point of his life as the time when he shifted from print media to electronic journalism. ‘My career had started in print media and I had gained a wealth of experience in the field and I knew I was prepared to move to electronic media.’ He agrees that this shift finally fulfilled his interest in being able to question and reveal issues that are often not talked about.His talk-show Tritiyo Matra, meaning the third dimension, mostly includes guests who are politicians or leaders. Often, they do range from garment workers, sporting personalities to the father of a drug addict. ‘I also started inviting the family members of the politicians to come and discuss in the show. Firstly, people are always inquisitive about their personal lives and most importantly, I feel much of their personal lives reflect their attitude towards their profession.’

Over the years, Rahman who is the director, researcher, host and script writer has been invariably successful in his motive- to communicate directly with the people, and give them the information that is their right to know. ‘My success has also been largely because of the support and faith I received from Faridur Reza Sagar, who had given me this opportunity and freedom.’‘The idea of the show is to ensure accountability. Throughout these years, I have tried to maintain an unbiased and clear approach where people get to know the truth,’ he says strongly. ‘Despite the casual and simple presentation of the show, the testimony of its success is the fact that it is the most watched show both here and abroad.’

According to Rahman, the show was to fill up the various gaps between general people and the politicians and other important members of society. ‘There has been, however changes made. I have become more direct and question issues that are often awkward,’ he says. ‘At various times, that brought a lot of criticism and disagreement and even trouble for me, but I know that my motive is to be unbiased for the people. In many ways Tritiyo Matra, which is more of a visionary show, has directed the country and the way things should be done.’Rahman also speaks of his struggle to ensure that the show is aired on TV without fail. ‘Even on the night the state of emergency announced, when all shows were cancelled, I fought and ensured my show is not cancelled,’ he says. He also talks about how the positive feed back of the show has only increased his determination. ‘When we introduced a feed-back show where people write and express their views about the show, we realised we have been able to play a significant role in bringing forbidden issues into open discussion.’Rahman’s determination and devotion is indeed very strong and he agrees that it was often at the cost of his own personal life. ‘I put in so much time into this work that I barely make the time for my family and it does often create problems. But I guess at the end, my family understands that this is something honest and for a good cause and they are very proud of it.’ Rahman’s wife works with him in his organization CCN- a news and research agency that started in 1998. ‘I met her through this work,’ he says affectionately.Rahman’s future plans include enhancing his ideas more and change the face of the show in a year. ‘Most importantly, I want to continue an unbiased show that is for the people and that helps direct the country in the right path.’ At various times, Rahman has been criticised as being biased towards specific political groups. ‘Every time such issues were raised, I managed to prove them wrong, because at the end of it all, my aim remains unchanged.’

[Original article by Tahmina Shafique photo Momena Jalil published on New Age Extra June 22-28, 2007]