DHAKA (AFP) – An out-of-tune Bangladeshi singer with a huge internet following was hauled in by police at dawn and told to cease his painful renditions of classical songs, sparking a furore on social media.
‘Hero’ Alom, as he styles himself, has amassed nearly two million Facebook followers and almost 1.5 million on YouTube with his unique crooning style and arresting, raunchy videos.
One of his numbers, Arabian Song, in which he appears in traditional Arab clothing on a sand dune with camels superimposed in the background, has 17 million views.
But he has also drawn critics’ scorn, particularly for versions of classic songs of two beloved national treasures – Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Bangladesh’s national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.
On Wednesday Alom told AFP that he was “mentally tortured” last week by police who told him to stop performing classical songs, that he was too ugly to be a singer, and to sign an “apology” bond.
“The police picked me up at 6am and kept me there for eight hours. They asked me why I sing Rabindra and Nazrul songs,” he said.
Dhaka’s chief detective Harun ur Rashid told reporters that Alom had apologised for singing the cherished songs and for wearing police uniforms without permission in his videos.
“We received many complaints against him,” Harun said. “(He) totally changed the (traditional) style (of singing)… He assured us that he won’t repeat this,” Harun added.
Deputy police commissioner of Dhaka Farook Hossain rejected claims by Alom, 37, that he had also been pressed to change his name.
“He is making these comments just to go viral in social media.”
Following his ordeal, Alam released a new video depicting himself behind bars in a prison outfit, warbling mournfully that he is about to be hanged.
Alom’s treatment triggered outrage on social media, with commentators and activists calling it an attack on individual rights – even if his singing grates.
“I am not a fan of your songs. But if there is an attempt to muzzle your voice, I stand up against it,” journalist Aditya Arafat posted.
“Don’t be broken. You are a hero. No matter what others say, you are a real hero,” Sanjida Khatun Rakhi wrote on Alom’s Facebook page.
Alom says he has acted in several films and also participated in Bangladesh’s parliamentary election in 2018 as an independent candidate – garnering 638 votes.
He told AFP at his Dhaka studio that he started using the moniker “Hero” after becoming popular in his home district of Bogra.
“I felt like I am a hero. So I took the name Hero Alom. I won’t drop this name no matter what,” he said. “At present, it seems you can’t even sing with freedom in Bangladesh.”