Seeker of ghost stories

Asraful Alam Russell, the host of popular radio show Bhoot FM, has taken his curiosity for the unknown to another level…writes Neebiir Kamaal

The human mind works in mysterious ways. What scares human beings also fascinates them. They also must have the answer of everything, which leads to obsession over things that they do not quite understand.
Mankind has been obsessed, for the longest time, with anything that even remotely has a paranormal ring to it, things that do not quite add up.
It does not matter whether one believes in the possibility of things that could be deemed paranormal or not, ghost stories and the like have tremendous entertainment value for everyone. In the pop culture, paranormal has been one of the hottest genres, be it in movies, TV series, art or literature. In everyday life, the moment anyone drops a hint that they might have a ghost story to share, they have the attention of everyone around them.
What makes Asraful Alam Russell, popularly known as RJ Russell, the radio jockey and host of Bhoot FM, different than any other ghost story enthusiast are his unique vision, creativity, determination and boldness to follow whatever fascinates him. And of course his exceptional oratory skills help too.
Russell, the young creator of the Bhoot FM radio show on Radio Foorti 88.0 FM, has turned his show into one of the most popular radio shows in Bangladesh over the last six years since its inception. Russell’s official Facebook page has close to 300,000 fans, whereas the Bhoot FM group on Facebook has more than 76,000 enthusiastic members.
Popularity of Russell and his show reaches far beyond the borders of Bangladesh, thanks to the app of the show. Every Friday night at 11:59 PM, listeners tune in to hear the fascinating tales of the guests that are present that night.
‘If you compare the numbers of horror story books that used to be published before and after Bhoot FM was created, you would understand the extent of impact that the show has had on our popular culture. The number of horror story books have increased manifold after the show got its popularity and even some famous authors have ventured into the genre,’ Russell asserts.
Kamal Chowdhury, programme director and associate professor of Nasirullah Psychotherapy Unit (NPU), a project of the department of Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka attempts to explain ‘occurrences’ that might seem paranormal to certain individuals. ‘Mainstream psychology doesn’t deal with phenomena that might seem paranormal or unexplainable, but parapsychology does. However, possible psychological explanations of such matters could be that an individual might experience either a hallucination, which is a psychological disorder or an illusion. However, people might be fascinated in what might seem paranormal despite not believing in them, because human beings are intrigued by mysteries,’ Chowdhury says.
When it comes to mysteries, Russell has a few of his own. As a child, Russell never even imagined that he could be involved in a radio show as unique as Bhoot FM. However, from his childhood, he used to scare rather easily. And it all had started after he had read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. His father had to sit by his bed till he fell asleep. But how Russell had stumbled upon the idea of the show is of course not so ‘ordinary’.
In 2010, when Russell used to host Hello Dhaka, another show for the same radio station, he had moved into a new apartment somewhere in the capital.
‘It was a new building, and most apartments were still empty. I had this guitar in my room that I used to play. A strange thing started happening with the guitar. Tunes played from that guitar used to wake me up in the middle of the night! No one else was in the room. I used to live alone in the whole apartment. As soon as I would jump out of my bed and turn the lights on, the tunes would stop and I would find the guitar in its usual place. As the same thing kept happening, I tuned down the guitar so that the strings would be loose. What happened after that is even stranger. I woke up to a sharp tune of the guitar string and saw that one of the strings was torn!’ Russell elaborates.
When Russell shared the strange experiences he was having with his colleagues at Radio Foorti office, he realised the entertainment value that ghost stories offer. The idea of doing a show where people could share their own strange experiences hit him.
‘It seemed to me that everyone in Bangladesh has at least one scary incident to share. Although strange things do not occur with everyone, but everyone knows at least a few people, who have had such experiences,’ he mentions.
Russell’s success however did not come without its own challenges. Russell mentions that he faces a lot of suspicion from people who assume that the stories shared on Bhoot FM are fabricated, as in the stories are scripted and presented as occurrences that actually happened with people.
About such suspicion, Russell says that there was never any need of trying to make stories up as there is no shortage of supply from real people. ‘On an average I get 200 emails per day, where people share their stories. And none of the stories are altered or manipulated in any way. In fact, the narrative abilities vary from person to person. We let the guests speak in the manner that is their natural style of speech. Anyone who is suspicious about the authenticity of the stories is welcome to come to our studio with a story of whatever has happened in their life and see for themselves if we try to fabricate any bit of it,’ Russell asserts.
The other form of challenge that Russell has to deal with comes in the form of his parents’ disapproval about the choice of his profession. Even after undeniable success, Russell’s parents are still discontent about what he does.
Russell went to Rajshahi Collegiate School and later to Government City College in Rajshahi. After finishing school, he passionately wanted to study filmmaking. He has actively participated in the theatre and poetry recitation groups. But because of his parents’ fixation about their son pursuing a more mainstream and traditional career path, he had to give up his dream and study Public Administration with a broken heart at Rajshahi University.
‘My Public Administration degree has come to no use at all in my life,’ he mentions. While he was in school, advertising and the works of voiceover artistes used to fascinate Russell as well. On his way to school, he used to try to do voiceovers of his favourite commercials in his own style. And it was a voiceover job for a soap advert that had landed him the job of an RJ at Radio Foorti. Currently, he also works for an advertising agency.
Russell has a grand vision about the future of Bhoot FM. He wants to go all over the world to collect stories from people. He aspires to create the largest database of ghost stories collected from people all across the world.

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