Popular TV Character Killed Off for Safety’s Sake

Viewers mourn the death of Dara of ‘AirWaves,’ but they learn a lesson on helmet use

Last week’s episode of “AirWaves” on CTN was not what Ra Monyroth had bargained for when she settled down in front of her television set.

In the last minutes of the show on Sept 14, the affable radio DJ Dara answers a call from his girlfriend while driving his motorcycle, and, distracted, rides right in front of an oncoming car.

Thrown off his motorcycle, he falls backward. The helmet he neglected to fasten slips off his head, and he hits the back of his skull on the sidewalk’s concrete edge. He dies instantly.

The irony is that the character Dara, portrayed by actor Sorn Kayurdy, had been running a road safety campaign on the radio, and dies doing exactly what he had been warning his audience not to do: talking on the phone while driving and not securing one’s helmet.

Last night’s episode showed Dara’s funeral, a traditional Cam­bodian ceremony at a Phnom Penh pagoda.

“It was sad to watch Dara die,” Ms Monyroth said yesterday. “I have no idea why the series’ scriptwriter and producer decided to have a main character die in the middle of the series,” the 24-year-old viewer added.

Dara’s death did take place almost exactly in the middle of the 50-episode series, which centers around a radio station, said Mat­thew Robinson, executive director of Khmer Mekong Films, which produces “AirWaves.”

When planning such a series, he said yestersday, “You’ve got weddings, births and deaths: That’s your main architecture…. Then you have to decide who is going to die. You can kill off somebody who is only a small part but that has no impact. So if you’re bold, you tend to go either for your most popular character or your second-most popular character in order to get people talking.”

In the case of Dara, Mr Robinson explained, “the fact that he dies himself coupled with his popularity in the series must carry a much bigger message, a much bigger weight than if it had been some minor character that people would forget the next day.”

Dara’s demise in the series seems to have had the anticipated result: “My friends and relatives are taking seriously the way Dara died in the series and now are really paying attention to wearing their helmets the right way,” Ms Monyroth said.

“I truly support last week’s epi­sode because one can die when a driver is careless even for just a second,” university student Run Ratanak said yesterday. He himself came close to having an accident while driving his motorcycle and talking on the phone, he said.

But road safety is far from being the only issue addressed in the series, the 19-year-old said. “The series…is rich in educational messages, such as telling parents not to try to arrange their children’s marriages or force one of their kids to marry someone he or she has never met,” situations that some characters in the series have faced, he said.

The series airs at the rate of two episodes per week on Monday and Tuesday nights, with reruns on Saturday mornings. “In our latest ratings study, which was conducted in Kompong Cham province, ‘Airwaves’ achieved 42 percent of the market share. We would ex­pect a similar rating nationwide,” said Ieng Kimsreng, head of programming for CTN. Negotiations are under way for a second season, he said.

“AirWaves,” which is funded by the US government, is the first television series to feature Cham Muslim characters in its regular cast.

“I am a Muslim or Cham person myself,” said university student Lonh Sophagna. “I like the Cham characters in the series because it shows that cooperation between Cambodians and Cham people at the radio station produces” wonderful results, the 22-year-old university student said.

Actor Sorn Kayurdy has re­ceived many phone calls since his character died on the show. While he wished Dara could have continued the love story with his girlfriend on the air, he said: “I died, but I gave a great message to the audience about respecting traffic regulations.”

 

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