More than a decade ago, when I was doing a story on the disappearing cinema halls from across the country, I was quite astonished to learn that movie theatres had become a dying business. I had interviewed a few people who were involved in cinema halls and the movie-making businesses. I was appalled to see their frustration, at the various kinds of changes taking place in Bangladesh’s filmdom.
They said the audiences were no longer interested to come to the halls to watch movies. Rather, they said, they found CDs, which were being smuggled in, to be more convenient for such entertainment.
I think they started losing their business in the 1970s when the movie-makers started copying stories from other countries. Then came VCRs in the 1980s and the popularity of the foreign movies went sky-high. While Hindi movies were becoming popular, the quality of Dhaliwood movies started waning.
Now, the hall owners want to be allowed to import foreign movies so that they can do some business. Currently, in Dhaka’s filmdom, only 30 to 40 movies get released every year.
But we have also observed this scenario during the 90s. Many of the hall owners were screening semi-pornographic content when they were sitting idle. That’s when the audience began to shy away from the cinema halls. They had decided either to watch films on CDs or DVDs.
Then, for a long time, nothing was really done in order to make quality films so that the audience would come back to the halls. That’s because no one really knew how to make quality films to begin with.
The charm of sitting in a hall to watch a movie had long gone.
The vacuum was filled up by Indian TV channels. These channels were favoured by the Bangladeshi audience for they churned out TV dramas with interesting stories. Even though these stories were not about Bangladeshi society at all, and were full of tales of extramarital affairs and lacked any substance. Our audience became glued to the Indian TV serials. And they still are.
A film-maker, who is in favour of importing foreign movies, was telling me the situation during the 1960s. He said at the time movies made in four languages were running in Bangladeshi cinema halls: Bangla, English, Hindi, and Urdu. Despite the foreign films being screened in the cinema halls, local Bangla movies had a great market and they were competing with all the imported films. The audience loved what the local film-makers were making. Bangla movies didn’t suffer because of the foreign films. He also said that many great Bangla movies were made during that competitive period.
What has happened to us after that? We have also seen many great movies being made during the 70s. And then, the entire art of making movies was completely lost from our society and no one was doing anything about it. Has our taste changed over the years? Have we started hating everything local? Have we run out of stories to tell?
These are some basic questions that need to be answered by our cinema hall owners and movie-makers.
It’s true that there’s a hunger for quality films among our audience. In the meantime, both the cinema halls and the medium for viewing the content have transformed globally. The cinema halls have changed their character across the world; they have turned into what we may call a meeting place with friends and families. On the other hand, platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have revolutionized how people consume entertainment.
Most of our cinema hall owners and movie-makers don’t seem interested in investing their money in the right medium. They absolutely don’t show their interest in making quality films as they once used to. They all consider movie-making as a business and nothing more.
In the process, Bangladesh’s movie industry seems to be heading towards complete doom.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.
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