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High time to salvage the movie industry

Shihab Sarkar     | Published: November 07, 2019 21:51:10 | Updated: November 09, 2019 22:08:26


The pageant-filled atmosphere that characterised the recently held election of film artistes' assocition stood out in many ways. First, it has emerged as an episode as if it came from a juvenile book of fantasy. To speak in a terse manner, the brisk activities centring on the said election and the waste land in which the Bangladesh film industry is stuck presently do not conform to one another. In another view, the two sagas blatantly demonstrate the extent to which the domestic film industry has degraded itself. In fact, unlike the neighbouring countries of India, Sri Lanka, and even Nepal, Bangladesh has in the recent years been boasting of a long-awaited rejuvenation. This premise proves that the industry had experienced death in the recent years. It's because rebirth comes after a phase of decay or demise. To the acerbically disposed critics, the once-seasoned film producers and directors have long begun withdrawing themselves from their main trade, viz. film making. Instead, Dhaka's movie honchos appear to have found it to be more urgent to hold elections in a sector with little output of movies worth mentioning. To the disillusioned film buffs, all this points to a glitzy exercise in inanities.

In spite of its seemingly never-waning extravaganzas as well as serious movies, the elections to the Mumbai filmdom's office-bearers are normally held behind the scenes. Most of the movie-watching public and the media shows little interest in the film people's internal and routine exercises. A similar scenario prevails in the film worlds of other South Asian nations.

Many of the movie-goers and critics in Bangladesh have discovered escapist elements as well as creative barrenness in Dhaka filmdom's increased engagement in activities not related to film producing. The yearly event of the National Film Award ceremony is also a part of the formalities. The apparently expensive mainstream movies, their production teams and the all-important artistes remain mostly bypassed in the awarding process. They are dropped for cogent reasons. A macho hero, and an equally sturdy villain and a ravishingly cute heroine are not all enabling a full-length movie to receive a national film award. In spite of the breathtaking outdoor locations abroad, mindboggling animation devices and the films' screenings at luxury multiplexes matter little to the awards' jury. On the final count, the recognitions of best films, best directors and best artistes go to the relatively less publicised and little known flicks. The movies overlooked in the award mechanism cannot prove to be commercially successful either. Nothing could be more depressing for a movie industry spanning six decades, as we see in Bangladesh.

A unique feature characterising the Dhaka filmdom is the parallel progress of both the better or deftly made films and crass commercial movies. Unlike even the Kolkata, Mumbai or Chennai movie worlds, the pioneers of South Asian cinema, Dhaka entered the region's film world with classic films made by brilliantly creative directors. When Kolkata was busy making movies based on middle-class romantic entertainers, Dhaka entered the sector with bold ventures by the likes of Zahir Raihan, Salah Uddin, Fateh Lohani and Sadeq Khan. The Kolkata-style commercial family movies were strange to the viewers of films made in Dhaka in the late 1950s and the early part of the sixties. It amazes many among the country's younger movie enthusiasts that both Dhaka and Kolkata made films on two Bangla classical novels almost at the same time --- the late 1950s.   Satyajit Ray made 'Pather Panchali', based on Bibutibhusan Banerjee's novel under the same title, in Kolkata in 1955. The then West Pakistan-based A.J. Kardar filmed 'Padma Nodir Majhee' on Manik Bandyopaddhyaya's novel in a couple of years in Dhaka. Having a cast of Kolkata and Dhaka-based artistes, the Urdu-Bangla movie was called 'Jago Hua Savera'. With this brilliantly directed film comprising lavish scenes of Bangladeshi rivers and villages and rural folks, the start of Dhaka's cinema was spectacularly outstanding. It took several years for the emergence of Mrinal Sen, Hrittik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha et al in the Kolkata filmdom. Similarly, a group of vibrantly creative directors made their appearance in Dhaka.

By the mid-1960s, Dhaka and Kolkata parted their ways. Kolkata became overwhelmed with Uttam-Suchitra, Uttam-Supriya and other pairs of box office hit starrers. Dhaka also groomed its own 'star system'. But the difference between the two film worlds was while Kolkata had made its advance with its urban middle-class B-films, some influenced by Hindi movies, Dhaka was able to shake off the creeping influence of the Urdu films at the very beginning of the trend. Although a few Urdu movies were made in Dhaka with Bengalee cast, the East Pakistani viewers did not heartily accept the Urdu movies. Instead, new generations of younger film directors and producers made their emergence in Dhaka with a lot of fresh Bangla movies. The nature of Dhaka's movie industry changed radically after the independence of Bangladesh. Dozens of exceptionally good films continued to be made by a new batch of film makers. Unfortunately, they were outshone by the film world's nouveaux riches. In spite of this unwarranted development, people's passion for movies did not experience any ebbing trend. The film industry continued to churn out movie after movie, with the total of released films reaching an annual average of 400. Side by side with directors like Kazi Zahir, Ibne Mizan or Delwar Jahan Jhantu, the names of Shaker-Niamot Ali duo, Rebecca et al also remained in circulation.

This scenario stands in stark contrast with the full-length films' release scenario in 2018-19. More than a dozen movies were released in the recent months across the country. There is an acute dearth of theatres or cinema halls. About two-thirds of cinema halls have been demolished and transformed into shopping malls or other business centres throughout the country lately. In capital Dhaka, it is the multiplexes comprising more than one hall on which the compulsive movie watchers are dependent. These halls exhibit mainly imported current Hollywood movies, and whatever is made by inept local movie directors, with a few produced under the Dhaka-Kolkata joint ventures. Surprisingly, the local movies are miserably failing to draw sufficient numbers of viewers, thus losing their investment. Massive losses now pervade the film making scenario. According to reliable sources, a total of 34 big-budget Bangladeshi films were released in the last 10 months. Most of them have incurred losses. These ventures also include a few healthy films belonging to the genre of better cinema. A section of Bangladeshi film critics would like to point the finger at a creeping malaise that has multiple faces --- a major one being the rising popularity of online movies. Others home in on lack of professionalism in the whole film industry.         

 The mainstream cinema is the commercial and economic backbone of a country's movie world. In the cases of decline in the state of the dominant cine-culture, the makers of parallel movies weigh in with all their aggressive creative push. In Bangladesh cinema, the producers, directors and artistes of these low-budget but honestly made ventures have lately been emerging as a factor. This is good news for the discerning viewers and those groomed in the aesthetic ambience of better cinema. But in the long run, this trend doesn't help a filmdom in the long run. Oscar or Golden Bear winners do not represent the mainstream cinema. But they bring prestige to particular film worlds. From a commercial point of view, money is all that matters in modern cinema. Only one or two Tanveer Mokammels, Farookis or Joya Ahsans cannot salvage a vast film industry. The nation needs more of them. Besides, for an industry with its eye on regional and global movie markets, the trend of making only elitist cinema actually distorts the age-old film culture. From the point of view of business, it never leads to the healthy growth of the overall film industry of a movie-loving nation. Moreover, honeymoons with YouTube movies or web series cannot be expected to save a movie industry.

shihabskr@ymail.com

 

 

 

 

 

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