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The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Cinema during the corona pandemic


Cinema during the corona pandemic

An ominous existential threat now looms above the country's overall cinema industry. The sector involves a lot of segments and activities. Those mainly include movie-making, with directors, artistes, producers, distributors and exhibitors and many others playing their respective roles. A cinema world's vibrant survival is normally dependent on the audience's love for the medium. Intangible features are also involved in the world of movie-making. It emerges in the form of a section of viewers' thirst for 'better cinema.'

All these multi-layer activities came to a total halt with the full-scale outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the months-long shutdown, the cinema world in the country has found itself stuck in a deadlock. The extent of this crisis eventually proved immeasurable. Even during the 9-month-long occupation period in 1971, Bangladesh didn't experience this total movie blackout. A few theatres remained open in Dhaka, maintaining extreme caution about the nature of the films they were screening. To avoid hazards, most of the cinema hall owners back then found the Urdu movies made in Lahore and the English films were the most suitable to the terror-laden time. Ironically, during just that period Zahir Raihan was shooting his immortal documentary 'Stop Genocide' on war fronts. On the other hand, Alamgir Kabir was busy working on his 'Liberation Fighters'. These activities had proved that despite the genocidal deaths and destructions in occupied Bangladesh, committed Bengalee directors could not be prevented from recording the history in the making.

After forty-nine years, Bangladesh has witnessed the unfolding of yet another cataclysmic time. It centres round the global corona pandemic, now wreaking havoc with almost the whole populations of the earth. The assault of the over 6-month-long deadly pandemic and the following worldwide shutdowns and lockdowns led to the closure of all outlets of entertainment. Except the free screening of box office-hit movies on esplanades or on riversides in some European cities, the film-related activities had virtually ground to a halt during the corona period. It's only recently that the fabled movie-making hubs like Hollywood and Mumbai have begun rising from their forced slumber. Few governments have permitted the exhibitors to open their theatres. During the times of mandatory maintenance of social and physical distances, the very thought of a few hundred people watching movies sitting in a dark air-conditioned hall sends shudders down the spine of many.

The chances of spectators entering the movie theatres after purchase of tickets by standing on queues are slim, at least for new. Bangladesh is no exception. In fact, cinema in this country began falling on bad times 10/15 years ago. The major figures in the mainstream cinema slowly became inactive with the sharp drop in the movie-goers' number. With the genuine directors and producers retiring amid an adverse situation, rooky film folks began creeping in. These directors and producers view the cinema just as a means of making a quick buck. Except a few, these films failed to draw the expected number of audiences. The general viewers rejected these productions as ineptly made copies of Mumbai blockbuster films. Most of them have already seen these films online.

In the mid-1990s, the Bangladeshi cinema veritably entered a phase of decadence. In tandem with this, cinema theatres across the country began closing down amid a fast drop in cinema-goers. By the first decade of the 21st century, owners of around two-thirds of the century-old theartres countrywide closed down their halls. Nearly a dozen theatres were turned into roaring business complexes.

Many in the younger generation were found to have the least idea that films once were enjoyed collectively in dark spacious halls, and that watching cinema on holidays occupied a major place among the family entertainments. Later, the culture of visiting multiplexes, a few smaller theatres running at a time, became a popular form of recreation. Apart from the locally made or Bangladesh-India joint ventures, the multiplexes used to screen the latest Hollywood movies before they had to suspend operation due to the corona shutdown.

Over six months have elapsed. The capital is slowly returning to its normal hustle and bustle. Mega shopping complexes have opened with the crowds of shoppers visiting the places in increasing numbers. An amazing aspect of these spectacular resumption of urban activities is the silence which envelopes the multiplexes. They are mostly located at shopping malls. Except a small number of fun-seekers, not necessarily movie lovers, most of the habitual multiplex-goers appear to have said goodbye to this pastime outlet. However, a section of young movie buffs apparently are turning impatient to see the multiplexes open. The owners are prepared to reopen their theatres. But they cannot go ahead unless they get the formal permission from the government. There are ample reasons for the authorities' thorough appraisal of the pros and cons of reopening the cinema theatres or halls. They are, in fact, dealing with a global pandemic, whose capability of spreading its virus has now become a worldwide horror. In order to deal with the scourge, the government seems to have gone for a go-slow policy. However, the authorities in the meantime have announced a massive fund as stimulus with a goal to help the hall owners weather the crisis they are now mired in. The fund is still in the planning stage. With no way out around, a lot of financially crushed exhibitors are desperately looking to the fund the government has planned to implement to rescue them.

In the meantime, with the popular culture of movie-going is on the way of petering out, many people have turned to films offered online. These films can be seen at home and anytime, in family atmosphere or alone. The benefit of enjoying these movies is their variety. All types of cinemas, ranging from short films, movie serials to full-length feature films are offered to viewers these days. An ever-widening viewers' fraternity has already been made centring on the productions of these privately made movies. Like seen in the conventional filmdom, the online industry has also groomed up its own actors, directors and technicians.

A great advantage of the virtual movies is they do not need exhibitors in the traditional sense. They also do not have to queue up to book theatres in advance. The fact is the very screen, be it on a desktop, a laptop or a smartphone, is available to all movie lovers. The theatre, in fact, could be a room in a house, a darkish roof corner or any private place. Over the last few years, the online cinema has made broad inroads into the popular culture. In South Asia, India enjoys a dominant role in the production and release of online movies. Lots of its popular, as well as offbeat directors and actors have picked the online-based profession. Given the unpredictable course and nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, many theatre-based movie-makers may eventually stay back with the virtual cinema. Likewise, a new generation of online movie people might one day rule the roost in the greater film industry in countries. By all considerations, Bangladesh enjoys a humble place in the online movie culture. Yet, a small group of venturesome directors and actors of the country are on the way of finding a footing in the online movie world.

There are flipsides. In spite of the corona-time hopes pinned on the online cinema, experts in folk culture find the hoopla premature --- and short-lived. After all, these films lack the roots which the pioneers of modern cinema used to take pride in. It's true that while almost all the sectors of life have been affected by the corona pandemic, veritably in every part of the world, its impact on cinema cannot be averted. But this reality doesn't warrant the replacement of the traditional cinema with one still considered by purists as being filled with elements of impermanence. However, on the question of the unhindered existence of the cinema as an individual art form, people have also started viewing the medium as one heading towards death. Many have viewed the long closure of halls as the prelude to the sounding of cinema's death knell. But like the phoenix, it is also experiencing a rebirth, though in a new form.

 

shihabskr@ymail.com

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