While giving away the National Film Awards-2019 on last January 17, 2020, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina displayed her strong passion for the cinema once again. Despite being fully aware of the aesthetic value of movies, the Prime Minister never forgets the audio-visual medium's capacity to make people aware of many socio-cultural realities. It was felt quite transparently in her speech delivered for the guests present at the film awards ceremony.
The award-giving event was held virtually. The Prime Minister joined the National Film Awards-2019 prize distribution ceremony at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre. She participated in the function virtually from her official residence at Ganobhaban. On the PM's behalf, Information Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud handed over the awards and certificates among the award recipients. Movie production in Bangladesh has for a couple of decades remained stuck in the doldrums. This phase was followed by the corona pandemic-spurred deadlock. Even the general movie viewers could feel that the film industry was passing through a critical time.
The country's Prime Minister seems to be aware of the overall ongoing plight of the movie industry. The closure of cinema halls one after another across the country hasn't escaped her notice. In order to stop the trend and draw upazila-level people to the age-old entertainment of watching clean cinema, the government was set to create a huge fund, she said. The fund will be created for interested entrepreneurs who could take low-interest loans from it to build cinema halls or cineplexes, the PM added. It's true that most of the old cinema halls have turned unfit for sitting inside and watching movies comfortably. Except a handful built lately, most of the halls have been demolished --- as those are not fetching money in the absence of regular supply of movies. In their place, commercial complexes are being constructed which have proven highly profitable.
The trend of demolishing cinema houses and constructing high-rise shopping complexes had its roots in Dhaka. Except those retrofitted with modern amenities and are wearing a new look, almost all the theatres in the capital, especially in Old Dhaka, have been turned into business centres. Some mega shopping malls have, however, accommodated state-of-the-art cineplexes with more than one screen. Urban movie-buffs nowadays frequent these new-age cinema halls. Although, they are quite accustomed to watching the newly released overseas movies on YouTube and other online channels, they also rush to the cineplexes to enjoy those in the traditional ambience of a cinema theatre.
Films are meant for watching them on big screens at cinema halls. Viewers miss lots of details of a scene when they watch overseas movies on PCs and smartphones. Perhaps due to this reason, film makers these days repeatedly ask their targeted audience to watch cinema at movie theatres. These appeals have also the undercurrent of worries on the part of the directors and producers. Due to a major segment of spectators being weaned off by the virtual media free of cost, the film industry continues to incur losses. Movies online have lately posed a great threat to many countries' movie industry. Bangladesh is among them. Alongside the producers and directors, other professionals also suffer losses. They include distributors, exhibitors and even artistes. Building movie theatres and cineplexes in sufficient numbers as well as wooing the potential movie-making people to film making can change the whole scenario. Annual national awards can play a critical role in rejuvenating the country's film-making sector.
Despite the adverse period now prevailing in the Dhaka filmdom, dedicated movie-makers have continued to make attempts to make better films. For this, they had to make their way through difficult times. These undaunted attempts resulted in the full-length feature films 'No Dorai' and 'Fagun Haway'. Both the films won the awards in the Best Film category for 2019. A total of 33 film industry persons, in 26 categories, were honoured for their work in their respective fields.
At the National Film Awards-2019 ceremony last week, the Prime Minister threw a wide focus on making films on the country's Liberation War. It hasn't escaped her notice that in order to keep the new generations acquainted with the country's blood-drenched birth in 1971, no other popular mediums could be more effective than cinema. She cited another reason for making Liberation War movies in greater numbers. As she stressed, film makers' combined efforts to stop the distortion of the facts of the Liberation War, and the history of Bangladesh in general, would justify the cinema's survival as a sine qua non for the country's growth into a forward-looking nation.
The culture of National Film Awards for remarkable movies made in a country is in vogue in many least developed countries. The awards are given to the best performers in different branches of the movies made in a year. The categories include best film, best director, camera operator, best actors and actresses, lyricists, singers and other technical hands. In many South Asian, African and Latin American countries, there are many Awards which are more coveted than the state-sponsored ones. In India apart from the national cinema awards, there are the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, Filmfare Award and scores of awards based on different regional film festivals. In Europe and the USA, the concept of National Film Awards may appear strange to the common movie viewers. Instead, the take pride in honouring selected movies, their makers, the performers and technicians at the festivals for excellence in their respective areas. These awards are exclusively decided by the juries appointed by private organisations. The governments of the host countries have no involvement in these awards.
Cannes International Film Festival in France and those at Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, Berlin in Germany, or Venice in Italy are being held for decades in private capacity with the respective cultural ministries patronising them. Those were founded by legendary figures in the movie world. The Oscars event is organised by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of the USA. Compared to them, the Bangladesh National Film Awards carry the legacy of the event which is traced to the erstwhile Pakistan. The awards-giving began from the 1960s. After the birth of independent Bangladesh, the National Film Awards underwent radical changes in its policy, guidelines and objectives. Thanks to the state recognition of people involved in film making, the standards of films underwent remarkable changes in independent Bangladesh. However, attempts to make better cinema had their roots in the 1950s in erstwhile East Pakistan. Spanning over two long decades up to the early 1970s, nearly a dozen quality movies were made by the time's younger directors. With a few senior figures working as forerunners in East Pakistan filmdom, the younger film makers witnessed an auspicious start. With no state grants, most of the movies were low-budget. It was sheer movie-making skill which had kept their passion for film direction fully alive.
With occasional adversities like pre-Bangladesh state diktats and attempts to supervise the creative attempts, the making of pure films using the medium's own language was made to pass through a long phase of crisis. It led to a creative deadlock in film making in the Dhaka-based movie industry. Isolated state recognition of honest attempts made by Bengalee directors failed to bring the glory days of Dhaka cinema back. Critics blame the situation on the flooding of East Pakistani movie market by big-budget but low-grade West Pakistan-based movies.
An East Pakistan centred National Film Awards could have seen the development of the then emerging directors into potential makers. In a hostile situation like this, many highly promising directors withdrew from their much-loved artistic pursuits. They included Fateh Lohani, Salah Uddin, Sadeq Khan et al. An adamant Zahir Raihan stuck to the trade befitting a left-leaning creative person. In order to continue his career, Zahir Raihan, however, had to make occasional compromises by making banal Urdu entertainers like 'Sangam' and 'Bahana'. But in the Bengalees' national struggle for independence, history has carved out a unique place for Zahir Raihan as the pioneer of political cinema in Bangladesh with his 'Jiban Theke Neya.'