Towards a rebirth of Bangladesh cinema

Shihab Sarkar | Published: May 03, 2018 20:57:00 | Updated: May 04, 2018 20:35:44

Over the last few years, there were apparent signs of a spectacular revival of the Dhaka film industry. True to the expectations of the movie industry people, viewers returned to the theatres in droves. With the entry of a new breed of venturesome producers and distributors in the filmdom, successful movies continued to be released. They mostly included big-budget multi-starrers. A considerable number of them were made under the banner of Bangladesh-India joint ventures. A period of veritable rejuvenation dawned on Bangladesh cinema.

To the distress of the movie-buffs and industry people, the state of being in its heyday appears to have started losing lustre. The number of films being released this year's January-April period shows a sharp decline from that in the corresponding period last year. A total of 24 movies were released in 2017. This year the number stands at 15. Distributors blame the exhibitors for the start of the declining trend. On the other hand, the exhibitors cite falling business in the running of cinema theatres as the chief reason. They squarely point the finger at the failure of the recent movies to attract audiences in large numbers. Thanks to their rookie and sloppy making, these movies cannot have much impact on large sections of the viewers. As a result, the theatres begin witnessing empty theatres a couple of days after a film's release. Normally, a newly released movie remains on screen at least for a week. In the recent times, theatre owners in the country are seen stopping screening of the new movies after a run of three to four days. The syndrome of failure to complete the scheduled run of movies has lately gripped the country's theatres in the district headquarters and small towns. In the last 4-month period, a number of decades-old cinema halls pulled their shutters down. No conventional movie theatres in the capital have been shut in the last few months. But crowds around them have begun thinning out. The so-called multiplexes are a different case altogether. They have their own clientele. Apart from the locally made and joint production movies, a large chunk of their business is carried out through releasing latest Hollywood films.

Observers acquainted with the ups and downs of the Dhaka cinema portend a spell of bad times for it. The scenario should not have been this depressing. In fact, the current stalemate was beyond the furthest stretch of imagination of many. The long queues of viewers at ticket counters at halls in Dhaka and Chattogram not long ago were a common feature. With the packed theatres showing commercial flicks like 'Nabab', 'Dhaka Attack', 'Niyoti' etc, business looked up spectacularly. The scenario had reminded many of the times in the mid-1960s-early 1970s, which experienced the most productive phase of the genre of Dhaka's commercial cinema. Box office hit movies were a common feature in those days. That was the period when three directors ruled the roost. Ibne Mizan topped them with Momtaz Ali and Delwar Jahan Jhontu not much behind. But the period also witnessed the emergence of many technically unskilled makers. Their only goal was investing huge sums in the cinema business, and minting money. They did not bother to keep the minimum standard in terms of taste, artistic demand and the basic grammar of film making. The crudely made movies would eventually emerge as vaudevilles comprising sentimentalised plots, crass violence and sex. These productions have confounded the middle class viewers. Many felt disappointed and eventually stopped going to the theatres. A nearly similar murky development is set to occur in the Bangladesh cinema. The symptoms have started becoming evident with the dismal commercial performance of a number of big-budget movies.

Industry people fear a depressing period for both locally-made and joint-venture movies in the coming days. Upon being disappointed with the Dhaka artistes, producers have turned to India. But the popular new-generation male and female Kolkata stars also appear to be failing to bail the industry out. According a section of film critics, the problem lies with the whole production phase of the movies. As they have identified, the films that have miserably failed to attract large audiences lately are made by inexperienced directors. The films' story-lines are weak, acting not up to the expectations. Many productions proved to be sheer wastage of money due to wrong selection of outdoor locations. On the other hand, a few joint-venture companies have eventually been found unwilling to invest money needed for their declared big-budget movies. Allegations of timely and punctual payments to the Indian actors and actresses leaving the local ones irregularly paid are rife. However, it is the newcomers who become victims of this practice. According to yet another section of industry observers, the government rules and provisions for making movies in collaboration with Kolkata counterparts are not clear. Scores of both opportunities and inconveniences have been overlooked. Many otherwise easy processes have been made cumbersome. After the box office success of a few Bangladesh-India movies years ago, the joint-venture cinemas took a centre-stage in discussions on the country's commercial films. Both production houses and film makers welcomed the initiative. The general viewers also greeted these productions with warmth. Joining the bandwagon, a few serious directors came forward to make joint-venture movies. The recently made movies in the list include 'Bhoyonkor Sundar' (Animesh Aich), 'Bhuban Majhi' (Fakrul Arifeen Khan), 'Doob' (Mostofa Sarwar Faooki) etc. Some other producers and directors are also mulling production of India-Bangladesh movies. But the disincentive of the complicated preconditions for joint-venture movies keeps many Bangladeshi enterprising producers and directors from embarking on their projects. The move for making joint-venture films comes nearly on the back of the release of a number of off-beat Bangladeshi movies. They included 'Lalon' (Tanveer Mokammel), 'Guerrilla' (Nasir Uddin Yusuf), 'Ainabajee' (Amitav Reza Chowdhury), Television (Mostofa Sarwar Farooki) and a few others.

Bangladesh-India joint-venture movies formally entered the two countries' filmdom with the making of 'Padma Nodir Majhi' directed by Goutam Ghose in 1993. The movie, shot in the rivers and villages in Bangladesh, had a rich cast of artistes from Bangladesh and Paschimbanga, India. After the pause of nearly two decades, the two-country film production project saw a spectacular revival, later mostly commercial cinema, in 2010. Preceded by a few nondescript entertainers, the joint productions entered their spectacular phase with 'Moner Manush' that year. In the second phase, too, director Goutam Ghose stole the limelight. The movie he directed was based on the life of Lalon Fakir.

Letting the joint-venture mode of movie production waste away might be interpreted by future critics as a great opportunity gone awry. It could provide Bangladesh with a strong platform for steady growth. The state of being in the doldrums over, the country could one day emerge as confident and self-reliant enough to continue its independent march. Given the prolonged barrenness that befell the country's movie industry in the 1980s, many film-loving people may find its glorious chapter of film making erased from their memory. But it will be disservice to the nation to let it forget the legendary film makers like Zahir Raihan, Salahuddin, Fateh Lohani, Sadeq Khan, Alamgir Kabir and dozens of others. The path of Bangladesh cinema is strewn with many an unwelcome damper coming online, especially through movie sites. In the late 1970s it was the VCs (video cassettes), later VCDs (video compact discs), craze that finally grew into a potential threat to the survival of the local cinema. Thanks to its pervasiveness, the online world has dealt a severe blow to the once-popular cinema medium. The impact is over, for now.  Preparing the movie buffs for a time-befitting revisit to the glory days of cinema comes up as a national priority. The nation can ill afford to fritter away the prospects for a virtual rebirth of its movie industry.       

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