The entire world is still going through the unprecedented time and consequences of COVID-19, although the reopening of businesses and living with the ‘new normalcy’ brought changes into living and livelihood in comparison to the lockdown era. Still, some businesses are yet to reopen around the world such as the cinema industry, and this industry in Bangladesh has been eagerly waiting for the reopening to survive.
The term ‘survival’ has never been coined with this much intensity ever in the timeline of Bangladesh for the cinema industry, as the people in this country are generally known as the movie-loving, ‘filmy’ people. Movies have always been an integral part of their lives, and theatres have been one of the major recreational places for families.
Fast forward in 2020, Bangladesh is now consisting of approximately 194 cinema halls and cineplexes from having approximately 1,200 cinema halls all over the country in the decades between the 1990s to 2010. Country’s first international standard multiplex chain Star Cineplex has recently announced shutting down of its successful debut branch in Bashundhara City in the capital, and major cinema halls including Purnima, Rajmoni and Ovishar have already been closed while other vintage halls like Balaka, Modhumita and more have been suffering losses for ages. Outside of Dhaka, the scenario of this business is horrific to even imagine.
These were the cases before the arrival of COVID-19 in Bangladesh. As the pandemic rises and started impacting lives and livelihood all over the country, that became a nightmare for the industry.
As the sun rises with new beams of hope and prosperity, the cinema hall owners and the entire film industry are now being hopeful again for a resurgence, after the government announced specific plans for the revival of the movie-business.
On August 25, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) Chairperson and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the authorities concerned to create a special fund to provide financial support to the owners of cinema halls through a big project, in order to revive their business through accessing grants and loans. The directive came as many movie houses have been left abandoned or damaged across the country.
Two days later, Information Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud called a meeting with Film Producers-Distributors-Directors Association leaders at the secretariat and said that the government is monitoring the situation and will announce its decision on reopening the theatres after September 15.
“However, the big concern is whether the audience will consider coming to the movie theatres like before, during this ongoing situation. Bollywood is the second biggest movie industry in the world, yet the movie theatres have still not reopened in India. So the decision on reopening is depending on so many facts altogether”, the minister said at the meeting.
Assuring the industry representatives, the minister said that the Prime Minister is cordially concerned about the situation and took necessary steps for the overall betterment of the film industry and the cinema halls.
Amid the fear of the COVID-19, the cinema halls all over the country are currently going into lockdown mode since March 18 which has already havoced the cinema industry with bringing catastrophic losses for producers, actors, directors, associated casts and crew members and most importantly, the cinema halls - where the audience see the movies.
That concept, however, has been rapidly changing for a long time with the availability of options to the viewers. It started with the mass-availability of cable tv connections which allowed the viewers to watch movies at home, outside of the theatre - and the practice increasingly continued with the availability of computer and mobile phones at the mass level.
The piracy of movies and availability on YouTube has also created major roadblocks in this industry, against which the industry-insiders and associates have been raising their voices for such a long time. Apparently that decreased to a consistent level, and new platforms like the Over The Top (OTT) media service that offers directly to viewers via the internet with bypassing cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, are now offering more control to the viewers to watch movies in their electronic devices, outside of the theatres.
To bring the audiences back to the cinema halls, a resurgence in the industry seemed visible in recent years. Piracy got reduced, multiplexes like Star-Blockbuster-Shyamoli started showing both local and international movies focusing audience demands which brought back the young generations, middle class and upper-class people back to the theatres - and a new generation of moviemakers started making more conceptualized and entertaining, big-budget movies to cater the urban audiences and reach the global market.
The positives, however, unfortunately, started taking the bumps simultaneously with the rising of COVID-19 ‘positives’ in Bangladesh. Major occasions like the Pahela Baishakh, Eid-Ul-Fitr, Eid-Ul-Adha in which the industry generally eyes on big profit margins in the calendar year - has generated absolutely zero money because of COVID-19. The estimated loss during these occasions is around Tk 500 crore for the entire industry, according to the industry insiders.
Dhallywood superstar Shakib Khan’s ‘Bidrohi’ and ‘Nabab LLB’, Arifin Shuvoo starring action extravaganza ‘Mission Extreme’, Siam Ahmed starring action film ‘SHAAN’, Ananta Jalil’s Bangladesh-Iran joint venture ‘Deen - The Day’, Tollywood star Dev starring Bangladeshi spy thriller film ‘Commando’, noted television director Masud Hasan Ujjal directed ‘Unoponchash Batash’ and Chayanika Chowdhury directed ‘Bishwo-Shundori’ are some of the big-budgeted and much-anticipated movies scheduled to be released before the lockdown.
“We are very much thankful to our Prime Minister for taking the necessary steps to save our cinema and the halls. The crisis situation is frustrating for everyone associated with the film industry. The audience will come back again if the continuous flow of both local and international new movie releases can be ensured, and the halls must have to operate following the COVID-19 health guidelines. We are waiting to embrace the resurgence in the industry”, according to Bangladesh Film Producers-Distributors Association President Khorshed Alam Khosru.