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09 December 2023

Rekindling Golden Era

A Vision to Restore Country’s Film Industry

Published: 22:50, 18 November 2023

A Vision to Restore Country’s Film Industry

Photo: Messenger

The nation's film industry is currently facing a significant crisis. In the thriving era of the 90s, the industry boasted the release of over a 100 films annually, each enjoying a theatrical run for a substantial one to two months. Fast forward to the present, and the landscape has drastically changed. With fewer than 50 films hitting the screens each year, success is now a rare commodity, with only a handful of movies managing to make a mark.

Attempting to recall recent successes, one finds oneself limited to naming just a meager two or four standout movies. The absence of noteworthy statistics on popular films highlights the stark contrast between the past and present. The industry's current state demands urgent attention and strategic intervention to revive its former glory and bring back the era where the silver screen was truly illuminated with a diverse array of compelling stories.

Before the country gained independence, the visionary leader and Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, laid the foundation for the film industry's development. In 1957, during his tenure as the Minister of Industries for the United Front, he established the 'Dhaka Film Development Corporation.' This initiative marked a crucial step in nurturing the nascent film industry.

Following the triumphant independence of the country in 1971 after a grueling 9-month liberation struggle, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman liberated the country's films from the constraints of subjugation. Simultaneously, the colonial 'Performance Control Act' was lifted, freeing stage plays from its restrictive influence. This period ushered in a significant transformation in the film industry.

The subsequent years witnessed an unprecedented surge in the establishment of cinema halls across the nation. By the 1990s, the number of cinema halls had reached approximately 1,200, reflecting the industry's robust growth. Both commercial cinema and art films played pivotal roles in shaping the cultural landscape of the country.

However, the advent of information technology, widespread mobile phone usage, and the ubiquity of free internet access have contributed to a decline in cinema attendance. This decline is compounded by factors such as insufficient investment and a dearth of high-quality screenplays, posing formidable challenges to the country's film industry. The situation has been exacerbated by the closure of numerous cinemas, particularly in major cities where the once numerous cinema halls have dwindled to just one in some cases. The year 2020 dealt a severe blow to the industry with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the closure of even more cinemas. Presently, only 60 to 70 cinema halls remain operational in the country. To adapt to changing times, mini cinema halls known as Cineplexes have emerged in major cities, including the capital, reflecting a shift in the viewing landscape. The challenges faced by the film industry underscore the need for strategic interventions and revitalisation efforts to preserve its rich cultural legacy.

The historical context provided, highlighting the banishment of Indian Hindi, Bengali, and West Pakistani Urdu films from cinema halls in Bangladesh during Nayakraj Razzak's time, reflects a period when there was a significant shift in audience preferences towards Bangladeshi cinema. This demonstrates the potential and influence the local film industry had in capturing the audience's interest.

The success of movies like 'Ladaku,' directed by renowned filmmaker Shahidul Islam Khokon, further illustrates the industry's capability to produce content that resonates with viewers. The fact that this Bangladeshi film was remade in West Bengal, India, underscores the creative and storytelling prowess of the local filmmakers.

The allocation of 1000 crore taka by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the construction of state-of-the-art theaters to improve the quality of cinema halls and overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic is a commendable initiative. However, the delay or lack of progress in utilising these funds raises valid concerns.

Several factors may contribute to the slow utilisation of the allocated funds: Bureaucratic Processes: Government projects often involve a series of bureaucratic processes, including approvals, tendering, and other administrative procedures. Delays in these processes can hinder the timely execution of allocated funds.

Lack of Private Sector Initiative: The absence of private sector entrepreneurs coming forward to invest in theater construction may be attributed to various reasons, including economic uncertainties, concerns about profitability, or a lack of awareness about the potential benefits.

Coordination Challenges: Ensuring effective coordination between government bodies, private investors, and relevant stakeholders is crucial for the success of such projects. Any lapses in coordination can lead to delays.

Market Research and Planning: Before investing in theater construction, potential investors may need to conduct market research to assess the demand for new theaters, the preferences of the audience, and the viability of such ventures in different locations. This process can take time.

Pandemic Impact: The film industry, like many others, has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainties surrounding the reopening of theaters and changes in consumer behavior may be influencing the decision-making process.

To address these challenges and expedite the implementation of the allocated funds, it is essential to: Conduct a thorough review of the current status of the allocation and identify any bottlenecks in the process. Facilitate communication and collaboration between government agencies, private investors, and relevant stakeholders.

Provide incentives or create an environment conducive to private sector participation in theater construction projects. Streamline bureaucratic processes to ensure efficient execution of the allocated funds.

Efforts should also be made to raise awareness about the potential benefits of investing in modern theaters, emphasising the positive impact it can have on the film industry, the cultural landscape, and the overall entertainment experience for the audience. By addressing these issues, the allocated funds can be effectively utilised to enhance the quality of cinema halls and contribute to the growth and modernisation of the film industry in Bangladesh.

The journey of Bengali cinema indeed reflects a rich tapestry of storytelling, talent, and cultural evolution. From the post-partition era to the 90s, the industry witnessed a remarkable transition, showcasing a diverse array of actors and actresses who left an indelible mark on the hearts of audiences.

The emergence of iconic actors like Azim, Anwar Hossain, Rahman, and Razzak, along with talented actresses such as Sujata, Reshma, Sumita Devi, Babita, Shabana, Sucharita, and Nutan, played a pivotal role in establishing Bengali cinema as a cultural force. The collaborative efforts of these artists contributed to the industry's growth and popularity, making each movie a cultural event.

The transition period from the 60s to the 90s marked a phase of linguistic and cultural identity for Bengali cinema. The industry not only embraced its own language but also carved out a distinct identity as a formidable cinematic force. The diversity of talent, both in terms of actors and filmmakers, helped create a vibrant and dynamic film culture.

However, the subsequent years saw a shift in dynamics, with the industry becoming somewhat one-person dependent. From Manna to Salman Shah and now Shakib Khan, the dominance of a single male lead became a notable trend. Similarly, actresses like Shabnur also enjoyed considerable popularity during their respective seasons.

The industry's current landscape, with a new generation of actors and actresses vying for recognition, presents an opportunity for revitalisation. It is crucial to break away from the one-person dependence model and encourage diversity in storytelling and casting. Nurturing new talent, providing platforms for fresh voices, and exploring a variety of genres can inject new life into Bengali cinema.

It's promising to hear that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is emphasising the improvement in the standard of living and the increased per capita income of the people in Bangladesh. Her commitment to extending city-level facilities to every village is a commendable effort to ensure equitable access to amenities.

The recognition of the importance of entertainment and cultural development at the upazila and union levels reflects an understanding of the role these elements play in enhancing the overall quality of life. By expanding the reach of entertainment facilities, the government aims to make cultural experiences more accessible to a wider population.

The Prime Minister's statement regarding the government's stance on preventing porn and piracy demonstrates a commitment to maintaining ethical and legal standards in the entertainment industry. Focusing on good quality content produced by local talents is a positive step toward fostering a thriving and sustainable creative ecosystem.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's acknowledgment of the profound impact of films on society is insightful and resonates with the multifaceted role that cinema can play in shaping culture and awareness. The recognition of films as a medium for joy, reform, historical preservation, and inspiration for nation-building is a testament to their significance in the fabric of society.

The historical context provides, highlighting the limitations on the right to make films during the Pakistan period, underscores the importance of cultural freedom and expression. It's noteworthy that Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman played a pivotal role in granting this right and encouraging artists. His personal relationships with many artists likely contributed to a deeper understanding of the transformative power of cinema.

The acknowledgment by the head of government regarding the role of the Awami League in the development of the film industry reflects the party's commitment to fostering cultural growth and recognizing the significance of cinema in the nation's narrative. The initiatives taken by the Awami League government, especially after coming to power after 21 years, underscore the party's dedication to supporting the film sector.

The declaration of the film industry as an official industry, with the subsequent provision of similar facilities as other industries, is a significant step toward acknowledging the economic and cultural contributions of the film sector.

The challenges facing the film industry, as you've outlined, are indeed complex and multi-faceted. While the government has made efforts to support the industry, the difficulties in restoring the golden age of cinema suggest that additional strategies may be needed.

Audience Engagement and Outreach: Engaging with the audience through surveys, feedback mechanisms, and outreach programs can provide insights into preferences and expectations. Understanding the audience's needs and tailoring strategies accordingly can help in building a sustainable and vibrant film culture.

In summary, a comprehensive and collaborative approach involving industry stakeholders, government support, and audience engagement is necessary to overcome the challenges facing the film industry. By addressing issues related to content, infrastructure, and changing entertainment landscapes, the industry can work towards reclaiming its golden age and ensuring its continued relevance in the cultural fabric of the nation.

Increasing the maximum grant for full-length feature films from Tk 75 lakh to Tk 1 crore is a suggestion that aligns with the need to accommodate the rising costs associated with high-quality and expansive film projects. Historical films, in particular, often require meticulous attention to detail, elaborate set designs, and advanced production techniques, all of which contribute to higher production costs.

The writer is a film hero


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