As the film industry fades

Rushad Faridi | Update:

A poster of a Bangla movie on a wall in New Market area, Dhaka. Photo: CollectedThe Eastern Mollika shopping complex on Elephant Road in the capital brings to mind Mollika cinema hall that stood here once. It also reminds me of Gulistan cinema hall and the Ananda hall at Farmgate.

My uncle took me to one of these halls when I was a child to watch 'The Guns of Navarone' that starred Gregory Peck. I can also remember watching 'Omar Sharif' starring Wasim and Jashim.

The ailing state of Bangla cinema began in the 90s. One after another, cinema halls were shut down. A shopping mall has sprung up where Mollika cinema hall once stood. Gulistan cinema hall faced the same fate. Ananda and Chhanda cinema halls at Farmgate are limping along somehow.

In the beginning of the 90s, there were some 1,500 cinema halls in the country and by 1998 this dropped to 967. The 500 movie theatres which shut down may have lost out to the onset of cable TV.

Around the same time, CNN began experimental broadcast here and the number of cable TV channels began increasing too.

Computers, CD and DVD players became readily available. Viewers started watching movies at home instead of going to the halls.They thus got easy access to foreign movies. 

Hall owners began to count losses. No longer willing to restructure the movie theatres or run the losing business, they started demolishing the halls to raise shopping complexes instead.

Industry persons say, people do not go to the halls as these are in a pitiful condition, dirty, suffocating, squalid, and the air conditioners do not work.

This may not be quite accurate. The viewers are uninterested because there is a lack of quality movies. There are some talented makers here and they have done some good work, but they are very few in number.

About 50-60 movies are made every year in the country. Few among these become popular. How can the film industry survive with this few 'hits'? It has already been proved that we lack the ability to make an adequate number of good films essential to draw in a huge number of viewers.

What is the way forward?

Nearly half a century has passed since our independence, but the film industry is not self-reliant as yet. For most of this period, Indian movies were not allowed to be screened here. Lately, some joint productions and Kolkata movies are imported, but this has been met with demonstrations, sometimes violent, from the industry wallas.

We can watch latest Hollywood movies in our cinema halls, but cannot watch the Bollywood movies of our neighbouring country. Yet Bollywood movies are running quite successfully in many countries.

Cultural aggression is shown as the reason for opposing Hindi movies. But, at the same time, Hindi movies are available across the country along with Hindi songs heard so often on the streets as they are so common on cable TV, internet and, YouTube. 

A country's art and culture has to be cultivated if it is to be preserved. Cultural aggression can be combatted by the development of one's own culture. Unless we do so, it is useless to deprive the viewers of good quality products, even from outside. Ultimately, the viewers themselves will decide on their choice of entertainment.

On the occasion of our national film day on 3 April, I would like to say that it cannot be healthy to avoid international competition on grounds that our film industry is still in is its inception.

Fifty years have passed without competition, but has this brought about any tangible development? Hiding our heads in the sand like an ostrich won't solve the problem. We have to ask ourselves the reasons for not progressing and how long the film industry will remain moribund.

*Rushad Faridi is a teacher of economics department at Dhaka University. He can be contacted at rushad.16@gmail.com .

This column, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.

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