There were 51 cinema halls in Tangail in the 1990s. But only five managed to survive while 46 could not due to lack of audience.
The owners still think it is possible to keep the business alive if movies with engaging stories and good production value are made and digitized cinema halls can be built with government assistance.
The cinema hall business in Tangail started with Raushan Talkies built at a secluded corner of the then small municipal town in 1950 by Lebu Chawdhury.
Following his footsteps, other movie halls opened in 12 upazilas. The number stood at 51 in the 1990s.
But within just 10 to 15 years, 46 cinema halls closed down due to various problems such as lack of audience, movies with poor production value, and losses.
Despite these crises, the owners of the five cinema halls -- one hall named Malancha in Tangail town, two in Nagarpur Sadar upazila, one in Madhupur Sadar upazila and one at Balla in Kalihati upazila -- have kept the dwindling business alive in the district. But they do not know how long they can continue.
Inspired by Lebu Chowdhury, Montu Miah of the town's Dighulia area established the most attractive cinema hall of the town on Main Road in 1964. He named the hall Rupobani, the second theatre in the district.
In 1973, Lebu Chowdhury, lifetime president of the hall owners' platform in the district, built his second cinema hall (third in the district) named Ruposhi on his own land at Battala in Tangail town. Later, he built three more cinema halls in Delduar, Mirzapur and Dhanbari upazilas.
In 1975, Chhana Miah of Adalatpara built the fourth cinema hall Malancha in the middle of Adalatpara and Thanapara while Afzal Chowdhury of the same area constructed a hall named Keya the next year.
Later, 46 more cinema halls were established at different places one by one till 1990s.
The business was profitable till 2000. The halls used to screen five shows daily from 10:00am to 1:00am.
There were five sitting arrangements inside the halls -- Front Stall, Stall, Real Stall, DC and Box. Moreover, a separate sitting arrangement was there for female audiences. The prices of tickets depended on which seat the audience chose for enjoying the movie.
Following the booming business, cinema hall workers' union was formed in the district.
Currently, Malancha holds four shows -- at 10:00am, 1:30pm, 4:30pm and 7:30pm -- with almost zero audience.
There are three sperate arrangements for the audience -- Real Stall, DC and Box -- and the prices of the tickets are Tk 50, Tk 60 and Tk 70 respectively.
During a recent visit to Malancha Cinema Hall, this correspondent found that the hall was showing the movie 'Rangbaj Badsha', featuring two actors from Tangail district -- Manna and Amit Hasan. The film has been rented at Tk 6,000 for seven days.
Some former cinema hall workers said 46 cinema halls in the district were closed between 2001 and 2015.
Jahangir Hossain, a tea stall owner in the town, said he used to watch movies every week. "The stories of the movies and the actors, actresses at that time were good. I also used to re-watch some movies."
"But as the quality of movies started dropping… I have stopped going to the movie halls," he said.
"But, in future, if movies with quality stories and good artistes come, I'll go back to the cinema hall and watch the movie," he added.
Jahid Hasan of Sabalia in the town said he stopped going to halls after the death of his favourite actor Manna and the demolition of cinema halls.
Ganesh Chandra Sarkar, then director of Keya Cinema Hall and general secretary of the district cinema hall workers' union, said audiences are not going to the halls as they can watch any movie on mobile phones now.
Dulal Chowdhury, son of late Lebu Chowdhury and the then owner of Raushan Talkies and Ruposhi cinema halls, said, "After the death of my father in 2002, we had to shut the business due to huge losses."
Raushan Talkies had to be closed in 2006 due to cancellation of land leased from Coronation Dramatic Club at Nirala intersection in the town. Ruposhi Cinema Hall was shut down in 2011 due to loss, Dulal added.
Jahidur Rahman, who is running Malancha -- renting it from its owner -- said the journey of the cinema hall started in 1974 with the film "Jighangsha". Business was good then.
Jahid said he has to spend at least Tk 2000 per month from his pocket to keep the hall open. But he does not know how long he will be able to run the business. "I am still unable to pay the hall rent, electricity bill and staff salaries," Jahid said.
But still they think that the business will turn around if the cinema halls are upgraded with modern technologies as well as good facilities with government support and if the audiences get quality movies.