Is the lockdown another death sentence for cinema halls?
Cinema hall owners have always talked about how the heydays are long gone, and how they now struggle to operate amidst a dwindling number of cinemagoers. However, the Covid-19 pandemic brought upon a new low in the already struggling industry.
The scenario today would have been unthinkable at the time when going to cinema halls was a special occasion for families, groups of friends and individuals – excited for the next release by Nayak Raj Razzak, Farooque, Babita and Salman Shah. At one time, "Beder Meye Jochona" ran in cinema halls for years, so did "Noyon Moni".
Even a decade ago, "Monpura" brought hope that things would get better. Another Chanchal Chowdhury gem, "Aynabaji" was also indicative of change a few years ago.
Unfortunately, the pandemic and the renewed lockdown has left things looking dire.
"No one will understand the pain that we are going through", says Mia Alauddin, the Vice President of Bangladesh Film Distributors' Association. Mia is also the owner of Narayanganj's Sathi Cinema Hall. "We are struggling to merely survive."
The association had a meeting with government officials last July, and had received some monetary help. "Thanks to our honourable Prime Minister, we were able to give BDT 2500 to 5 staff members of each halls during that time. However, this lockdown means we will face tough times again", says Alauddin, who says that not even 50 percent of the pre-pandemic audience show up to theatres now.
"We have kept the halls closed for now, even though we did not receive a formal notice to close down. We simply cannot keep up with the losses. However, the 11 workers in my hall are still getting their pay."
Some cinema halls, which were supposed to open after the first wave of Covid, did not see the light of opening at all – among which renowned theatres like Jonaki, Modhumita and Balaka also make the list.
One of Dhaka's oldest theatres is Azad Cinema Hall, which has stood its ground for 91 years. However, it is like a light that is about to extinguish. "I do not really know how much longer we will survive," says Paritosh Roy, the accountant of Azad Cinema Hall. He has spent the majority of his life in this establishment. "We have tried to display old films to curb our losses, but it did not help much".
Madhumita Hall has been a landmark establishment in Bangladeshi Cinema, with many in the industry having fond memories of going to see films there. However, it is also on life support. "For how long will I have to pay the staff out of my own pocket?", says Iftekhar Uddin Nowshad, the owner of Madhumita. "We will note the situation until Eid, after which we might have to take a tough decision," he says.
Mesbah Uddin, the manager of Star Cineplex, says that actions have to be taken quickly to save Bangladeshi halls. "The experience of going to a hall and watching a movie is incomparable. However, if we cannot save our halls during these dire times, there might not be any cinema halls left to visit."
Like all sectors, arguably even more troubled is the state of Bangladeshi cinema halls during the pandemic. An intervention from the government is surely needed to save them from extinction.
Translated by: Sadi Mohammad Shahnewaz