Upohar Cinema Limited, the last-standing cinema hall of Rajshahi city, closed its doors to cinephiles last night rather unceremoniously, with sparsely-seated screenings of Shakib Khan-starrer horror thriller "Naqaab".
“On the last day, we sold 70-75 tickets for matinee and evening shows,” Tapan Kumar Das, manager of the cinema hall, told The Daily Star.
According to Abdul Momin, councillor of ward-13, the owner of the cinema hall recently leased out the property to a group of developers from Chapainawabganj, and the builders would construct a multi-storeyed complex in its place. “I learnt it from the developers,” he said.
Sajid Hossain Chowdhury, owner of the cinema hall, could not be reached for comments despite repeated attempts.
Protesting the closure, cultural organisations and personalities of the town, including eminent litterateur Hasan Azizul Haque and lawmaker Fazle Hossain Badsha took to the streets and requested that it not be shut down.
Locals formed human chains at Shaheb Bazar on Sunday and in front of Upohar Cinema on Monday.
Rajshahi city had four cinema halls, and 50 others were in nine upazilas of the district in the 1990s, Ahsan Kabir Liton, president of Rajshahi Film Society said.
In 2000, the total number of cinema halls went down to 25. Three cinema halls of the city and 20 cinema halls of the upazilas were closed or demolished between 2002 and 2011.
Rajshahi New Market is situated in front of Upohar, and the area is known after it -- Upohar Cinema Hall crossing.
Upohar, with a seating capacity of over 1,000, began operations in April 1985 through screening of "Anyay Abichar", an Indo-Bangladesh joint venture film directed by Shakti Samanta. Rozina, Mithun Chakrabarty, and Utpal Dutt shared the screen in the film, said hall employee Zahangir Alam.
The hall was popular among the students, film lovers and even low-income groups for its reasonably-priced tickets, Ahsan Kabir Liton said.
“It's harsh to hear that there will be no cinema halls in Rajshahi city, where celebrated filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak once strolled,” litterateur Hasan Azizul Haque lamented.
The areas near Kolpona, Smriti and Bornali cinema halls are still called by the name of the halls, but the halls themselves do not exist anymore.
In places of Kolpona and Aloka (later renamed Smriti cinema hall) in the city, owners constructed multi-storey buildings for commercial purposes, while the site for the other, Bornali Cinema Hall, is still unused due to legal complexities.
Cinema hall owners think in economic terms, and they are closing the halls one after another as the country's films are not being able to draw viewers, Rajshahi divisional coordinator of Bangladesh Gram Theater Association Kamarullah Sarker said.
“Upohar hall was not facing the problem. It has viewers. I along with friends watched many shows of good films the hall had brought,” he said.
Rajshahi mayor AHM Khairuzzaman Liton also condemned the decision of closing the cinema hall.
Talking to The Daily Star, he said a large fraction of city dwellers and people of other areas of the district would be deprived from a source of recreation once the cinema hall is closed.
The mayor said he would encourage private entrepreneurs to construct a modern cineplex in the city soon.
JAAZ MULTIMEDIA EAGER TO OPERATE UPOHAR
Meanwhile, Jaaz Multimedia, one of the leading producers and distributors of mainstream films in the country, has shown interest in operating the cinema hall.
“We have placed an offer to the owners of Upohar cinema hall to run it,” Abdul Aziz, chairman of Jaaz Multimedia, told The Daily Star.
Aziz added that his company is currently running operations of 23 cinema halls in the country.