How censorship is hampering the Bangladesh film industry

Collage of a person cutting a film reel.
Illustration: Fatima Jahan Ena

After the pandemic, Bangladesh's film industry has managed to release multiple feature-length and short films that have seen success both on a national and international level. The industry seems to be growing at a never-before-seen pace, reaching audiences it once would have struggled to find. Despite everything, there is a giant obstacle that seems to stop the industry from growing as it potentially could: the Bangladesh Film Censor Board.

All movies deserve to have the freedom to tell a variety of stories given no explicitly illegal or morally abhorrent activity is happening underfoot. No matter what community these voices may belong to, there should be no barrier to having their stories heard. Not only does this help Bangladesh's film industry attract cinema lovers by diversifying voices, but it also helps spread these stories to an international audience.

For instance, My Bicycle written and directed by Aung Rakhine, is an independent film made entirely by non-professional filmmakers that saw significant international acclaim. The film saw screenings in festivals across the world, and yet never had a proper commercial release in Bangladesh because of bans placed by the film censor board. 

Examples like these are common, as the film censor board tends to take archaic measures to prevent certain stories from ever being visible to the public. This is simply not healthy, neither artistically, nor from a business perspective as these very movies that the censor board tries so hard to block are the ones that end up receiving massive critical acclaim and commercial success worldwide. When you have films made about your country that are celebrated everywhere except in your own nation, you have clearly failed to give space to stories that demand being heard.

Another victim of the film censor board's outdated measures would be Mostofa Sarwar Farooki's Saturday Afternoon, a joint production of Bangladesh, Germany, and Russia. A rare case of multiple international publishers and producers choosing to work on Bangladeshi cinema, this was en route to make history. The movie went ahead to win awards in France, Japan, and Russia. In Bangladesh, it was banned from releasing for three years until numerous protests by the director and various netizen groups cleared its release. However, at the time of writing this article, the movie has been called for re-examination, further delaying its release.

The fact that any movie has to go through so many hurdles to tell the story they want to tell will never make for a healthy scene for films in this country.

At the very least, the business of it all should at least make the censor board think otherwise. Especially in today's age, where people flock to the cinemas, making more movies available is simply beneficial for all parties. Filmmakers go to great lengths to tell stories about certain topics with utmost importance. It is completely natural for some of these films to be regarded as not safe for audiences of all ages. If the censor board continues to take drastic measures in banning their release instead of having open communication with the directors or having a proper age restriction system, the growth of films in this country will come to a standstill. Stories demand to live in the minds of the viewers.

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