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Big-screen release of films hangs in the balance ahead of Eid

Pandemic poses serious threat to filmmakers, hall owners 
Shakirul Islam
17 Jul 2021 22:19:24 | Update: 17 Jul 2021 23:35:36
Big-screen release of films hangs in the balance ahead of Eid
Balaka Cinema Hall in the capital's New Market area wears a deserted look as seen in this photo taken on Friday, July 16. -Photo: Rajib Dhar

With the cinema halls drawing the curtains and productions delayed amid the nationwide lockdown, the fresh surge of coronavirus infection has jeopardised the release of a number of big-budget films, adding to the woes of the already-struggling entertainment industry.

Despite the fact that many producers have to loosen their purse strings just to comply with the health protocols while making films during the pandemic, they are now in a fix whether the films could be released or not at all.

Decision over the release of a handful of much-anticipated films like ‘Mission Extreme’, ‘Mission Extreme 2’, ‘Operation Sundarban’, ‘Jinn’, ‘Antaratma’, ‘Casino’, ‘Bidrohi’, ‘Dhaka 2040’, ‘Bikkhov’, ‘Ananda Ashru’, ‘Poran’, ‘Din-The Day’, ‘Beauty Circus’, ‘Secret Agent’ and ‘Adventure of Sundarban’ could not be made yet whereas post-production works of many films have been suspended owing to the situation triggered by the pandemic.

‘Operation Sundarban’ director Dipankar Dipon, who has got three of his films halted by the pandemic, told The Business Post, “We want the audiences to enjoy the film in cinema halls. At this moment, what can we do rather than waiting until the situation improves. OTT and movie theatres can go hand in hand. It’s not conflicting, but the over-the-top platforms cannot be an alternative for the big-budget films, which are meant for theatre release.” 

As the number of cinema halls shutting down their operations has increased amidst the pandemic, Dipon is fearful about the possibility of getting their investment back by releasing films only at a limited number of halls.

Director Anonno Mamun, who managed to release the Shakib Khan starrer Nabab LLB at only 16 theatres countrywide in June, considers himself one of the worst sufferers during the pandemic. 

“Nabab LLB ran only for 2-3 days after its release on June 25. The nationwide restrictions were imposed from June 28. The film did very well during the 2-3 days of its initial release and could have done something really good if the situation allowed. We were supposed to release the film at 100 theatres, but we ended up releasing it at 16 cinema halls only”, Mamun told this correspondent.

A poster collage of the films 'Mission Extreme', 'Shaan' and 'Bidrohi'.

He has paused Nirab Hossain and Rafiath Rashid Mithila starrer ‘Omanush’, which was supposed to be released during this Eid-ul-Azha. “It was not possible to do dubbing and other post-production works amid the lockdown,” said Mamun who have got four of his films postponed due to Covid-19, and later managed to release one of them only at two branches of Star Cineplex in Dhaka.

“On the other hand, production costs have increased to make quality contents to meet audiences’ expectation. A producer will feel motivated to invest more for creative stuffs only if it is ensured that he/she gets enough in return to plow it back into the next venture,” said Mamun adding, only the government funds cannot save this industry. 

Asked about such uncertainty, Awlad Hossain Ujjal, general secretary at Bangladesh Film Exhibitors’ Association, said, “Life comes first. People are now afraid to go to the cinema halls. In fact, there is no hall business now and our staffers are sitting idle at home.”

Urging the government to extend support to the hall workers on the occasion of the Eid festival, he went on to say, “The Information Ministry through the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) gave the hall workers Tk 2,500 per person (five workers from each hall) during the Eid-ul-Fitr. Now, we request the government to help our workers on this occasion of Eid-ul-Azha as well. We have already submitted an application to the ministry in this regard.”

Regarding the steps taken to recover from the Covid-19 blow, he added, “We earlier proposed for interest-free loans for the hall businessmen and new entrepreneurs at a meeting of ECNEC. Considering the plea, the Prime Minister at the ECNEC meeting held around six months ago proposed Tk 1,000-crore stimulus package which was afterward issued as a circular by the Bangladesh Bank three months thereafter.”

“Afterwards, we requested the central bank for interest-free loans for regular hall businessmen and at 2 per cent interest for the entrepreneurs, as cinema hall owners will be able to return the money only after making profits. If the real hall businessmen get interest-free loans, can renovate the halls and run quality films, only then the industry can experience a quick rebound,” he further added.

According to industry insiders, the number of cinema halls has now decreased to 100-150 across the country, of which only 100 are mainly active and some 10-12 halls in Dhaka have suspended operation during the pandemic.

Shakirul Islam