Impact of Corona Pandemic on Bangladeshi Film Industry Saeed Khan Shagor
The coronavirus has trapped people all over the world. In this pandemic, it can well be said that almost all the film industries of the world including Hollywood, Bollywood, Tollywood, Dhallywood have literally collapsed away. Hollywood has been relying on various streaming apps, including Netflix for some time now, but it is also being affected. Like all other industries in the country, the coronavirus has had a harsh impact on film industry in Bangladesh. Although trials of the coronavirus vaccine have begun in several places, ideas about when Bangladesh and the rest of the world will be able to recover from the pandemic are still uncertain. However, the film industry in Bangladesh has already come to a standstill for a long time.
Movies that have been completed before corona pandemic in Bollywood are being released online. There is no special vigorous shouting at the box office. All production work is also stopped in Tollygunge. The condition of Dhallywood is relatively more deplorable. Neither old accomplished works are being released, nor the new shooting or studio work with huge crew are being done spontaneously. Actress Sadika Parvin Popy, Eamin Haque Bobby, Zeenat Barkatullah, actress Toma Mirza, director Masud Hasan Ujjal and several others were infected by coronavirus. Although they all recovered, producer Mozammel Haque Sarker and director Aftab Khan Tulu couldn’t survive the formidable claws of COVID -19.
There are several films awaiting release after completion and formalities. Due to the outbreak of coronavirus, their release date has been postponed for indefinite period. The release of Bangladeshi films mostly depends on Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha and Pahela Boishakh. Although these three festivals have already been celebrated without any zeal, no one can say exactly when it will be possible to release these films. The movie ‘Unoponcaash Baatash’ directed by Masud Hasan Ujjal won the hearts of the audience even before its release through its trailer and musics. Though it was supposed to be released in March, it was delayed due to COVID – 19. ‘Shosurbari Zindabad 2″, a film produced by RTV, was supposed to be released on the occasion of Valentine’s Day. The release date was later postponed to March. It also had to be postponed due to the announcement of closure of theaters. ‘Bishwasundari’ directed by Chayanika Chowdhury and starring Siam and Pori Moni was supposed to be released on March 16. But inspite of the pandemic situation, that film with two mesmerizing songs ‘Tui Ki Amar Hobi Re’ and ‘Sundar Manush’ has also fallen into uncertainty. Shaheen Sumon has directed the movie ‘Bidrohi’ starring Shakib Khan and Bubli. Although this film with a budget of around two and a half crore rupees was supposed to hit the box office, but for now all the plans have been thwarted.
Not even a slightest work was done in BFDC till June. Although shooting has started in a limited range from early July, it was not all good. According to film connoisseurs, the company is facing a loss of around Rs 500 crore. So far, no measures have been taken to commence shooting in accordance with proper hygiene rules. Again, a large shooting complex is being constructed on the 3rd and 4th floors of the FDC under government patronage. Construction of complex and hotel is going on about 94 COTTA land. The 15-storey building has several shooting floors. Instead of bringing any good vibes, this construction brought a negative effect. The sound of hammers is now floating around this place which was always full of lighting, frames and cameras.
The directors and producers are not in a good state either. Shahidul Alam, general secretary of the Bangladesh Film Producers and Distributors Association, said “Because of COVID -19, many producers and directors have been forced to stop shooting in the middle of their projects. As a result, production cost is constantly increasing. Even after getting the censor certificate, many films are still waiting to be released. Investments on them are also stuck behind.” These few sentences seem to reflect the current state of the industry. Hope still remains though. The post-production work of the movie ‘Rickshaw Girl’ directed by Amitabh Reza Chowdhury was left. All in all, the movie would have been ready for the festival in 10-12 days. But everything became shattered in this pandemic period. Such a picture can be said to be the same for almost all directors & producers. Many producers are trying to start the production work of the new project by leaving the old project as it was. some have already started script development, idea sharing, plot construction etc with the help of Zoom or other meeting sites.
Freelancers and independent cinematographers are suffering the most in misery and uncertainty. Most of these emerging independent filmmakers are students or just graduated. They had to run their family relying on cinematography. Many of them used to pay for their education as well. These types of filmmakers usually tried to attract the attention of producers or sponsors with their small work or showing their skills or presenting a portfolio. In these arrangements, these meetings had to be completed in person. They are not getting any client’s project in online meetings or phone calls due to lack of special identity. On the other hand, there is not much opportunities to get special professional identity in Bangladesh for the rest of the film world except the awardees. As a result, no bank is willing to give them a loan at this time. In such a situation, almost a whole generation of filmmakers are thinking of changing their profession in order to survive. We cannot but say that it will not be so pleasant for the film arena of this country. The coalition of 18 film-centric organizations sought financial incentives of Tk 500 crore from the government. Even if it is given, it is needless to say that this crisis will take a long-term form.
The remuneration of many artists still unpaid. Meanwhile, they are not being able to get involved in new projects. Some even didn’t get the wages after finishing their works. Although some people are trying to create networking with virtual or personal identity, but the response isn’t satisfying. There is no betterment of signing a contract for a new project without a direct meeting of the artists under bottom of the pipeline. However, misery has fallen on the heads of those new artists due to this pandemic. They are living in the midst of a terrible uncertainty about their career or future. It is also wrong to think that once the situation is better again, they will have a contract for a new project. There a question mark remains everywhere.
The situation is even more deplorable for the film crews and FDC employees. The number of people who have become unemployed since the shooting stopped should not be less than ten thousand. Almost everyone is making complaints, the essence of which is ‘I have not been paid for a long time, it is becoming difficult to survive’. Cinematographers have to go through a lot of process to get paid. The organizations that they’d work with have to depend on the agencies. The client first pays the agency, the agency later pays the money to the production house. The clients who are sitting at the head of this long chain of wages are not being able to pay the full amount on time due to justifiable reasons. As a result, everyone involved in this shackle is being harmed. Even then, considering the media crew or artists or others, the food suppliers or other FDC workers who have to make a living from hand to mouth are left out of the discussion. The government recently gave a grant of Tk 6 crore as last month’s expenses and Eid bonus. But after distributing the money to everyone, the figure became quite small. It is easy to understand that life cannot be carried on in the sense of those small numbers. Again, the chances of them getting a grant are slim. They all want to return to work to survive. But who will guarantee security?
Movies are not just about heroes and heroines. This is a concerted effort. Every movie involves livelihood of so many people. Coronavirus outbreak has severely affected almost every person in this industry. Khorshed Alam Khosru, president of the Bangladesh Film Producers-Distributors Association, said, “Even if other businesses are able to return to their former state, it will not be easy at all to make up for this huge loss to the Bangladeshi film industry.” Every cinema hall has been closed since March. But the hall owners each have to pay the rent, different bills and staff salaries. This figure is not small at all. But in the last 5-6 months these cinema halls have not earned a single penny. Iftekhar Uddin Nawshad, owner of Madhumita Hall and leader of the Cinema Hall Owners Association, said, “I was running the hall with the rent received from other units of the building. But from a humanitarian point of view, I stopped renting that unit. I have no idea what is going to happen next.” The same scenario, the same story is seen in all the cinema halls of Bangladesh. According to Mia Alauddin, vice-president of the Bangladesh Film Exhibitors Association, the hall owners have lost an average of Tk 16 lakh per day. Shakib Khan’s ‘Shahenshah’ was last seen in the halls, released March 7. Then there were Arefin Shuvo’s ‘Mission Extreme’, Siam’s ‘Shan’, Ananta Jalil’s ‘Deen-The Day’, Dev starring ‘Commando’, Imtiaz Barshon and Sharlin Farzana starring ‘Unpanchash Batas’ were to be released. Among 1,200 halls, only a little more than 60 halls are open now in Bangladesh. In this dire situation, Corona seems to be nailing the last nail in the coffin of the film industry.
In this scenario, film connoisseurs are talking about starting work through alternatives. Amitabh Reza is currently sorting out his work through the Zoom app. Masud Hasan Ujjal is also thinking of releasing his ‘Unoponchash Bataash’ through an alternative platform. It is sure to say that the Corona outbreak is not going away for the time being, and the huge blow that the film industry has faced will not be offset by the Corona or Post-Corona, creating an alternative in a haste out of its conventional system. But there is no substitute for moving to new jobs and new mediums at the moment to break the long-standing fatigue or keep everyone in the industry focused on work. Movies and series are being released all over the world and even in our neighboring countries through various online streaming apps. Everyone is also taking advantage of that. Netflix, Bingo, Hoichoi etc. have captured the market well. Bioscope, Iflix etc. are also trying to create work in Bangladesh. With the release on the streaming apps, many people are expecting that if the pictures awaiting release are played in the apps as much as possible, the budget will probably come up. Of course, there are also opponent comments. Many film buffs do not want to rule out the possibility of losing the originality of the movie in streaming apps as there is no censorship. Streaming apps have also sparked controversy with some of the recently released web series. So, the question still remains.
2020 is the most terrible crisis in the history of the film industry in Bangladesh. There is nothing but wailing everywhere. For the time being, there is only one solution to this loss. Pulling up the rein of Coronavirus which is becoming an unbeatable peril as the days go on. Probably after losing many more, this impoverishment will come to its end. Then the FDC will be overwhelmed again, with these losing stories, with the annoyance of light-camera-action and NG shots.