Nawab Ali Mia bought Bijoy Talkies – a popular cinema hall in Netrokona city – in 1963 and changed its name to Hasna Talkies. Being motivated by the booming film business, he built another cinema hall named Hiramon in the city's Court Station area in 1970.
There are hardly any elderly people in Netrokona who have not watched a film in these two cinema halls. However, many youths have never been to a hall, which reflects the dying state of cinema halls in Bangladesh.
Nineteen of the 20 cinema halls in Netrokona have been shut down. Some of them do not exist at all anymore. Only Hiramon is operating, but only barely. It is closed most of the time. Sheikh Sultan Topu, son of Abdul Kadir manages the cinema hall.
Hayder Jahan Chowdhury, an elderly resident of the city's Mokterpara area, said, "During the Pakistan era, Hindi, Urdu and even Kolkata's Bangla films were screened in the cinema halls of Netrokona. Every day there were four shows with a full audience. There was a long queue of people in front of the ticket counters."
When this correspondent went to the Hiramon cinema hall recently, he found only 50-60 people in the 700-seat hall. Most of the audience were from the low-income group. Women do not go to the cinema hall.
The cinema boom was not just in Netrokona city, it was booming in Mohanganj upazila as well. There was competition among the Rajmahol, Dilshad, Mitali and Kongkon cinema halls in screening recently released films. All those four halls have been shut down.
At present, Rajmahol is a community centre while Dilshad is a warehouse. The other two do not exist anymore. The situation is the same for other cinema halls in Purbodhala, Kalmakander, Barhatta, Kendua, Rampur, Durgapur, Modon, Purbodhala, Hugla Bazar, Atpara and Mongolshiddho in the district.
Sheikh Sultan Topu, manager of the Hiramon cinema hall, said the film industry is shrinking and people do not want to go to cinema halls any more.
"The film business has been shrinking since the CD and the VCD were introduced. Besides, people can watch a film at home by the grace of the internet, satellite channels, mobile phones and other technology. Moreover, after a film is released, its pirated copies are immediately available everywhere," he said.
The Hiramon cinema hall is kept operational with the help of a production company that takes a portion of the profit. Some art films and India-Bangladesh joint production films attract an audience. The audience increases during the two Eids, he added.
Shafiqul Islam, a grade-12 student at Abu Abbas Degree College, said he has gone to the cinema hall twice to watch Aynabaji and Monpura. He would go to the cinema hall again if they screen such types of art films.
Nourin Akhter, a graduate student at Netrokona Government College, said she has never watched a film in a cinema hall.
"Once we planned to go to the cinema hall with my female friends, but my family did not agree because the environment in the cinema hall is not good," she said. She later got a CD of the film and watched it on a computer at home, she added.
Like Nourin, many others have never been to a cinema hall. But, two decades ago, watching films was one of the most popular forms of entertainments. All the cinema halls became full for the evening shows. Sometimes they ran out of tickets at the counter and people had to buy tickets from the black market. Seeing a show once only could not satisfy many movie-buffs.
Mostafizur Rahman, district council secretary of Bangladesh Udichi Shilpigoshthi thinks that vulgarism has put off many people from going to cinema halls.
Vulgarity increased in Bangla movies after the 1990s. Many movies were substandard and indecent. As a result, many conservative people, including females, turned away from watching movies in cinema halls," he said.
Some good movies are made even now, but the environment in cinema halls is not good enough to attract a decent audience, he added.