The entertainment industry in Bangladesh is taking a beating from the coronavirus pandemic as all production activities have come to a halt amid the ongoing shutdown.
The entire industry is in dire straits and it does not see the light at the end of the tunnel either, industry insiders claim.
The dreaded pandemic is feared to worsen further in the next one month or so – meaning the plague will take a heavy toll on the industry's business centring this Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of this month.
This will affect the coming Eid-ul-Azha season as well if the country cannot contain the disease over the next couple of months.
Under normal circumstances, the entire entertainment sector, including the film, television, and music industries, remains abuzz with activities targeting the Eid season as they make the bulk of their yearly turnover during this period. But this time around, the coronavirus pandemic has brought the sector almost to a standstill.
Left without any work, around 10,000 people involved in the television and film industries stare at a bleak future. No official estimate of the number of people working in the music industry and in theatres could be known, however.
The television industry is going to face a financial loss of Tk500 crore this Eid-Ul-Fitr as all shoots are shelved since March 22 due to the shutdown, according to an unofficial estimate of the Directors' Guild, Television Programme Producers Association of Bangladesh and The Actors' Equity – a platform of TV drama actors.
Different television channels are also worried as they do not have programmes to air during the Eid holidays.
Most of the television channels are now focusing on different programmes rather than dramas.
However, the people concerned think nothing can regain the losses caused by the shutdown. At the end of the day, everybody of the industry, including channel owners, actors, producers, and production houses, will be affected. They do not feel confident about the future.
Kamruzzzaman Babu, head of programme of Nagorik TV, told The Business Standard, "During the two Eid festivals last year, each TV channel had a turnover of Tk4 crore to Tk5 crore, which seems a distant dream this year."
The TV channels usually earn revenue from commercials for their programmes, which are aired during the Eid holiday season.
The production of television dramas has been interrupted by Covid-19.
Salauddin Lavlu, president of the Directors' Guild, said, "Usually, almost 1,000 dramas are produced ahead of Eid-Ul-Fitr and those special dramas have higher budgets."
"The production costs, alone, of those dramas were Tk30 crore," he said.
"New content is made for YouTube and various online streaming sites as well. The production costs of these contents are around Tk50 crore. The promotion of these programmes also requires a big budget. To summarize, I would say we are in for a severe financial loss," said Lavlu.
Iresh Zaker, president of Television Programme Producers Association of Bangladesh, said, "Annually, around Tk1,000 crore to Tk1,200 crore is spent to make TV dramas and a significant portion of the amount is invested for the dramas to be aired during the two Eid festivals. We do not know if we will be able to recover from this loss."
However, Iresh also had something positive to say. "Everybody needs to understand the situation. So, all of us, including sponsor companies, need to work collectively to overcome this difficult time, he said. We can make-up the losses after Eid if we work together."
Tariq Akhand, programme head of Bangla Vision, said, "TV channels of our country make money during the Eid holidays. Aside from commercials, we get endorsements from sponsor multinational companies for new dramas. This time, TV channels will be missing that revenue."
However, Arifur Rahman, programme in-charge of Maasranga TV, has not given up. He said, "We still cannot say anything about the business because we have not finalised the programme plans as yet. We will try to balance our programmes with new and old dramas. Then we shall talk to companies about branding and sponsorships."
"There is no doubt that there will be financial losses, but we cannot say anything about the amount at the moment," he added.
Filmmakers in the country also eagerly wait for the Eid season to release their movies.
Every year, the film industry of the country has a turnover of Tk20 to Tk25 crore with three to four films released during each Eid festival that usually makes up for the dull businesses during the rest of the year.
This year, "Mission Extreme," "Mon Debo Mon Nebo," "Shaan," "Deen - The Day" and "Commando," were slated for release during Eid-Ul-Fitr.
Prior to the shutdown, Shakib Khan's movie "Shahenshah" was the only significant release that came out on March 6. It was screened at over a hundred cinema halls. The cinema halls all over the country were shut down on March 18 and the closure will continue until further notice from the government.
An official, on behalf of the authorities of Blockbuster Cinemas, told the Business Standard, "We will remain closed until further notice from the government and keep posting the updates on our official Facebook page."
The official declined to put a number on the loss figure they will face because of the shutdown. "It is a huge financial loss for us as well as for the entire industry. We hope to recover from it and be back in the business soon, he said."
Meanwhile, all activities of the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation (FDC) have also come to a halt, leaving the local production crew members jobless.
Khorshed Alam Khosru, president of Bangladesh Film Producers-Distributors Association, said, "Other businesses might get back on their feet, but it will be really difficult for our film industry to recover from this loss."
China Jasim, an independent light crew member of the industry, told The Business Standard, "We are in a terrible situation. We have been without work for over a month and have not received any aid from anybody or any association. We just received Tk1 lakh from the Directors Guild-Bd."
"Independent lighting crews are in trouble. We have an association and it has 175 members. We were asked to provide our national ID cards to the government for ration cards. However, in such a short time, only around 20 to 25 people were able to submit their ID cards. I urge the media and the government to help crew members like us so that we can support our families and survive until we return to work," he said.
The music industry
The Covid-19 shutdown has hurt the music industry as well. Live concerts and shows are the main sources of income for most of the musicians, especially seasonal musicians and artists who rely on live shows. The suspension of all live shows and concerts will affect them the most.
Speaking about the current situation, Sheikh Monirul Islam Tipu, general secretary of Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (Bamba), and drummer and band leader of Warfaze, said, "Usually, no live events are held during Ramadan. Normally, we perform at various shows and there are many activities, which help us financially to celebrate Eid."
"Generally, the period from November to April is the perfect season for concerts and shows. So, all musicians are going through a financial crisis now. We cannot think of live events in this situation. It is alarming for musicians."
"A number of concerts scheduled for Warfaze were cancelled or postponed. I am sure other artistes are going through a similar situation," he said.
He added he was not sure whether there will be live concerts, phone-in live concerts on TV, or any other events after Eid.
He did not disclose the amount of revenue the music industry earned in the last one or two years from live concerts.
Popular musician Raef Al Hasan Rafa said, "I seriously do not know what is going to happen. The problem with the musicians is that we cannot ask for help.
The cultural affairs ministry or any organisation should take care of the artistes, especially, of session musicians who live on a day-to-day basis."
"Even when the shutdown is over, I am not confident enough to perform at concerts which are my or any musician's main source of income. The government should take this matter into consideration. At least, they can make a list of session musicians and provide them with aid," he added.
Rafa further urged for instrumentalists, who perform on a daily basis at various events and occasions, to be included in aid efforts.