Long gone are the golden days of the Bangladeshifilm industry. Cinemas have also long ceased to be places of family entertainment. Yet 174 of these across the country held on,attracting some audience, especially on occasions such as the Pahela Baishakh, Eid and Durga Puja.
Then came the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent prolonged countrywide shutdown.
Like all other businesses, cinemas have also been closed since March 16 when the shutdown began.
Although some business establishments, offices, courts, etc. have reopened on a limited scale after the shutdown was lifted, cinemas are still under lock and key.
The owners think it is risky to open up because there will be huge crowds and most of the moviegoers will not follow social distancing rules or health guidelines.
But this has led to unemployment in the industry; more than a thousand cinema hall employees across the country have lost their jobs to the pandemic.
Mia Alauddin, advisor of the Bangladesh Motion Picture Exhibitors Association, told The Business Standard, "On an average, around 10 staff work in each cinema hall. Prior to the shutdown, around 100 cinema halls were active in the business. More than a thousand individuals were employed in cinema halls in different positions."
He said that all these people have, unfortunately, lost their jobs as the hall owners can no longer afford to continue to pay them.
"The situation wasn't any better before the shutdown anyway; it was difficult to run operations before.Still the owners were subsidising movie operations, which is almost impossible now."
Alauddin added that most of the hall owners have sent their employees on furlough.
He could not, however, divulge how much the cinemas earned every month. But during the shutdown, hall owners still had to pay utility bills and other expenses.
"In three months, cinema hall owners faced financial losses of about TK50 crore. Like everybody else, they too are dependent on the government for recovering from the financial losses," he added.
Alauddin and a few cinema hall owners stated that without a stimulus package, it would not be possible for them to continue to run this business.
However, cinemas have been experiencing a crisis of audiences for many years, and numbers have gradually decreased since 2000. Many cinema halls have been torn down to convert into multi-storey buildings and shopping complexes.
Sources said even if cinemas are allowed to reopen, more than 50 theatres will still be out of the game because those have been shut down for good.
The famous Abhisar cinema at Tikatuli in the capital will not reopen. Most of those outside Dhaka are unlikely to reopen.
Sarwar Bhuiyan Dipu, president of the Hall Booking Agents Association, has four cinemas in Chandpur, Matlab, Feni and Joydevpur. He said he cannot open any of these in the future even if the Covid-19 situation improves.
Madhumita and Balaka in Dhaka city may open, some industry insiders said.
However, Madhumita's managing director Iftekhar Ahmed Nowshad said, "I am not sure if I will open the hall because I cannot make profits anymore.
"The crisis of good films is a problem," said Iftekhar, also a former member of the censor board. "If there are no good films to run, there is no us saving the hall."
At present, Nowshad runs the hall with subsidies from other businesses.
"Madhumita still exists because of its legacy.I cannot say what will happen in the future," he added.
Mia Alauddin said cinemas could make good business only during the two Eids. Also, films featuring actor Shakib Khan generate some revenue– some cinemas that have closed can be opened to run on such occasions.
"It will be very difficult to make up for the damage caused to cinemas and the whole movie business since March 16. We have told the government we need incentives,otherwise most of the closed cinemas will not open even if the situation returns to normal," said Alauddin.
With many cinema owners having announced shutdowns, it is not yet possible to say how many will reopen once allowed. "But the number will be between 40 and 50," he said.
Alauddin said at least 25 district towns do not have cinemas any more.
There are no cinemas in Narsingdi, Brahmananbaria, Cox's Bazar, Sunamganj, Noakhali, Munshiganj, Barguna, Bagerhat, Narail, Panchagarh, Meherpur, Jhenaidah, Nilphamari, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Natore, Rajshahi, Pirojpur, Jhalakathi, Jamalpur, Bandarban, Khagrachhari, Rangamati, and Gaibandha.
The situation in other district towns is also very fragile because the audience has shrunk significantly.
Khorshed Alam Khosru, president of the Bangladesh Film Producers and Distributors Association said that to save the film industry, their organisation had appealed to the government for financial incentives for 100 films.
"We asked for financial assistance for the affected producers and cinema owners. Without incentives, the industry will not be able to revive."
Meanwhile, with hopes of saving the movie industry, shooting of films resumed on June 5 at the Film Development Corporation.
Maintaining health guidelines, Shamim Ahmed Rony shot his upcoming film Bikkhob (Protest).
But the director does not yet know where his film will be screened.