Viewers have not been visiting halls because there are not enough new releases, while movie producers are unwilling to release new movies because there are not enough viewers
One month has passed since movie theatres were reopened, but more than half of the cinemas across the country have remained closed.
Further, the cinemas that reopened have had a very low number of customers.
Apparently the cinemas are caught in a vicious circle – viewers have not been visiting halls because there are not enough new releases, while movie producers are unwilling to release new movies because there are not enough viewers.
Only two new movies were released during the last month, while eight movies would have been released on four weekends in normal times, said people involved in the business.
The government allowed the cinemas to reopen following health guidelines from 16 October this year, after they remained closed for around seven months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As per the government's permission, around 70 out of 180 halls across the country reopened initially. The multiplexes were reopened one week later. However, many popular movie theatres like Balaka and Madhumita in the capital are still closed.
"Shahoshi Hero Alom," was released on the first day of reopening the halls. Much talked about actor Hero Alom produced and starred in the film which was released in 50 halls. Other halls screened older movies.
But neither Hero Alom nor the old films attracted audiences in the last month. The number of seats that remained empty were much higher than the number required to maintain health guidelines.
In the second week of reopening halls, Masud Hasan Ujjal's film "Unoponchash Batash" was released in multiplexes in Dhaka and Chattogram.
The number of movie watchers at cinemas increased significantly following the release of that film, but that dropped again after a week.
Chattogram Film Exhibitors' Association President Abul Hossain – who owns Cine Palace and Sugandha halls in Chattogram city – said ticket sales totalled Tk30,000-50,000, daily, in normal times at his cinema hall. But now the sales total just Tk5,000.
Sources at the Star Cineplex said their halls have around 250 seats on average, 50-60% of which were filled in normal times. Now they have to keep 40% of the seats empty which means they can accommodate 150 people, but they get only around 15 people per show.
The cineplex has 12 halls in three branches which run three showings every day. Each of these halls now sees ticket sales of Tk20,000-22,000 on average.
Star Cineplex in Dhaka took different initiatives, including offering tickets at half-price, to attract a greater audience during the last month, but those were not very effective, said Mesbah Uddin Ahmed, senior marketing manager of Star Cineplex.
"We also screened some films that were commercially successful in the past few years, but that endeavor was not very successful either," said Mesbah Uddin Ahmed.
He stated that audiences will not come to cinemas if they do not get new content. New movies must be released for there to be larger audiences.
Mesbah, Deputy Secretary of Bangladesh Film Exhibitors' Association Mia Alauddin expressed a similar opinion, but he also said many hall owners have been waiting for the distribution of the Tk1,000 crore stimulus package announced by the government.
They can take loans under the package to construct, repair or renovate their premises, but the disbursement of the funds has not started yet.
Meanwhile, movie producers said they are gauging the situation before deciding on releasing new films.
Selim Khan, a movie producer said, his company, Shapla Media, has four films – "Tungiparar Miabhai," "August 75," "Bidrohi," and "Bikkhobh," ready to be released.
He said, "I do not want to release these films immediately without observing the novel coronavirus situation. Hopefully we will release these at the beginning of next year."
"However, we have prepared an initial plan to release "Tungiparar Miabhai," this December on the occasion of the Victory Day. The rest will depend on the situation," he added.
A number of movies including "Mission Extreme," "Biswa Sundori," "Poran," "Nobab LLB," are awaiting release too. Aside from these, shooting of quite a few films have started or resumed in June this year. Directors of these movies said those will be released next year.
In this situation, hall owners are thinking of screening foreign films, particularly Indian ones, to sustain their businesses.
On condition of anonymity, one hall owner said, "We need content to run cinemas. It does not matter whether they are local or foreign films. As the local producers will not release films, we will have to import foreign ones."
He opined that Indian films, especially Bengali language movies produced in Kolkata, might attract viewers to halls.