Bangladesh was first introduced with cinema as a form of bioscope in 1898 by the Bradford Bioscope Company. It telecasted short news items and featured short footage of Queen Victoria, the War between Greek and Turkish armies, and the French underground railway mainly in Bhola, Manikganj, Gazipur, Rajbari, and Faridpur. Back in the day, people used to spend around eight anas to three taka to watch them.
Sukumari (The Good Girl) was the first Bengali produced film by the Dhaka Nawab family. This short silent film was shot with non-professional actors and without a studio where even the female lead was acted by a male, owing to laws against the depiction of women in film. The success of this short film encouraged the royal family to make a full-length silent movie named, The Last kiss in 1931.
During the Pakistan era around 80 cinemas were broadcasted in Bangladesh by 1947. Mukh O Mukhosh, directed by Abdul Jabbar Khan was the first Bengali Language feature film released in East Pakistan, on 3rd August 1956. Furthermore, Zahir Raihan, a notable director of East Pakistan made movies such as Kokhono Asheni (1961), Shangam (1964) (The first Pakistani colour film), and Jibon Theke Neya (1970). The latter movie earned stardom for depicting the Bengali language movement in East Pakistan during that time.
The East Pakistan Film Development Corporation which was initiated by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was amended to Bangladesh Film Development Corporation after the liberation war in 1971. The first movie after independence was Ora Egaro Jon directed by Chashi Nazrul Islam and Subhash Dutta. Bangladesh lived its golden era in the film industry during the 1970s and 1980s where actors like Abdur Razzak, Kobori, Sabana, Bobita, Ilias Kanchan, and many others made Bengali movies entertaining.
After the Independence in 1971, the Bangladeshi film industry stood at the core of Dhaka city, generating a vast amount of revenue through Dhallywood films. Despite its success, the film industry lacked originality since the majority of the commercial and notable Bangladeshi films were directly plagiarised from Indian cinemas. Nevertheless, some legendary directors like Tanvir Mokammel, Morshedul Islam, Nasiruddin Yousuff, etc. changed the course of Bengali cinema. Their films featured the most successful male actors such as Jashim, Nayeem, Salman Shah, Manna, Riaz, etc.
The film industry of Bangladesh started to decline during the 2000s and was accused of producing substandard films. As the rate of viewers of Bangladeshi Cinema began to decrease rapidly, Dhallywood produced around a hundred films per year with a very low budget. While the Bangladeshi Film Industry struggled to rise, some successful films like Premer Taj Mahal, Shasti, Shyamol Chhaya, Daruchini Dip, Monpura, etc were also released.
According to studies, variables like quality of the film, environment of the theatre, preferences of the audience, support from the government, piracy, etc., affected the market growth of the industry. This helpless circumstance of the Bangladeshi film industry also repels wealthy investors from investing in the Dhallywood film industry.
During the first decade of the new millennium 2000s, Bangladesh produced about 100 low-budget movies a year. The audience of Bangladeshi films in general slumped. People began raking over the coals for the production of low-quality films by the Bangladeshi film industry. After a dramatic fall in the 2000s, the Bangladeshi film industry put every effort to pull through in the 2006–07 period. With the genesis of big production companies, the industry began to flourish in leaps and bounds. For instance, Oggatonama (The Unnamed), a drama film directed and written by Tauquir Ahmed was awarded the Bangladesh National Film Awards 2016.
In addition, the groundbreaking blockbuster megahit, Dhaka Attack, directed by Dipankar Dipon is a cop-action thriller that won the best film award of 2017. Another masterpiece, Putro won the award for 2018. Aynabaji a crime thriller film directed by Amitabh Reza Chowdhury and produced by Ziauddin Adil, emerged as a megahit of recent times. It secured 2nd position in the ranking of the world's top-ranked films on the international platform Amberscript.com.
The pandemic has obstructed the release of new movies from all around the globe. The world's largest cinema chain company AMC theatres in the USA and second-largest company Cineworld in UK have declared a temporary closure due to the Covid-19 exposure. According to a report published by The Guardian, opined that film studios are delaying the release of their movies due to the slow progress of Covid infected patients. The report further entailed that companies like Cineworld incurred a loss of around 1.3 billion pounds.
When Bangladesh was on the verge of reaching its profit margin as Bengali movies were flourishing, the perilous coronavirus slammed the door on the face of it. The film industry shifted to online platforms to broadcast their shows. Owing to lockdown, people's only form of entertainment was a television and online streaming platforms. This rendered a huge loss for the filmmakers and producers who were halted to release their movies in halls and suffered huge audience cut.
Star Cineplex chairman Mahbub Rahman Ruhel was reported to have suffered Tk.25 crore loss during the pandemic and to be at the risk of closing or reallocating its Bashundara Cineplex because of its unpaid rent. Similarly, Zakir Hossain, director of Jamuna Group regretted investing Tk.30 crore which was complete destruction for its multiplex. Some reports suggest that a loss of approximately Tk. 500 crore has been incurred by our film industry during this pandemic.
However, many veteran and young filmmakers are coming up with creative stories featuring established and new national/international actors (e.g. No Land's Man of Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, MR-9 of Asif Akbar, and Moving Bangladesh of Nuhash Humayun) in the middle of this difficult phase. Being the backbone, it is now our responsibility to show the utmost love and support for these films, and thus to ensure the survival of our own film industry, which has always strived to entertain us since its inception.
Rawnak Tahnia is a marketing enthusiast who is doing a double major in Marketing and Supply Chain from Brac Business School.
Arin Rahman is pursuing B.Sc in Information and Communication Engineering from Bangladesh University of Professionals.
Deena Afroza Aziz is pursuing LLM from Eastern University, Bangladesh.
Arafat Reza is employed as a teaching assistant at LCLS(South).