Cinema is one of the most popular forms of entertainment worldwide. In addition to being a medium of entertainment, cinema is also a major business. The market size of the world’s top two film industries, the US and Indian film industries, exceeds 95 billion USD and 182 billion INR respectively. However, the Bangladesh film industry has struggled for the past few decades.
Recently though, with the success of films like Hawa, Poraan in 2022 and Surongo, Priyatma in 2023, many people associated with Bangladesh’s film industry feel its good day has returned. In fact, it’s claimed Shakib Khan’s Priyatma broke the 34-year box office record of 1989’s populer movie “Beder Meye Josna”, earning 27 crore BDT. So is the Bangladesh film industry really experiencing a comeback?
The journey of cinema in Bengal began with the establishment of the Biscope Company by Hiralal Sen in 1913-14. Bioscope exhibitions were regularly held from the jute warehouse in Armanitola, Dhaka at that time. Later, Bangladesh’s first movie “Picture House” was made here, which was renamed “Shabistan”. Interestingly, the first movie productions in India then were mainly pioneered by Bengalis. When the craze for filmmaking spread from Kolkata to Dhaka, film production started in Dhaka under the patronage of the Nawab family. After the 1947 partition, cultural activities centered around Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, started again. The East Pakistan Film Development Corporation (EPFDC) was established in 1957, laying the foundations for Bangladesh’s film industry. However, a new chapter of Bengali cinema emerged after the 1971 liberation war, with 8 movies released that independence year. Since 1972, at least one quality film was released annually. This got people interested in going to theaters and watching movies, leading to many movie theaters being built across Bangladesh. People used to watch movies with family and friends during holidays, making most films commercially successful then.
However, the 1990s marked the dark ages for Bangladeshi cinema. Except for a few directors, most pursued vulgar, boring stories for commercial reasons. The number of quality film releases dropped substantially. As a result, discerning audiences gradually stopped going to cinemas. Additionally, cable TV followed by CDs/DVDs were being introduced in Bangladeshi homes, making Bollywood and Hollywood movies easily accessible. Consequently, people got accustomed to watching rented CDs/DVDs at home instead of going to theaters. Due to these factors, cinema attendance declined sharply, threatening the Bangladeshi film industry.
Although the Censor Board and FDC took legal action in 2007 to salvage the film industry, it was not enough to bring back audiences to theaters. Consequently, cinema halls were most affected. According to Miya Alauddin, advisor to the Bangladesh Film Exhibitors Association, there were 1,435 halls across Bangladesh even in the early 1990s. Until 2000, there were over twenty halls in each district. However, the number of operational halls has now dropped to just 100 nationwide. Currently, 25 districts have no functioning cinema halls. Unable to sustain businesses, most owners have demolished old halls and constructed multi-storied buildings or markets instead.
However, in the last two decades, films like Paraan, Hawa, Suranga and Priyatma, along with others like Daruchini Dwip, Amar Chai Jal, Manpura, Television, Ayanabaaji, Dub, Devi have drawn more viewers to multiplexes and surviving cinemas. Their decent commercial success indicates recovering audience interest. Movies like Hawa, Suranga and Priyatma are screened in single screens countrywide, as well as multiplexes like Star Cineplex and Blockbuster Cinemas. Although multiplexes began in 2004 in Bangladesh, only Cineplex achieved success over these two decades. Amidst closing halls nationwide, Cineplex increased screens by adding new multiplexes in Sylhet, Chittagong, and Rajshahi besides multiple locations in Dhaka.
Encouraged by Cineplex’s achievement and renewed public interest in domestic films, multiplexes have been built in other districts too, like Chittagong’s Silver Screen and Bogra’s Madhuban Cineplex. However, lacking quality local films, they still mainly screen Hollywood blockbusters. Meanwhile, Star Cineplex, the country’s largest multiplex chain, plans to establish 100 digital screens across Bangladesh.
Due to the recent developments and the commercial success of the films released in recent years, there has been much discussion about the revival of the Bangladesh film industry in newspapers, various digital media, and social media. Especially in 2022, after the films Hawa and Paraan made 16 crore and 12 crore BDT respectively, and Priyatama made 27 crore BDT in one and a half months.
But is the Bangladesh film industry really making a comeback? When compared to the amount of business that Bangladeshi films are doing today, films from three decades ago did even better. The film Beder Meye Josna, released in 1989, made 20 crore BDT.
Since there is no established box office in Bangladesh, there is no exact data on the collection or audience numbers for any film. So, it is not known how many people watched the film. However, based on revenue data, if the average ticket price in 1989 is assumed to be 10 taka, then the film was seen around 2 crore times to earn 20 crore BDT.
On the other hand, people are currently watching movies at Cineplex by paying 350-450 taka for a ticket. If the average ticket price of 60 movie theaters including Cineplex is considered to be 200 taka, then the income of the film “Beder Meye Josna” would be 400 crore taka today.
This means that the box office collection of Priyatama, is only about 1/15th of that of Beder Meye Josna. The same can be said for the top two films released in 2022, Paraan and Hawa, which had collections of 12 crore taka and 16 crore BDT respectively.
Not only in terms of business, but also in terms of audience or viewership, films like Paraan, Hawa, or Priyatama could not even reach the heights of the films of the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, a film in Bangladesh does not get more than four to six weeks of screen time. But, Josna, Daughter of the Veda, which was released 34 years ago today, ran for at least 67 weeks or more than one and a half years when it was screened in more than 1000 theaters nationwide.
In other words, in terms of audience as well as income, Priyatama is not even close to Beder Meye Josna. This is just a comparison with the domestic film industry. There is no comparison between Bangladeshi films and the income of Hollywood, Bollywood, or even South Indian films.
Not only in terms of income, but also in terms of film production budget, the Bangladeshi film industry is lagging behind by several times. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the average budget for the production of a film in the fiscal year 2013-14 was 96.7 lakh taka. In fact, most Bangladeshi films still have a budget of 60 lakh to 1.5 crore taka. The only exception is the film MR9, a joint production of Bangladesh and Hollywood, which had a budget of 93 crore taka.
On the other hand, Indian films often have budgets of 100-200 crore INR. In recent years, there have been several Indian films with budgets of over 400-500 crore INR. The budget of Bangladeshi films cannot even be compared to the budget of Hollywood films. For example, the popular YouTuber MrBeast has a budget of 10-15 crore taka for each of his videos.
In addition, the production of films in Bangladesh has decreased significantly in recent years. According to film producer Khorshed Alam Khosru, more than 120 films were produced annually in Bangladesh in the past. Now, the number of films produced each year is less than 30. Out of these, only a handful of films make crores of taka in revenue.
In contrast, Hollywood releases 500-600 films each year. The Indian film industry releases an average of 1000 films each year, out of which the Tamil film industry alone releases close to 100 films. In other words, even if we consider only the Tamil film industry, the Bangladeshi film industry is still lagging behind.
Considering all of these factors, it is clear that the Bangladeshi film industry has a long way to go. There are many challenges that the industry needs to overcome in order to compete with the film industries of other countries. However, there are also many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Bangladeshi film industry. There is a growing audience for Bangladeshi films, and there is a lot of talent and creativity in the industry. With the right support and investment, the Bangladeshi film industry can reach new heights.
One of the reasons behind the current state of the Bangladesh film industry is the lack of quality and the repetitiveness of stories. For the past two decades, many films have been made that are either remakes of South Indian or Kolkata films, or have the same monotonous storylines.
In any film industry, a good story is essential to attract audiences. For example, Bangladeshi audiences watch a lot of South Indian, Korean, and other foreign films with subtitles, despite the language barrier. However, the films made by Satyajit Ray, Zaheer Raihan, and Tarek Masood were once appreciated by both domestic and international audiences. Unfortunately, the quality of films made in Bangladesh today cannot match that standard.
From the story to the casting, acting, and cinematography, Bangladeshi cinema is still lagging behind. Even though filmmakers are trying to make films with different stories and in different genres, they are not able to attract audiences in the same way.
With the increasing accessibility of the internet and the availability of torrent sites, Bangladeshi audiences are able to watch a lot of international films. They are exposed to a variety of stories and cinematography in these films, which they cannot find in Bangladeshi films.
In fact, the Bangladeshi film industry is so backward that it has only started using digital cameras in the last decade. Meanwhile, the world is using advanced technologies like IMAX cameras, robotic arms, CGI, and virtual sets in filmmaking.
Due to these reasons, Bangladeshi films are unable to attract a global audience or global OTT platforms. OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon produce original Indian films and web series. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are also officially available in Bangladesh. Netflix has streamed films like Kamala Rocket and Dub – No Bed of Roses. However, no international OTT platform has yet produced an original web series with Bangladeshi creators or actors.
Although Netflix has released films like Extraction, which is set in Bangladesh, and Hollywood’s Universal Pictures has released a documentary called “Billion Dollar Heist” on the robbery of Bangladesh Bank’s reserves, no such work has been done with creators or actors from Bangladesh film industry.
In other words, even though there are enough elements to produce international standard films or web series with Bangladeshi context or story, no such work has been done yet. This raises the question of whether the Bangladesh film industry is really making a comeback.