Whither Bangladesh Cinema : An Introspection
and Some Propositions
To everyone’s chagrin, cinema in Bangladesh has reached its nadir. When in 1956 as a young Minister for Industry, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and his inspired colleagues, with a vision to create a film-scene in East Bengal established Film Development Corporation (FDC), they hardly had any clue, that four decades later their patriotic zeal would end up in such a cul-de-sac ! Cinema now is in a very dismal state in Bangladesh, and salvation of it warrants some bold and definitive measures.
First, cinema should not be under the aegis of the Ministry of Information any more. With such prioritised and politically sensitive sectors like newspaper and television being under it, Information Ministry is one of the busiest and most stressed Ministry for any government in Bangladesh. In this Ministry, cinema not having any urgent political priority, receives the treatment of a poor cousin. Performance says it all. For example, ceremony of national film awards is supposed to be an annual affair. But to perform this simple duty, the Information Ministry once lagged even five years behind the schedule! Even with the best of intention by the concerned officials, the endemic negligence to cinema is caused due to the amount of workload and stress that the Information Ministry is burdened with.
There should be a separate Ministry for cinema. If not, cinema should be under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture. Firstly, because cinema is an art form, a cultural expression, not an information tool. Secondly, in the Ministry of Culture, with its lesser and insipid workload, a glamourised medium like cinema is sure to receive a prioritised treatment.
But the core problem for the betterment of cinema, ironically, seems the very organisation that is supposed to develop cinema in Bangladesh— The Film Development Corporation (FDC). FDC is lagging thirty years behind the state-of-the-art in film-making, not only in the global context, but even to our sub-continent standard. The outputs of FDC film lab is simply sub-standard.
In this age of market economy, the very concept that a government owns a film-studio seems anachronistic. Why should Bangladesh government owns a film-studio which churns out all those run-of-the-mill, if not, plagiarised and vulgar films? The Government of France, USA or India does not own any film studio. But that never impeded cinema of those countries to flourish. Film is a business, and business should be left to the business people, to the law of demand and supply of the market. Any control by the government bureaucracy only creates potholes of corruption and anybody who has the experience to work with any department of FDC, knows what I mean! Regarding modern days film-making FDC has totally run out of ideas and outlived its purpose. In order to have digitally-equipped professional film labs in Bangladesh it is high time that Bangladesh government, after having its revenue guaranteed, disinvests FDC.
The condition of another film-related government body, the film division of the Department of Film and Publication (DFP), is even worse. One wonders what is the raison d’etre of DFP’s film department? Days are gone to shoot expensive and cumbersome 35mm. footages of Ministers’ cutting tapes! In this age of digital technology BTV alone is good enough to handle that. Besides, it is alleged that DPF’s film department, in its purchase of exorbitantly price-tagged equipments, remained the lucrative left hand earning of the Ministry officials, including the Ministers themselves! Time has come to wind up this notoriously corrupt and worthless department.
The government rather invest resources to establish a proper film institute and a professional film archive in the country. Cinema is a high-tech art form, and to teach cinematography, sound recording and related technologies to the young people, there is no alternative but a professionally run film institute. To preserve and sustain our heritage, it is imperative also to build a modern film archive with its own building, professional dehumidified vaults and trained personnels. Proper resources should also be allotted to make the film archive— digital. The government should also establish a national film centre in Dhaka, like the NANDAN in Kolkata.
I am not trying to write another Aeropagitica. One Milton was enough for that! But something has to be done with the censor system in Bangladesh. The ideal situation is not to have any censor at all in the realm of art. But given the socio-cultural reality of Bangladesh, if we have to concede to any censor, then the censor board should not have any right to ban or excise a piece of cinema. It should only rate the films in different categories like, “U” (Universal), “PG” (Parental Guidance) or “A” (Adult), a rating system which most democratic countries practice. Now with our national identity card in place, there should not be any problem for the cine-hall gatekeepers to know who is a minor and who is not. Regarding nomenclature, instead of Film Censor Board, the rating body should be renamed as “Film Classification Board”.
The trade of cinema is in a pathetic state now. Out of eleven hundred functioning cine-halls, more than three hundred and fifty have been closed down. More are on the way to be shut down soon. Cinema halls, to some extent, should blame themselves for their own downfall. With their penchant to exhibit vulgar films or porno cut pieces, they successfully managed to hoot out the well-meaning audiences from their premises, especially the female audience. Cinema halls in Bangladesh became lumpenised. And now, with rows of empty seats, they are facing their nemesis! With other entertainment mediums becoming available to people the large cinema halls with 1000-seaters or more, seem no longer economically viable. I am afraid big cinema halls may have to die their natural death as the big dinosaurs once did! May be the cineplex kind of film conglomerates, with small auditoriums to cater different kind of audiences, will become the future. But that is for Dhaka and other metropols only. To reinvigorate cine-audience in the districts and upazillas, government can establish or renovate mini-auditoriums with digital facilities.
A clause can be imposed on the cine-halls by the government to exhibit award winning or Anudan-films for minimum ten weeks of the fifty-two calendar weeks. And this condition should be attached with their licensing obligations. Government can also waive the amusement tax from the award winning or Anudan-films and thus by lowering the price of ticket, can lure more audiences, especially young audience towards better cinema.
One endemic problem with the Bangladesh cinema is its full-proof protectionism. Cinema of Bangladesh does not have to compete either with the global or the sub-continental films. Protection for a child is required and recommended, but if protection is provided to a thirty-year old guy he will never grow up and will remain physically and mentally retarded. And that has exactly happened to the film industry of Bangladesh. But that does not mean that we should open the floodgate to Bollywood stuff in our country. Bangladesh cinema already produces enough garbage and we do not need to import further garbages from Mumbai! But each year five or ten selective award winning Indian and international films can be imported under some exchange program with the pre-condition that equal number of better made Bangladeshi films are exported to that country as well. Our film-industry should be able to sustain this much of competition!
These are just few suggestions to salvage an industry which, four decades back, was created with some lofty ideas. But due to the myopic vision and sheer inefficiency of the subsequent rulers, the film-scenario in Bangladesh have come down to its present moribund state. Whether there will be any light at the end of tunnel depends on how resolutely our new leaders can deal with the issues. To make a digital Bangladesh, cinema, the most modern of all art forms, needs to be digitised first, both in its hard and software technologies, but more importantly, in the mindsets.