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The return of Hollywood

Cinema going in Dhaka seems set to change forever. In the past month, Dhaka’s Star Cineplex has opened its curtains to three of the latest summer blockbusters to come out of Hollywood. No sooner had the city’s cine-going public recoiled from the joy of watching Mission Impossible III on the big screen, now they are advertising the latest sequel of The Pirates of Carribean and Superman. Are we witnessing a new trend in Dhaka’s cinema experience?

‘Back in our time movies were meant to be watched at the theatres with friends, family or loved ones, but with the advent of DVDs, VCDs and also very few or almost no theatres showing the latest releases, the era of true movie-going experience seemed to be gone forever’, says 28-year-old Dhaka resident Anindita, who was at the Star Cineplex last week to catch Mi:III with her two daughters.

‘Now with the release of recent movies like King Kong and Mission Impossible III, it seems like the movie going trend is here to stay for a long while at least,’ Anindita says. ‘The experience was simply exciting! The big screen plays an important part in the true movie experience: the sound effects, acting skills and yes the charm of actors like Tom Cruise!’ she adds.

The reaction of Dhakaites to the release of these movies on mega theatres is evident when you see the endless queues before theatres across the city. Movie theatres which were once empty and making a loss are now are experiencing the greatest hike in years. From teenagers to middle aged, everyone is up for the taste of this enthralling movie going experience.

The picture wasn’t of course the same even a year ago. The movie culture of Bangladesh has been extremely droll and part of the reason for a sharp decline in movie goers have been the advent of DVDs, VCDs, a great factor has been inevitably the absence of good movies and good halls.

However two years back when Cineplex, one of the largest movie theatres in Bangladesh came to town, many expected a new trend of entertainment to set in. Indeed the opening ceremony of this larger than life cineplex gave rise to a lot of excitement and expectations to the movie goers.

‘We really expected a brand new entertainment experience to come about. But the hall only offered the same old movies over and over again. But just when we were losing hope and settling with the same old in-house DVD experience, the latest block buster movies are coming in a row!’ says ecstatic twenty year Razia, ‘I just can’t wait to watch DOOM and Alexander coming next month.’

Indeed the era of big screen movies was long lost. Where as once seeing movies on big screen was an integral part of Bengali cultural life, with the passage of time and owing to the absence of proper halls suitable for all classes of people and release of good movies, most people adapted to the practice of watching movies on VCDs, DVDs or satelite channels,‘ says Dhaka-resident Mahbub Sarker.

It was perhaps on very special occasions like movie festivals that movies were screened in halls .One can remember the first boom in movie going was perhaps the screening of Titanic at Dhaka’s Modhumita Cinema Hall years ago. That year the city saw the greatest rise in the number of movie goers. Back then Modhumita had come about as the happening hall expected to bring in such movies for a long time. Many cinema viewers felt it had come to set a changing trend in the movie watching experience as a whole. Unfortunately, that era was gone and so was the expectation of new movies being screened in larger than life halls.

With such changing trend in cinema going and increasing hike in the cinema-goers one can’t stop wondering as to why such steps of screening block buster movies not only in Cineplex but also across the nation was not taken before.

According to Cineplex officials it was always expensive to screen such movies and often even screening old movies does not help them cover the costs. The trend didn’t therefore change until Classic Billboard; a Malaysian based advertising company came into the picture. With the authorisation from United International Pictures, Classic Billboards has been able to buy up local screening rights of the recent blockbuster movies like Mi-III, Superman Returns, Doom, Legend of Zorro and many more and screen these movies in not only Dhaka but also in districts like Bogra, Khulna, Chittagong etc.

According to the company’s marketing manager, Rebecca Sultana, ‘the motive of screening these movies in such a large-scale is to revive the long-lost cinema going culture in Bangladesh’. Indeed the result of this motive has been effective ‘where once halls in Chittagong where even the air conditioner was not turned on for over a year owing to the huge loss, the hall is now filled with viewers. Although screening these movies in small subdivisions has been not been as profitable for the cheap tickets, our motive is being served, building the section of viewers who are going to continue to watch movies in these halls,’ she added. Classic Billboards is screening is also responsible for bringing movies like War of the Worlds, World Trade Center, and The Myth, which are indeed made to be watched on big screen.

In many ways this trend has added to the limited medium of entertainment available in Bangladesh. ‘Its not only the movies but also the quality of movie going experience, the state of the halls that need to be taken into account,’ points out Shamshad Islam, father of a fourteen year old restless daughter. ‘The number of decent theaters is very low, with such changed trends and increased demand it is important to have more decent halls for a complete movie going experience,’ he adds. While Classic Billboard itself plans to launch such halls in the future it is expected that many entrepreneurs are likely to come up with such ideas.

While movies are being screened in a row, there has been a great deal of change in the convention of watching movies at home, now increasing number of viewers feel it’s an essential form of entertainment. ‘We go to the movies to escape our world for a few precious hours, nothing more. But how can we do that if the movies come to us instead of us going to them? It simply is not the same viewing experience or pay-off for the audience. Take the example of the biggest of the big movies like King Kong. Watching that back at home in TV screen isn’t really a movie experience at all,’ points out 25-year-old Atif.

Be it the release of King Kong or MollaBarir Bou, its been truly in decades that Dhaka has seen such a great movie-going experience. The movie theatre owners will be hoping it stays this way.

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