In the 1990s, on an average, 80 feature films were released in Bangladesh. Investment in film industry was also colossal and everyday, more than a million people viewed pictures in about 1,500 cinema halls of the country. Innumerable directors, artists, technicians and workers are involved in this industry. With the assistance of the government, the Film Development Corporation (FDC) and the film archive were set up earlier and funds were provided in grants and awards. A few films of Bangladesh have received awards and appreciation in international fairs, festivals and competitions. The film industry of Bangladesh had attained its own identity during it long journey of over 50 years.
The history of films is not very old. Over 100 years ago, on 28 December of 1895, two brothers, Auguste Lumiere (1862-1954) and Louis Lumiere (1864-1948), arranged the first successful commercial bioscope show. Just after six months of this event, a representative of the Lumiere brothers held a demonstration of the bioscope show in Watson Hotel of Bombay on 7 July 1896. Bioscopes became familiar in calcutta towards the end of that year. The weekly dhaka prakash published a news on the first bioscope show in dhaka held on 17 April 1898 in Crown Theatre (now extinct) at Patuatuli of Dhaka sadarghat area. The show was organised by the Bedford Bioscope Company.
Short films shown by the company included episodes of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Procession, the War between Greece and Turkey, the Coronation of the Russian Czar, documentary shots of the three hundred feet jump of Princess Diana, lions and elephants in entertaining games, ice sports during snowfall in Britain, footage of roads and underground railway of France, and comedy picture such as the Mad Barber in Shaving Action. The entrance fees varied between half a rupee and three rupees. Later, bioscope shows were organised in many places of Bengal such as Bogjuri village of manikganj, the Bungalow of the subdivisional officer of bhola, the auditorium of jagannath college of Dhaka, the palace of the bhawal estate, Palong of faridpur, and victoria park and ahsan manzil of Dhaka. Regular bioscope shows began in a jute godown at Armanitola of Dhaka in 1913-14, following which a permanent theatre hall (the Picture House, later known as Shabistan) was established at that place. This is the first cinema hall of Bangladesh. In 1994, there were about 1500 cinema halls in the country. The number, by now (2010), has reduced to 750 with the decrease of audience became of the movie show in the fast growing satellite TV channels and IT based media.
Hira Lal Sen (1866-1917) of Bogjuri village in manikganj district formed the first bioscope company in Calcutta in 1898 and named it the Royal Bioscope Company. Hira Lal was also the producer of the first film of undivided India. He filmed episodes from dramas like Sita Ram, Ali Baba, Dol Lila, Bhramar, and Hariraj Budha and showed them in February 1901 at the Classic Theatre of Calcutta. He also produced documentary films, advertisement pictures and newsreels.
The first complete feature film (silent) of the sub-continent, Raja Harish Chandra, was released in 1913. Its director was Dadabhai Falke. In Calcutta the Madan Theatre Company began to produce the first Bangla silent movie Bilwa Mangal in 1916. It was released on 8 November 1919. Though Jatish Banerjee (Rustamji Dutiwalla, according to many) was the director of this film, the famous director-producer of a later period, Priya Nath Ganguli, son of the manager of the dhaka nawab estate, was the key person behind the screen. In 1921, Dhirendra Nath Ganguli, the deputy collector of barisal, produced a film in Calcutta named Bilat Ferat (The Man who Returned from England) and himself acted in the film.
In 1927-28, a group of young men of the Nawab family of Dhaka took the initiative to produce films. They produced Sukumari, a silent movie of four reels. The film was directed by Ambuj Prasanna Gupta, a prominent drama worker and an instructor in physical education of jagannath college. In the film, Khaja Nasrullah played the role of the hero and Syed Abdus Sobhan acted as the heroine.
After the success of Sukumari, the young men of the Nawab family set up Dhaka East Bengal Cinematograph Company and produced a full-length silent movie titled The Last Kiss directed by Ambuj Gupta. Khaja Azad did the camera work. Khaja Ajmal, Khaja Adil, Khaja Akmol, Khaja Shahed, Khaja Nasrullah and Shailen Roy alias Tona Babu acted in different roles in the film. The actresses were Lolita alias Buri (heroine), Charu Bala, Deba Bala alias Devi and Harimati. The first three of these actresses were picked up from brothels. The director himself composed the Bangla and English subtitles of the film and Andalib Shadani of the university of dhaka composed the Urdu subtitles. In 1931, The Last Kiss was released in Mukul (now Azad) cinema hall. Distinguished historian Dr ramesh chandra majumdar, Professor of Dhaka University, inaugurated the premier show of the film.
National poet kazi nazrul islam had a significant role in the history of films of undivided Bengal. In 1931, he was a Sur Bhandari (music director) of Madan Theatres, a renowned film making company of Calcutta. Later, he worked as film director, music director, singer, music composer, actor and storywriter. In 1934, he directed a film Dhruba jointly with Satyendra Nath Dey. He formed BT Pictures, named after of Sher-e-Bangla ak fazlul huq in 1941. Following Kazi Nazrul Islam, some brave Muslim personalities demonstrated the courage to overcome religious and social barriers and became involved in films. Noted among them were abbasuddin ahmed, Himadri Chowdhury alias Obaid-ul-Huq, Kiron Kumar alias fateh lohani, Swapan Kumar alias Kazi Khaleque, Udayan Chowdhury alias Ismail Mohammad, Banani Chowdhury alias Begam Anowara, Abdul Ahad, Nazir Ahmad, Inam Ahmad, Baby Islam and Q M Zaman. Himadri Chowdhury produced and directed Dukkhey Jader Jiban Gada in 1946 and Udayan Chowdhury produced Manusher Bhagaban (God of the People) in 1947. Both of them were sent to prison for the ‘revolutionary’ content of their films. After the partition of Bengal in 1947, muslims film personalities of Calcutta migrated to Dhaka and made active contributions in laying the foundation of the film industry in East Pakistan.
After 1947, when Dhaka became a new centre of cultural activities and many persons and institutions tried to produce, and distribute films and setup studios. The Government of Pakistan asked Nazir Ahmed, a radio personality, to produce a documentary film. Accordingly, He produced In Our Midst, the first documentary film made in East Pakistan, in collaboration with the experts of Calcutta.
The language movement and the killing of some activists by the government police in February 1952 made the Bengali people more conscious of their rights. Along with the political, economic and administrative extortions of the West Pakistanis, cultural extortion was also in practice. In about two years after the movement of 1952, Shahidul Alam, abdul jabbar khan, Kazi Nuruzzaman and others established Iqbal Films. Dr. Abdus Salek, Dalil Ahmad, Azizul Huq, Dudu Mia, poet jasimuddin, Kazi Khaleque, Sarwar Hossain and others established Co-operative Film Makers Limited for production of films. The government formed a Film Unit under the Public Relations Department for making publicity films. Efforts were initiated to set up a studio and a laboratory at Tejgaon in Dhaka. The documentary film Salamat was produced in the Film Unit under the directorship of Nazir Ahmad (1954). In 1955, work on Mukh O Mukhosh, the first feature film of Iqbal Films began under the directorship of Abdul Jabbar Khan. The film was released on 3 August 1956. The Co-operative Filmmakers produced a short film Appayan under the directorship of Sarwar Hossain. In June 1955, the government-owned film studio commenced operations at Tejgaon.
On 3 April 1957, the East Pakistan Film Development Corporation (EPFDC) was set up with the passage of a bill in the East Pakistan Provincial Legislative Assembly. The establishment of FDC laid the foundation of the film industry in the province. After the facilities of FDC were set up, films have been released regularly every year since 1959. Before this date, cinema halls of the province used to show only films imported from India, West Pakistan, USA, United Kingdom, Russia, Italy and other countries. Following the establishment of the FDC, some more studios like, Popular Studio (Pagla), Bari Studio (Tejturi Bazar), and Bengal Studio (Tikatuli) were set up.
Different streams have been noticed in the history of films of Bangladesh. The films produced in the 1950s and early 1960s reflect a conception of a beautiful and pure life. Later, producers began to make films in Urdu or films based on folk tales for commercial reasons. Chanda, produced in Urdu by Ehtesham and Rupban based on folklore and produced by Salahuddin, represent those two distinct streams.
The history based Nawab Sirajuddowla (1967) of khan ataur rahman and mass movement based Jiban Thekey Neya (1970) of zahir raihan were produced during a period when East Pakistan was in a politically volatile situation. The war of liberation inspired producers to make films of a new type. Zahir Raihan produced the first film of the new series. During the liberation war, he made and produced Stop Genocide and some short films. alamgir kabir produced a short film titled Liberation Fighters. After the independence, Chashi Nazrul Islam made the first full-length film Ora Egaro Jan in 1972 on the liberation war.
Films of the early 1970s contained scenes of fighting, suspense, cheap romance and sex, as well as dances and songs, and farcical humour. Many local films imitated ideas and episodes from foreign films, all with commercial purposes. The trend continued till 1990s, when the film industry started facing competition from movies offered by satellite tv channels.
Organisations of film industries in Bangladesh include private sector institutions like the chalachitra sangsad created in 1963, and the Dhaka Film Institute (1969), and public sector establishments such as the Bangladesh Film Institute (1978), the film archive (1978), the National Film Awards and Grant Fund (1975).
Although the film industry of the country is now producing more films per year than it did in the past, there has been little qualitative improvement. The country produced only one film in 1956. In the 1960s, the number of films released per year averaged 20, which rose to 90 in the 1990s. The condition of the industry in the country, however, is far from satisfactory. Use of VCR and VCD and increased access to satellite TV channels, home screening, and computer CDs are making films available at home. People, especially educated ones, now avoid going to cinema halls. To draw general public to cinema halls, many film producers are now making films with outrageous stories and scenes of violence, sexuality, and tomfoolery. Films with good plots and artistic excellence suitable for export to foreign market have become very rare.
The cost of producing films has increased manifold at present. Due to technical reasons, black and white films are not produced now. The money required in making an average quality colour film of 14 thousand feet is about Tk 6.5 million. Nevertheless, viewing film is still the most accessible and a cheap form of recreation for many.
Filmmakers of Bangladesh have produced many outstanding feature films. Some of these films are based on historic events and patriotic themes while others deal with real life situations. Most remarkable feature films of Bangladesh are Asia (1960) of Fateh Lohani, Kakhono Asheni (1961), Kancher Deyal (1963), Sangam (1964), Anwara (1966) and Jiban Thekey Neya (1970) of Zahir Raihan, Surya Snan (1962), Je Nadi Maru Pathey (1961) and Dharapat (1964) of Salahuddin, Anek Diner Chena (1964), Nawab Sirajuddowla (1967), Soye Nadia Jagey Pani (1967) and Abar Tora Manush Ha (1973) of Khan Ataur Rahman, E Desh Tomar Amar (1959) of Ehtesham, Sutarang (1964), Kagajer Nawka (1966), Ayna O Abashista (1967), Arunodoyer Agnishakkhi (1972), Bashundhara (1977) and Dumurer Phul (1978) of Shubash Dutta, Tanha (1962) and Charitraheen (1976) of Baby Islam, Nadi o Nari (1965) of Sadeque Khan, Shahid Titumir (1968) of Ibne Mijan, Dhire Bahey Meghna (1973), Surya Kanya (1975), Shimana Periyei (1977), Rupali Saikat (1979), Mohana (1982) and Parinita (1986) of Alamgir Kabir, Ora Egaro Jan (1972), Sangram (1973), Debdas (1982), Chandranath (1984), Shubhada (1986) and Hangar Nadi Grenade (1998) of Chashi Nazrul Islam, Nayan Moni (1975), Golapi Ekhan Treney (1979) and Bhat Dey (1983) of Amjad Hossain, Megher Anek Rang (1976) of Harunur Rashid, Alor Michhil (1974) and Lathial (1976) of Mita, Surya Dighal Badi (1979) of Seikh Niamat Ali and Masihuddin, Shaker Dahan (1985) of Seikh Niamat Ali, Ashikhita (1978) and Chhutir Ghanta (1989) of Azizur Rahman, Nolok (1978) of Shibli Sadique, Titas Ekti Nadir Nam (1973) of Hrittik Ghatak, Palanka (1976) of Rajen Tarafdar, Lalan Fakir (1973) and Lal Shabujer Pala of Syed Hasan Imam, Sareng Bou (1978) of Abdullah Al Mamun, Suprabhat (1976) of Kabir Anwar, Lal Kajal (1983) of Matin Rahman, Pension (1985) of Rafiqul Bari Chowdhury, Shankha Nil Karagar (1974) of Mostafizur Rahman, Aguner Parash Mani (1995) of Humayun Ahmad, Poka Makader Ghar Bashati (1996) of Akhtaruzzaman, and Dukhai (1997) of Morshedul Islam.
Remarkable commercial films are Chanda (1962) and Chandni (1991) of Ehtesham, Rupban (1995) of Salahuddin, Mala (1965) of Mostafiz, Sat Bhai Champa (1968) of Dilip Shom, Arun Barun Kiran Mala (1968) of Khan Ataur Rahman, Mlian (1964) of Rahman, Abujh Man (1972) and Maina-Mati (1969) of Kazi Jahir, Eto Tuku Asha (1969) of Mita, Rang Baj (1973) of Jahirul Huq, Challenge (1983) of AJ Mintu, Keyamat Thekey Keyamat (1992) of Sohanur Rahman Sohan, Beder Meye Josna (1989) of Tozammel Huq Bakul, Dost-Dushman (1977) of Dewan Nazrul, Omar Sharif (1980) of Delwar Jahan Jhantu, Sawdagar (1981) of F Kabir Chowdhury, Veja Chokh (1987) of Shibli Sadiq, Tomakey Chai (1996) and Nayan Mani (1998) of Matin Rahman, Gunahgar (1978) of Sohel Rana, Bishwa Premik (1996) of Shahidul Islam Khokon, Sagarika (1998) of Badal Khondoker and Ranga Bou (1998) of Mohammad Hossain.
Noted film personalities
Famous director producers of feature films during the pre-independence period include Abdul Jabbar Khan, Fateh Lohani, Ehtesham, Salahuddin, Mahiuddin, Zahir Raihan, Khan Ataur Rahman, Baby Islam, Sadeque Khan, Subhas Dutta, and Kamal Ahmed. Some of them produced excellent films after the independence also. Other leading producers and directors were Alamgir Kabir, Amjad Hossain, Chashi Nazrul Islam, Abdus Samad, Sheikh Niamat Ali, Badal Rahman, Shibli Sadiq, Kazi Hayat, Matin Rahman and Morshedul Islam. Famous actors and actresses include Fateh Lohani, Khan Ataur Rahman, Purnima Sen, Sumita, Inam Ahmad, Kazi Khaleque, Binoy Biswas, Narayan Chakravarty, Mehfuz, Anwar Hossain, Saifuddin, Rahman, Sabnam, Rosy, Sujata, Ajim, Razzaque, Kabari, Shaokat Akbar, Anwara, Shabana, Suchanda, Babita, Rozina, Khalil, Ashish Kumar Loha and Sucharita.
A good number of feature films have been awarded prizes at home and abroad for creativity, aesthetic form and content, and for screenplays that reflect the realities of life and society. Jago Hua Savera (Urdu) was the first feature film to receive international award. Directed by AJ Kardar and based on life of the fishermen, this film got the second prize in the Moscow International Film Festival in 1959. In different competitions, the film received 11 awards in all. The film was shown in Homer Theatre and Film Institute of London, Flaherty Foundation of USA, and in the Seminar of South California University in 1959. In the same year, the film was sent on invitation to participate in the Oscar competition in the foreign language department. Tanha another leading feature film directed by Baby Islam was awarded in Beirut Film Festival in 1962. In 1965, Sutarang directed by Subhas Dutta received the second prize in the Asian Film Festival held at Frankfurt.
In 1967, Ayna o Abashista of Subhash Dutta received a prize in the Moscow Film Festival. In 1968, Abirbhab of Subhash Dutta got the prize of the queen of Combodia in a film festival held at Phnom Penh. In the international film festival held in Moscow in 1979, Dumurer Phul of Subhash Dutta got special award in the children’s section. In 1980, Surya Dighal Badi directed by Mahiuddin Shaker and Sheikh Niamat Ali got the third prize in the 29th international film festival held at Mannheim of Germany. The Catholic and the Protestant Jury Committee also rewarded the picture for its human appeal. The Federation of International Films Associations also awarded a prize to Surya Dighal Badi. In 1986, Dahan directed by Sheikh Niamat Ali got an award in the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.
Chitrakash, a weekly newspaper of Dhaka, first introduced film awards in East Pakistan in 1959. The government of Pakistan introduced the President’s Medal in 1960. In that year Asia directed by Fateh Lohani received the President Award as the best film. The award was later discontinued. The Pakistan Film Festival was held at Dhaka in August 1965. Prizes awarded in the festival were for best production, direction, story, screenplay, dialogue, music, photography, acting, editing and composition of songs. That year Kacher Deyal, written, produced and directed by Zahir Raihan, was awarded as the Best Film. The film was also given award for best dialogue (Zahir Raihan), editing (Enamul Huq), sound recording (M A Jahur), music direction (Khan Ataur Rahman), acting in the main female role (Sumita) and also in a special female role (Asia Ali). Others given awards were Khan Ataur Rahman (for composing music in Surya Snan), Salahuddin (for screenplay of Surya Snan), Syed Hasan Imam (actor in Anek Diner Chena), Subhash Dutta (side role in Talash and Milan), Rahman (Certificate of Honour for good acting in Milan).
The first organisation to introduce film awards in Bangladesh after liberation was the Bangladesh Chalachitra Samiti (Bangladesh Films Association). ‘Creative films with social commitment’ was the motto of the organisation and the symbol used in its awards was the Royal Bengal Tiger. The first award was given for films of 1972 and 1973 in categories like best production, direction, story, screenplay, dialogue, songs, acting (in the main male and female roles as well as in male and female side roles), camera work, music, playback voice (male and female), editing and sound recording. Documentary films of special importance, films initiating new or alternative trends and/or considered special under reasonable grounds were also included in the competition for the awards. The association awarded prizes regularly up to 1988. After a break of 7 years, the awards were reintroduced in 1995 but later, they became irregular again. In 1978, another award was introduced in memory of Syed Muhammad Parvez, the editor of the Chitrali, and one of the founders of the Bangladesh Film Association. This award was given for special contributions to cine journalism and writings on films.
The Government of Bangladesh introduced the annual National Film Awards in 1975, which include cash money, certificate of appreciation, and a trophy. At the beginning, prizes were awarded in 19 categories, but their number was raised to 21 categories in 1992. The categories included the best film of the year, direction, story, screenplay, dialogue, song, best actor and actress in the main role, best actor and actress in the side role, music director, singer (male and female), camera work (black and white and colour), editing, sound recording, art direction and child artist. An award was also given to the best short film of the year.
Bangladesh Film Producers Association introduced film awards in 1991. Moreover, other associations and non-government organisations have also introduced film awards and are giving prizes in different categories.