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Dhaka Tribune

Surongo, Priyotoma and Prohelika: Their success, what worked and some observations

The success of the three movies, ‘Priyotoma’, ‘Surongo’ and ‘Prohelika’, has helped all stakeholders related to films in Bangladesh breathe a sigh of relief.

Update : 30 Jul 2023, 11:18 PM

Out of five Bangla movies released during the Eid-ul Adha holidays last month, three have done fairly well while 2 others lagged behind.

The success of the three movies, “Priyotoma”, "Surongo” and "Prohelika”, has helped all stakeholders related to films in Bangladesh breathe a sigh of relief. Audiences from all walks of life thronged the cinema halls in Dhaka and outside the capital to watch these movies. 

The tickets at multiplexes in Dhaka for Surongo and Priyotoma could not be found for the first 10 days. Prohelika also ran to houseful audiences even on weekdays.

Filmmakers, cinema hall owners and other stakeholders have a lot to learn from the craze for these movies. A clear understanding on some issues could help future films to replicate the formula and pave the way for the desired improvement of the Bangladeshi film industry.

Triggering public interest

In Hollywood and across all the acclaimed and successful movie industries of the globe, proper marketing and promotional strategies have been the main ingredients for generating public interest about movies prior to their release. 

Over the past few decades in Bangladesh, the concept has been intentionally or unintentionally ignored because of lack of budget or other reasons.

But this was not the case for these three films. All three made use of techniques that managed to intrigue the audiences well ahead of release through teasers, first look etc.

Surongo's first look, where actor Afran Nisho who made his debut into films through this title, showed the main highlight of the film, whereas the “foretaste” showed snippets of the story itself. The actual trailer, released a month or so later, added to the mystique of the film. In reality, the story was similar to many other international movies. One cannot even place this movie in the ‘heist' genre as the first half was entirely spent on telling the audience why the protagonist was resorting to crime in the second half.

Priyotoma used similar techniques. But what hooked the potential viewers of the film was the poster of the movie where Shakib Khan cannot be recognized as a frail octogenarian in white panjabi and pajamas.

Prohelika's unique selling point (USP) was actor Mahfuz Ahmed's return to acting after an 8-year hiatus. The trailer and cast of the film were also winning factors that drove audiences to the halls.

The revenues that these three films generated should be ample reasons for filmmakers, producers and even those studying films to realise the importance of proper marketing for movies and how it can make all the difference for films in Bangladesh.

Another aspect that can help the industry is the revenue of a film after its release in the theatres. The secrecy and misinformation around this is not helping the researchers and those who want to learn from these and incorporate the teachings into future projects.

“Controversy creates cash”

The above is a title of a best-selling book authored by pro-wrestling legend Eric Bischoff, who was the only man who managed to use “controversies” in pro-wrestling programs of the erstwhile World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and beat the biggest player in the sector globally, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), in the ratings for 83 weeks straight.

The philosophy has been used rather shamelessly by the movie industries over the past few decades. Hollywood is a master at this, coming up with the most creative projects. For example, in the late 2000s, before Sacha Baron Cohen's movie “Bruno” was released, during the MTV Movie Awards 2009, Cohen in his Bruno avatar fell and had his butt on Eminem's face. This infuriated the rapper who stormed out of the awards show creating a controversy. It was later learnt that Eminem was in on the stunt and this was a promotion for the movie.

There were many other stunts like these that happened in Hollywood. The most notorious was the rumour, which coincidentally circulated ahead of the movie's release, that the “Blair Witch Project” was actual footage of people who went missing in the forests of Baltimore, Maryland and were presumed dead. The three actors of the movie stuck to the story and kept away from the spotlight till the movie's release. The movie went on to make US$ 250 million, though it was created on a paltry $ 22,000 budget.

Indian movies have followed suite since the mid-2000s. The South Indian movie industry has a better formula. Prior to the release of any particular actor's movie, the actor's fans instigate an online feud with the fan-base of another actor whose movie is coincidentally releasing around the same time. Often these feuds are so crazy that fans end up rioting near the cinema halls. Nevertheless, both movies end up minting money. Some clear examples are the feuds between fan bases of Thalapathy Vijay and Ajith Kumar; Dhanush and Silambarasan fans and so on.

It seems like Surongo's producers took a page from the South Indian film industry here. In the initial press conferences, when Afran Nisho was asked about actor Shakib Khan, he tried to be courteous and ignored the questions. Less than a week later, at another press conference, he made a snide remark about “some actors” hiding about their marriages and wives from the public. The comment seemed to create a wildfire buzz on the internet. Those who did not like the other actor, were rooting for Nisho. They wanted to watch Surongo.

On the flipside, the fan base of Shakib Khan seemed to smell blood. As if they had to prove a point, “viewers” of Priyotoma were telling television reporters about how they lost their consciousness, while others bawled their hearts out while watching particular scenes of the movie.

But the publicity stunt seems to have helped both movies. Something tells me that we will see more of these stunts from upcoming movies made and released in Bangladesh, in the years to come.

“Pathaan” did not kill the Bangladeshi film industry

Less than 3 months before these three films were released in the cinema halls, Bollywood movie “Pathaan” was released. There were plenty of arguments against the release of the Hindi language film. Some actors and producers from Dhaliwood made such outrageous claims like allowing Hindi-language films in Bangladesh will force Bangladeshi audiences to forget Bangla and they will speak in Hindi. To establish his claim, one “brilliant” actor admitted that after he recently visited India, he started speaking in Hindi. As if the people in Bangladesh are not watching Hindi television programs and other content on OTT platforms, YouTube and social media platforms already!

Another noted film producer claimed that Pathaan will kill the Bangladeshi film industry. Another actor cum producer, who played notorious villains in Bangladeshi films in the 1990s and was crowned by many film experts as being one of the main people behind the Bangladeshi film industry's descent to lewdness, claimed that Bollywood movies are “vulgar” and they should not be released in our country. 

Pathaan was eventually released in May and it did well in the first few weeks. Less than a month later, public interest for the movie that has done very well globally, thus breaking many records, waned. By the end of June, it was replaced with movies from Hollywood and the Bangla movies released in Eid-ul Adha.

The same people who were earlier lamenting how Pathaan will murder the Bangladeshi film industry were now all smiles. Some of them now claim that Bollywood movies will never survive in Bangladesh.  

Earlier, some of the detractors against Bollywood movies releasing in Bangladeshi halls reasoned that Bangladeshi movies do not have the budget to compete against Bollywood films.

But this logic does not hold water when it comes to Surongo, Priyotoma and Prohelika. Despite their limited budgets and local cast, these Bangladeshi movies ran to packed halls at a time when the other movies available at the same multiplexes were such biggies like Pathaan, Hollywood movies like John Wick 4, The Flash, Transformers: Rise of the beasts, Indiana Jones and the dial of destiny and more. 

The three movies are still running quite well even now against competition from global hits like Mission Impossible 7, Barbie and Oppenheimer.

The fact of the matter is that Bangladeshi audiences are loyal to their roots and they will watch Bangladeshi movies as long as the content is palatable. This audience have evolved quite well since the 1990s. They will not go to watch Bangla movies with cringe-worthy materials and lines like “Puut koira dimu” etc. They will also not go to watch movies in other languages if they cannot relate to these. 

Bangladeshi filmmakers need to understand this notion and make films that respect the ever-evolving intelligence of this audience.

International films, not just Hollywood and Bollywood but also Korean, Japanese, Iranian and other movies, can be released in Bangladeshi cinema halls. It will help to bring back audiences glued their televisions, mobile and tablet screens to the big screens in the theatres. 

It will also help the cinema halls survive and not be turned into shopping malls and other businesses, as has been the case over the past few decades. 

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a communications and content marketing professional . The views expressed in this article are his own.

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