Over 450 out of 1,200 members of Bangladesh Actors’ Equity, a platform of actors of the TV productions, have become relief seekers following the suspension of shooting of teleplays and drama series since March 22, the equity president Shahiduzzaman Selim said.
The immediate victims are those who used to earn only Tk 1,000 for working from the 07:00am to 11:00pm in a day, he said.
‘These artistes who provided entertainment to the people have become the worst victims of the coronavirus outbreak and did not even get any support from the government, TV channels or sponsors,’ he added.
The financially solvent members of the equity, Selim said, gave some support to these artistes by way of making donations or collecting funds.
‘But, the government did not give any support even though we collectively requested the information minister to consider the situation of 5,000 actors, directors, technical crews, writers and others involved with the TV entertainment business after deciding to suspend shooting on March 22 till the holiday continued for coronavirus,’ said Selim.
‘We kept on pursuing the government and even approached the prime minister’s office several times. We are still waiting for a response,’ he claimed.
It did not happen as I feel acting had never been recognised as a profession in Bangladesh, for which actors had been deprived of the government welfare benefits and became victims of oppressions of the sponsors, producers, TV channels and agents, who dominated the TV entertainment business, he explained.
‘The actors are paid here on a daily basis unlike a wage earner and face the financial hardship whenever she/he becomes jobless,’ said Selim.
The government did not even give recognition to TV-based entertainment business as an industry though it has an average of Tk 50 crore turnover per month which is greater than the recognised film industry, Selim claimed.
‘The government did not even nurture it or extended any kinds of support by framing a policy to help the local TV channels to gain access to the South Asian countries as has been done for the film industry where importer of an Indian film is required to export a Bangladeshi film over there,’ said Selim.
‘The government did not frame the policy for running commercials while screening a programme and for supervising Television Rating Point procedure as done by the foreign officials of a company, which has however a tremendous impact on the revenue and earnings of the TV channels and programmes or income of artistes,’ he added.
He claimed that TRP and YouTube viewership ratings were often manipulated. ‘It should be monitored and supervised accordingly as the multinational companies sponsor a programme based on these ratings,’ said Selim.
‘But unfortunately we did not take any such initiatives for which the whole industry is suffering and behaving in an abnormal way,’ Selim said, arguing that for this the budding industry was suffering a lot.
Like many others, Shahiduzzaman Selim, who became a professional actor in the 1990s with the emergence of private TV channels, said that before that time, actors, playwrights, directors or cinematographers had to do other jobs or businesses besides working in the entertainment industry as the only state-run BTV did not pay much for them to earn a livelihood, he said.
In 1995, he said, a single episode teleplay used to be sold from Tk three lakh to five lakh when it was sold with Tk two lakh in 2020.
When average price for per episode series in 1995 was Tk one lakh now it is sometimes offered at Tk 15,000 by some agents who purchased chunks of the channels, he said.
‘These patterns don't follow the normal theory of economics in the context of increase of inflation in the past 25 years and the demand created for more and more TV channels,’ said Selim.
The result, he said, was the fall of quality and standard of the teleplays and drama serials for which we once used to feel proud.
‘And many producers and directors like me decided to quit as we could not compromise and play along with others who followed the abnormal trend of greasing the agents, sponsors and commercial departments of the TV channels for selling substandard products,’ Selim lamented.
An optimist, Shahiduzzaman Selim said that those who were concerned, for them the suspension of shootings for coronavirus could have been the moment of stock taking and thinking through some effective and collective measures to revive the lost glory of the TV entertainment business.
TV channels for their own business interest must review their programme planning and the government must give policy support as proposed by TV entertainment business professionals, he suggested.
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