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Old Dhaka theatres lie unused despite demand for more halls

38Amid growing demands for theatres and cultural venues in the capital city, three halls in the Old Dhaka have been left unused because of excessive rental rates and poor management.
The three halls are: Mohanagar Natya Mancha, Zahir Raihan Sangskritik Kendra and Northbrook Hall (Lal Kuthir). Theatre activists say these halls charge excessively high rates, are poorly managed and often host indecent programmes.
The halls, which fall under the jurisdiction of Dhaka South City Corporation, were renovated a few years ago but fell into disuse despite growing demands for cultural programmes and entertainment venues.
‘These halls, especially Mohanagar Natya Mancha and Zahir Raihan Sangskritik Kendra, have modern facilities necessary for theatre shows and can be vibrant centres for theatre troupes. But they charge discouragingly high fees,’ said Arham Alo, president of theatre troupe Bahubachan.
Arham also said the venues are mostly used for ‘indecent’ programmes and parties by different clubs and organisations. ‘If the city corporation and Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation come forward, these halls can be used to provide the audience with healthier entertainment,’ he added.
According to sources, Mohanagar Natya Mancha charges Tk 26,000 for its 600-seat auditorium while Zahir Raihan Sangskritik Kendra and Northbrook Hall charge respectively Tk 12,000 and Tk 10,900, for their 400-seat and 360-seat auditoriums.
In comparison, the three theatres in Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, which are the only availavle theatre venues in the city, charge nominal fees. National Theatre Hall, the biggest of the three, charges Tk 5,000 for its 750-seat hall. The other two theatres, Experimental and Studio Theatre Halls, respectively charge Tk 3,000 and Tk 2,000 for their 300-seat and 120-seat halls.
‘For the past four months, none of these halls [in Old Dhaka] were booked,’ said Mehedi Hasan Khan, an assistant social welfare officer of DSCC.
Theatre activists have long been demanding for new theatres and entertainment venues across Dhaka which, they say, would help in decentralising cultural activities. New halls will also help the over 200 active theatre troupes to have recourse to alternative venues outside the BSA halls.
‘There is no alternative to spreading the shows and festivals held in Dhaka across different parts of it,’ said M Hamid, former chairman of BGTF.
‘We intervened in the renovation work of the three halls in Old Dhaka and helped make them ready for theatre shows. We even organised theatre festivals at Zahir Raihan Sangskritik Kendra. But the halls have eventually fallen into disuse,’ he added.
To make them vibrant again, Hamid thinks, BGTF should intervene again by running cultural campaigns at those areas and generate publicity in favour of good shows.
‘The federation is keen to make the halls viable for theatre shows and festivals. We are talking to the mayor of the south city corporation so that it subsidises fees for theatre shows and maintains the halls properly. We have also demanded for more halls at Uttara, Mirpur, Gulshan and Banani to the north city corporation mayor,’ said Akhtaruzzaman, general secretary of BGTF.