Drive-in movies are a cultural icon in America. Will we ever get something similar in Bangladesh?
The movie-watching experience has seen a radical shift in the last few years. Cable TV is almost dead. New movies are released in theatres and streaming platforms simultaneously. Ticket sales in cinema halls have decreased as people can consume contents on the go.
But some still find joy at drive-in movies - a bygone era of Americana - dating back to Hollywood's Golden age. Some 3,000 plus outlets are still operational across the US, although it is a far cry from the industry's heydays.
For those who do not know, drive-ins consist of a giant movie screen and a movie is projected on the screen in an open space. Instead of cushioned seats, the audience enjoys the movie from the comfort of their cars.
A big silver screen in open ground, some 30 parked cars, young people watching a film with drinks and popcorn (add hand sanitisers for the Covid generation) inside their ride - sums up the premise of a drive-in.
If you have watched Grease (1978) or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), you must have caught a glimpse of the movie characters at drive-ins.
Drive-ins were big in America. It flourished until the 80s and then went dark. Shopping malls and cineplexes became hot items. Peaking from 4,000 to only 305 now, drive-ins started to disappear.
Only a few boomers and millennials go to drive-ins now. For Gen-Z, it has become a nostalgia. Despite its decaying relevance, drive-ins drew a considerable number of people even before the pandemic.
It is not exactly a "revival," but the remaining outlets were doing okay. Even newer ones were opening up.
During the lockdown, when cinema halls were indefinitely closed and movie releases were put on hold, people found escapism at drive-ins. Wearing masks and taking the bare minimum precautions, more and more people went to drive-ins in 2020.
For them, seeing an old movie was more than a nostalgia trip. It was the only way to enjoy a public event, even though they were not allowed to mingle outside the car.
Bangladesh has always embraced pop culture from the West. Even decades ago, parents grimaced at New Year's parties. Then came the era of Comic Cons, Halloween fests and alleged pool parties. Young Bangladeshis were not confined within only celebrating Valentine's Day anymore.
This begs the question: Will we ever have drive-in movies in Bangladesh? It is not easy to do it here. But we already have arcades, paintballs and go-karts, then why not drive-ins?
If anybody ever wants to set up a drive-in movie in Bangladesh, the most crucial obstacle will be finding a proper open space where cars can easily manoeuvre. The area must be undisturbed and far away from the urban bustle. Then comes the giant screen. It has to be state-of-the-art so that the audience's viewing experience is uncompromised.
There is, however, a big problem. People have money for leisure but they do not flock to cineplexes anymore. Cinema halls are not the first thing that pops into one's mind when they think about spending quality time. Unless it is tentpole movies such as Avengers: Endgame or Dhaka Attack, fewer people are going to cinemas.
Moreover, single-screen halls have faced a fate similar to that of music CDs - none of them is relevant anymore.
Larger 3D screens and premium environment gave a respite for the cinema business as multiplex outlets are thriving in Dhaka and other regional cities.
If the multiplex business can live on, then why not a drive-in? Here is how it can be done, but remember it is hypothetical.
Find a place that is not crowded. It should be close to Dhaka, must have proper security measures and cars must have easy access to the venue. Erect a giant screen, get food stalls serving snacks to the audience, get some movie rights - could be action, romance or horror movies.
Bingo. You have a Bangladeshi drive-in now.
I know it sounds cool on paper but it will be tough to pull it off. Where should this drive-in be, anyway?
Some potential location could be Purbachal, Gazipur or Savar. People already take long drives in these places. If there is a drive-in there, it could be a reason to invite more friends for a night out, watching movies under the polluted, but still a beautiful sky.
Watching drive-in movies is already on my bucket list. if I ever get the chance to visit one, my list of drive-in movies includes Get Out, Aliens and Mean Girls. I would also love to watch a couple of episodes of That 70s Show.