The Lazarus Effect

By Siam Raihan

Just when we thought that the glory days of the Bangladeshi film industry were behind us, a new company has changed our perspective. Live Technologies Limited’s second feature film Poran has proven that there is still hope for our dying motion picture business. The film’s 100-day-long blockbuster run, an estimated Tk 15 crores in local ticket sales, and overseas success has put its producer Tamjid Atul under the spotlight. Produced by Tamjid, Raihan Rafi’s romantic tragedy film Poran, starring Sariful Razz, Bidya Sinha Mim, and Yash Rohan, broke all local theatrical records in the past three decades. In a recent interview with MW Bangladesh, Tamjid Atul, the Director of Live Technologies LTD and the Founder and Managing Director of its content wing Live Entertainment Limited, talks about his tech career, his transition into the audio-visual content industry, Poran’s historic success, and his hopes about Bangladesh’s content industry

How it all began

Tamjid and his partners started Live Technologies back in 2011 with the goal to revolutionize the digital content and services landscape of Bangladesh. They initially started different SMS-based digital services with several major telecommunication brands. Tamjid started his career in this industry back in 2007, whereas his other partners Sharif Uddin and Yasir Arafat first introduced these content-based services for telcos back in 2003. Live Technologies’ first major popular SMS-based content service was called “Follow.” It provided tweet-length celebrity updates for fans via SMS. It gained massive popularity among youngsters. They also developed Robi’s emergency balance service, which was the first of its kind in the country. After they partnered up and understood the local market better, they gradually shifted their focus to audio-visual content in Bangladesh. Then they started partnering up with local OTT platforms. Live Technologies parallelly helps the OTT platforms to develop their back end as well as produce, curate, and provide content for them. Tamjid and his team specialize in both streaming content and VOD (video on demand) content. Moreover, Live Technologies was the first Bangladeshi company to create the first locally financed OTT platform called Cinematic. While talking about the platform, Tamjid proudly explained: “Cinematic was completely one of its kind, as the site, app, and its content were all locally developed.”

“Good content needs proper market research along with experience in fiction content producing. Otherwise, it will never perform well”

With experience comes precision

At first, Cinematic began by buying locally produced content from Bangladeshi filmmakers. Those contents were performing well among the viewers. Yet, Tamjid and his team quickly realized they cannot properly serve the local market if they do not have end-to-end control over the product. They decided to produce original content and made their first Cinematic original film (Ami Tomar Hote Chai) but it did not perform the way they wanted. “Producing content takes experience, which we did not have at that time,” said Tamjid. “Good content needs proper market research along with experience in fiction content producing. Otherwise, it will never perform well,” he added.

Tamjid realized that he needed to learn fiction producing with proper market research, and shifted his attention there. Initially, the platform produced eight pieces of content which were released simultaneously on YouTube and aired on private television channels. Six of them instantly became the talk of the town. Notably, their original content like Ashfaq Nipun’s Victim, Sanjay Samaddar’s Je Shohorey Taka Ure, Rafat Mozumder Rinku’s Bodh, Kajal Arefin Ome’s The Viral Girl and Morichika.

“Live Technologies established a standard in our contemporary content industry. Both critics and fans posted positive reviews about our content. That boosted our confidence even more,” said Tamjid.

Meanwhile, the OTT wave had already hit Bangladesh’s shores and Live Technologies shifted their focus to this new rising industry. As they already had their own OTT platform Cinematic, they started producing their own original programs in 2020 instead of procuring them from third-party producers. “That is when we first collaborated with Raihan Rafi and we produced Janowar, inspired by true events, which again became viral,” said Tamjid. They, later on, went on and produced several popular Cinematic originals like Troll and Dark Room. While continuously working on the local content market they developed a magnificent team. This was the turning point when Tamjid and his young team understood that they were now ready to gear up for theatrical releases. Market research for the next big theatrical hit began.

The Poran story

Tamjid explained that the gradual growth and success of their team boils down to effort. By 2021, they knew that they had built a corporate structure complete with brilliant market research and a digital team as well as a talented group of filmmakers at their disposal to cater to what the Bangladeshi audience wants and needs. Live Technologies also firmly believes in content made in Bangladesh, for the Bangladeshi people, and by the Bangladeshi people.

“If you look closely, you will realize that we never shoot any of our content outside of Bangladesh. All of our cast and crew and even the post-production are done within this country. We never hired a single director from abroad,” Tamjid explained. He and his team have a motto that commercially successful content can be produced within Bangladesh using the local cast and crew.

Keeping that thought in mind, in 2019, Tamjid scouted Raihan Rafi who already had two major theatrical hits like Dohon and Poramon 2. His team thought Rafi was the perfect fit for their first original web-film. They then came across the Gazipur incident during the Covid-19 pandemic. Tamjid asked Rafi if he would be up for the challenge of filming something based on the event. Rafi dived in head first and created Janowar in a very short time and with a limited budget, and it went on to become a nationwide sensation. In doing so, Rafi gained the immense trust of his producer Tamjid, and developed a keen harmony. When Live Technologies started its research for the next big theatrical hit, it was to Rafi that Tamjid and his team turned, and after extensive meetings, they discovered, developed, and settled on the Poran story.

“As we are a self-financed organization, my team and I crunched the numbers and could allocate only Tk 83 lakhs for this project, including the small marketing and promotional plan,” Tamjid explained. Rafi was confident in himself and started searching for the perfect location to pull this film off within this tight budget.

Could you tell us how the production of Poran went down?

Due to the tight budget, team Poran had to find the perfect location. Tamjid advised that Rafi can shoot the entire film in his hometown Mymensingh. The production team can get all the logistical help from the locals and authorities, as Tamjid grew up there. “I also want to give a shout-out to the people of Mymensingh. Without their immense love and support, Poran wouldn’t have been possible,” Tamjid said. After the production and post-production were completed, the third wave of Covid-19 hit the country and the release of Poran was postponed. Time went by. Just a few weeks before the last Eid-ul-Adha, Rafi called Tamjid up and said that they should release the film. Tamjid asked Rafi if he was confident enough to release it on Eid when several other films will be competing for the limited number of theaters in the country. Rafi replied that he is confident about the content. Tamjid agreed. They received the censor board clearance just four days before Eid. Meanwhile, they arranged several preview sessions where most of the members gave very positive reviews about Poran. In this little time, they also did some promotion events and press meets and it finally hit theaters on July 10. The rest is history.

Even with all the research and strategic planning in place, did you guys expect the blockbuster response of Poran?

Tamijd laughed and earnestly replied that they had confidence in their content, but never expected in their wildest imagination that this would be such a major hit among the Bangladeshi people living in the country and abroad.

“Yes, we did not have the budget to do a huge promotional campaign. But we were very confident about our product. We were confident that our ROI will be fulfilled. If the product is subpar, not even a million dollars worth of promotional content will bring the audience to the theaters. And the audience has proven just that,” Tamjid said.

Can you share how much profit Poran brought?

Tamjid sighed and said that it is sad that the local film industry’s structure is set up in such a way that one cannot confidently claim a blockbuster hit, as no one releases the proper data or sales reports. The theaters, distributors, and sales agents do not release accurate sales reports to the producers. Hence, it is difficult for a producer to figure out his or her actual profit. “But Live Technologies has received around Tk 2 crore up until now from the local theatrical ticket sales from a product which was around Tk 83 lakhs to produce,” said Tamjid.

OTT release plans?

Tamjid clarified that Poran is still being screened both locally and internationally. Several major OTT platforms and television channels have already reached out to them about its digital and broadcast rights. “As the film is still running in theaters, we are waiting for the perfect timing to release it online. Also, even Netflix and Disney+ content gets pirated as soon as they get released. We don’t want that right now. Moreover, as we have our own OTT platform Cinematic, we are also planning a simultaneous digital release on several platforms including our own. If that is possible, it will also be a first in Bangladesh’s film history.” said Tamjid.

What is your recommendation for young producers who want to enter this market?

Tamjid said that Live Technologies welcomes young blood and healthy competition in this market. He also warned about the risks of content business in Bangladesh. He clarified that Live Technologies at its core is a tech company which provides digital goods and services to its clients. They produce content from the profit generated from their tech business wing. He also mentioned that a well-tuned corporate structure is necessary to succeed in the art business. “If five or more corporate content-producing companies like ours start rolling out superhit films like Poran then we do not have to rant about changing the local system. The system will structure itself to churn out as much profit for all parties serving the content pipeline,” said Tamjid. “One or two Poran and Hawa’s is just not enough for a paradigm shift. We need a lot of corporate companies producing and releasing 20 or more great films every year then our film industry will automatically change in the right direction,” he continued.

“But, I want to clarify again that no one should whimsically start a content business overnight. It takes years of patience, a great corporate structure with a proper R&D team, and a content production team. With proper market research and a plan in place, anyone can succeed in this market, as there is such a scarcity of good content here,” advised Tamjid.

Personal life

Tamjid was born and raised in Mymensingh. He started his tech career after graduating in CSE from the capital’s Prime University. He described himself as a family man and living happily in a joint family. “I live with my mother, wife, and three kids. Actually five. If you include my nephew and niece, who are just as close to us as our own children,” Tamjid happily explained. He also said that he loves to spend time with his family members and they are his first priority in life.

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