No end in sight for Nepali cine industry’s crisis

Prasun Sangroula

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Life returned to normalcy after months’ long restrictions and lockdowns in the country, and many sectors that were hit hard due to the pandemic started on a revival mission. But for some sectors, it was not less than a herculean task to rebuild and bounce back.

One among such sectors badly affected by the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions is Nepali cinema industry.

Sandesh Shakya, a theatre artist, was very happy to see that normal life was coming back on track slowly but steadily. He was all set to begin his career as an actor in Nepali Cinema Industry. Shakya had even started rehearsals for the role he had bagged in a movie before the lockdown.

But due to increasing uncertainty in the industry, nothing went his way. Just when he was hoping to hear some good news; he received an email from the director stating that they had halted the movie project for some time.

Shakya is just a representative character, there are, in fact, many such individuals in the cinema industry, whose dreams have been shattered due to the pandemic followed by series of restrictions imposed by the government to contain the spread of coronavirus. Not only actors, but also the directors, producers, cinema hall owners and film distributors, among other stakeholders of the industry, are in the receiving end.

The government had lifted all the restrictions some three months ago. With this cinema halls also reopened.

“Seeing some glimmers of hope for revival, a couple of producers took a daring step of releasing their movies amidst the uncertainty. As expected, the movies could not do much in the box office and utterly failed,” said Dayaram Dahal, executive chair of Film Development Board.

Though the board provided some financial support to the movies released during this tough phase, but that was not enough to recover the loss incurred.

The industry, which has been hit badly by the first wave of the virus, is sure to face the brunt of the second wave.

In a bid to revive the industry, the board has also decided to bear various expenses such as promotional costs, encoding and virtual private cloud costs of the movies to be released after the lockdown. The board is ready to spend millions to revive the industry, but still many producers do not want to take the risk of releasing their moves during a time of uncertainty.

“Movie producers across the world have also shied away from releasing their movies during the time of the pandemic, which is why Nepali producers don’t seem much interested in releasing their movies in the present situation,” said Dahal.

The industry, which has been hit badly by the first wave of the virus, is sure to face the brunt of the second wave of coronavirus and this time the impact will be even more severe. To add to the woes, the government decision of April 19 to shutdown cinema halls is sure to render a severe blow to the already rattled cinema industry.

Dahal said that the resurgence in the Covid cases is not a good sign for the cinema industry.

Dahal informed that preparations were under way to provide financial support to the movies in pipeline. Similarly, he also demanded a special package from the government to revive the film industry in the budget of upcoming fiscal.

Loss incurred by the industry so far

According to Akash Adhikari, president of Nepal Film Producer Association, till date, the industry has already incurred the loss of Rs 160 million and it will increase if the present situation persists for long.

“Around 75 movies have been affected by the pandemic, of them 40 movies are ready for release and the remaining 25 are in production phase,” Adhikari informed.

Among many demands, the Film Development Board has fulfilled some of the demands of the film makers, but it is not enough, Adhikari said. Similarly, he also appealed the government to develop a coping mechanism for smooth operation of the film industry.

With movie producers, cinema hall owners are also bearing a hefty loss. “Before the pandemic on an average cinema hall owner used to make profit worth Rs one million in a month, but now their earning has come down to null,” said Roshan Adiga, chief executive officer at Team Quest- a company that manages QFX cinemas.

Adiga added they had already put forth their demands to the government regarding tax exemption and other financial issues, but the government had yet to respond. He is not hopeful that the government will accord any priority to the industry.

What Next?

At a time when many movie makers have switched to over the top (OTT) release, Nepali film makers are left with no such alternative mainly due to the technical reasons — Nepal does not allow international payments for OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.

Film makers of the neighboring country India have opted for OTT platforms, but they are also satisfied with such release for various reasons, sustainability and reduced revenues a major concern.

Director Dipendra K Khanal says he tried to release his movie — Aama — through an international OTT platform but due to the technical hassles in making payments, he had to drop the idea of OTT release.

Considering the present crisis facing the industry and realizing the fact that theatre doors won’t be thrown open so easily, Khanal opines that the only feasible means for the Nepali filmmakers is to go for international OTT platforms and the government should facilitate in this regard to give some respite to the faltering Nepali film industry.