Kathmandu, Nov. 29: Like most other businesses, the Nepali film industry entered a period of extended hibernation following the government-imposed lockdown. Nine months hence, while other sectors have gradually risen out of their slumber, the movie business is yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Film shoots have been canceled, releases indefinitely postponed, and cinema halls remain shut.
Altogether about 75 mainstream Nepali films have had to endure the pandemic’s brunt, according to Nepal Film Producers Association (NFPA). According to Akash Adhikari, president of the Association, around 28 Nepali films were wrapped up and ready for release at the lockdown’s outset.
“The rest 47 of them were either in the pipeline or had begun filming,” said Adhikari.
So far, the NFPA and the Film Development Board (FDB) approximate anywhere between Rs. 1.45billion to Rs. 1.70 billion worth of investment at stake.
As per the NFPA, it currently costs Rs. 8 million to Rs. 25 million to make a Nepali feature film. “Filmmakers take loans to make them, and under the circumstances with no filming, distribution or release, how they are going to pay back,” worried Adhikari.
The once-thriving halls of Gopi Krishna Cinemas have been dark since March. In much more favourable circumstances, the cinema hall would have earned around Rs. 400,000 to Rs. 500,000 from a single weekend’s show of a blockbuster screening.
“Since the lockdown, however, we have only incurred losses. The theatre, which currently employs 45 individuals, has now been retaining its staff in half-salary,” said Pradeep Dahal, Manager at Gopi Krishna Cinemas.
Similar is the case for other theatres, like the QFX Cinemas. The popular chain has closed all of its 12 branches across the nation, resulting in an unprecedented plunge in their business.
With silver screens shut, the movies awaiting release have no other choice but to postpone their screening or show them via Dish Home and YouTube like Lawajuni, Kopila, and Hero Returns, all of whose releases were delayed following the lockdown.
Although online streaming sites are increasingly getting popular among the audiences, Nepali productions have yet to wade into the digital realm.
“Another trend is that music videos, which require limited crew unlike feature lengths, have seen a huge surge after the government eased the lockdown,” Adhikari said.
Feature-length films, on the other hand, which require up to 50 crew members are still not granted permission to shoot.
The filmmakers, producers, and cinema hall operators, however, are adamant about resuming business.
“We have submitted written memorandum twice through FDB to the Minister for Communication and Information Technology, the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister but to no avail,” informed Madhusudan Pradhan, chairman of Nepal Motion Pictures Association, talking about the industry’s willingness to strike back. “We have agreed to adhere to the WHO Standards. Keep a distance of one seat each between viewers while also using all the safety precautions, sanitizers, and keeping doctors on standby in the hall for 12 hours,” Pradhan said.
But opening cinema halls to the public and screening films on the big screen is only the tip of the huge iceberg of problems. For one, films will not break even with only 50 per cent footfall or less, which is why the NFPA and FDB are advocating for subsidy provision.
“We have urged the government to provide 20 per cent of the total cost of film production as relief package to restore the industry,” stated Adhikari.
In the meantime, the Nepal Rastra Bank’s Monetary Policy has recognised the entertainment industry as a hard-hit sector during the pandemic. The policy states that facilities such as the extension of loan payment schedule, restructuring, and rescheduling of loans will be provided to the entertainment sector.
Fifty five films were released in Nepal last year and 95 the year before that, but with projects cancelled and releases pushed back, many daily wages-earning film technicians have remained jobless since the pandemic.
D. B. Bhandari, production manager, who has been involved in his craft for 35 years, had never before faced such a drought of job opportunities. “I haven’t had a single project to work on. Meeting day to day needs has also now become a challenge,” bemoaned Bhandari.
While organisations like Nepal Film Technical Association have been distributing relief packages for workers like Bhandari, but how long can they depend on such scanty relief funds?
The COVID-19 has put billions of businesses at stake and rendered thousands of film industry workers indefinitely jobless. In such circumstances, the people related to the sector worry that it will easily take over two-three years for the already fledgling industry to gain steady momentum.
– The Rising Nepal