A new generation of savvy directors and producers familiar with global trends in cinema are changing the way films are made these days.
--BY KRISHANA PRASAIN
Gone are the days when Nepali movies would struggle hard just to break even months after their release . Nowadays, Nepali movies are making substantial profits even just a few weeks after opening. Take for example Chakka Panja which was released on September 9 and has collected Rs 50 million as of September 20 against a budget of Rs eight million. Meanwhile, the August 18 released Chapali Height 2 grossed over Rs 20 million in 10 days which was also made on a budget of Rs eight million.
Nepali movies have been garnering widespread commercial and critical acclaim over the last few years. Movies like Loot, Kabbadi Kabbadi, Pashupati Prasad, Dreams and Kohinoor have set benchmarks with their excellent box office returns as well as ushering in new standards of cinema making in the domestic film industry. With the arrival of a new generation of movie makers, the dimensions of Nepali cinema is getting broader and better with each passing day. Contrary to the traditional style of film making, the new breed of directors and producers do not hesitate to experiment and take bold risks.
The status of Nepali cinema changed with the blockbuster hit ‘Loot’ directed by Nischal Basnet. Released in 2012, the movie earned Rs 25.5 million and remains a trend setter in the Nepali film industry. The movie also proved that Nepali cinemas are also worth watching and attracted a whole new generation of domestic film goers. Likewise, another blockbuster movie ‘Kohinoor’ (2014) directed by Akash Adhikari broke all domestic box office records collecting Rs 120 million. Nepali films are also grossing significant collections in countries where large number of Nepalis reside. On top of this, Nepali films are also increasing their presence in international film festivals.
Though a few movies have created outstanding magic at the box office, the scene behind the curtains is more prosaic and gloomy. Out of 66 movies released last year, only six or seven made any headway in terms of earnings. According to Prakash Subedi, film Critic and movie journalist, it was expensive for the 60 unsuccessful movies costing the film industry around Rs 500 million. “Lack of carrying out studies and research is the reason to add flop movies to the list,” says Subedi. Nepali movies are being produced on budgets averaging of Rs seven to eight million while some are even produced on lower budgets.
Industry experts say that movies are being produced more in terms of quantity than on quality. In the last five years, 60-70 movies have been released annually. Nonetheless, only five or seven movies have performed well at the box-office. “Out of all the movies, 90 percent cannot even break even. 50 percent cannot even raise promotional costs,” mentions Sunil Manadhar, a movie distributor and producer, adding, “The remaining 10 percent have earned good returns and five percent of them have even earned double their budgets.”
According to critics, creativity, art and originality are generally lacking in Nepali movies .In Hollywood and Bollywood, the movie makers spend a significant time researching while producing a single movie. In our industry the trend is to catch a movie when it becomes a hit, and then jump on the bandwagon. Rather than focusing on what the audience is looking for, films are being produced just to grab the attention of the media.
One of the major drawbacks of the industry is that it lacks a modern box office collection system due to which no exact figure exists to show the size of the business. “There is a lack of a systematic computerised database system. It is a major problem to find out actual industry data,” says Subedi. However, the Film Development Board after much criticism has initiated the process to start box office regulation. “A tender has been opened for the purpose and hopefully Nepali theatres will have a box office system established by this year,” he informs.
Budgetary constraints are also holding back the development of the domestic movie industry. Unlike Hollywood or Bollywood cinemas with huge budgets, it is hard for Nepali producers to find financial sources as movies are not considered to be avenues for investment here. This is stopping Nepali movies from using the latest technologies. One such example is the animation sections which are being outsourced by Hollywood movies to Nepal. “Budget constraint is the major problem. We are not capable of investing huge amounts like in foreign movies. Also, our market is very limited,” opines Dipendra K Khanal, Director of the critically and commercially acclaimed Pashupati Prasad. He views that the industry needs specific support from the government. “Currently, we do not have any support from the government which is vital to establish this industry as one of the major business sectors of the country.”
Despite the various problems, the Nepali film industry has shown encouraging signs that it is heading for a brighter future. The digitization process has upgraded the technology used to make films leaving the old analogue system, which was responsible for mediocre quality pictures, largely redundant. Similarly, new talent, many with theatrical backgrounds and training, are adding more quality acting wise.
The new breed of film makers is creating their own way of telling stories with original and realistic content. “Being authentic with the source is a trend that is working,” says 2012 megahit Loot’s Director Nischal Basnet.
With the changes in technology, techniques and style of storytelling, Nepali movies are gradually uplifting its status. QFX CEO Roshan Adigya sees the quality of movies, good acting, cinematography and the quality of cinema halls as the biggest reasons as to why the halls are filling up. “Realising the importance of marketing, the producers and directors are becoming more aware and they are spending more promoting their movies,” he says adding, “And Nepal’s movie halls are benefitting commercially.”
Likewise, Nischal Basnet views that corporate collaboration, proper marketing strategy, box office regulation, theatre standard enhancement are the key factors to enhance the Nepali film industry. “Above all, the urge to make a good movie by the production unit will improve the standard of our Nepali cinema,” points out Basnet.
“Viewers can’t turn their heads away from good movies”
Which direction is the Nepali film industry heading in?
The Nepali film industry is changing its ways. We are seeing changes in the way we tell stories. Authentic Nepali stories are being explored. Movies are making a big impact among film goers here and abroad as well. The other progress is that our movies have started to make their presence felt in world cinema by being selected for various international film festivals. I see a good future for our movies in the days to come.
What are the reasons behind the commercial success of the movies in recent years and what’s behind the growing attraction of urban viewers?
The main point of any movie is to entertain the audience. We can say that we are able to keep that buzz for the Nepali audience. The changes and improvements in storytelling and presentation is the main reason for the recent commercial success of our movies.
Urban viewers are mostly attracted to theatres because of the fact that movies have started to match our taste and we have been trying to portray real Nepali characters, real locations and realistic approach by the artists. Mutltiplexes are also another reason why urban viewers are watching more Nepali films.
What are the new and emerging trends in Nepali cinema?
New filmmakers are creating their own ways of storytelling rather than copying foreign ideas. Being authentic with the story is a trend that is actually working.
As the director of blockbusters like Loot, Kabbadi Kabbadi and Talakjung vs Tulke, what are your ideas on the changing taste of Nepali cinema goers?
As long as we tell a story that is authentic and relatable to us, viewers will enjoy it regardless of the genre. I think if we make a good movie the viewers can’t turn their heads away.
What are the problems and what do you think is lacking the most in Nepali cinema?
There are a lot of problems if we start looking into it. We lack the capability of executing the whole movie exactly the way we want because of various factors like budget constraints, marketing gaps, lack of proper studio setups, stunt professionals and so on. But I do believe that better things do come from an imperfect world. Rather than running away from the problems, it is better we face them boldly and never let any of those problems stop what we do, that is keep making movies.
What can be done to improve the standards of Nepali movies?
Corporate collaboration, proper marketing strategy, box-office regulations, theatre standard enhancement, and above all the urge to make a good movie by the production unit will improve the standard of Nepali cinema.
“Systematic box office collection is important for any movie industry”
How do you assess the changing scenario of the Nepali film industry?
There was a time when three names used to sell films- Rajesh Hamal, Biraj Bhatta and Nikhel Uprety. Before them there was the time of Bhuwan KC and Shiva Shrestha. This trend continued for a long time which hampered the growth of the Nepali film industry as movies used to come in similar patterns. Only one movie in a year used to complete silver or diamond jubilees at that time. The Maoist insurgency heaped more problems onto the already ailing industry in later years.
There are two types of Nepali movie goers. One is the traditional audience and other is a new generation of viewers. In 2012, the release of the movie Loot changed the whole scenario attracting all types of audiences proving that Nepali films are also worth watching. The digitisation of films replacing the traditional reels started with Loot which also added to more picture clarity. Also, a new breed of actors emerged with the movie.
On an average, a hundred movies are released here annually. 102 movies were released here in 2071 whereas, 66 movies were released last year which is significant for a country like Nepal. Nevertheless, the overproduction becomes a problem which ultimately decreases the value of movies. Among the 66 movies, seven were hardly successful, whereas 60 movies suffered losses amounting to a minimum of Rs 500 million. However, production wise Nepali movies are being upgraded with the use of technology, and the emergence of new talent. Low budget movies like Pashupati Prasad have done well commercially.
How do you see the growth over the last five years?
Analysing the last five years, the industry is gradually growing. Technically and quality wise, the industry has improved a lot in the past few years. The quality of the acting has also perked up in recent years. Workshops are being organised before the filming of movies. Producers are paying attention to the locations and costumes of the characters as well. Nonetheless, we still need to do a lot more homework to move the industry ahead.
Movies like Loot, Chapali Height, Dreams, Kohinoor and Pashupati Prasad have attracted a new generation of film goers. However, such kinds of movies are still low in number. The difference in the ticket price of single theatres and multiplexes is also affecting the income of movies. The market value should be 50-50 inside and outside the valley. Yet the valley collects the entire investment. If a movie makes Rs 10 million, for example, the producer gets only Rs three million and the rest is divided among hall owners, distributors and the promotion costs of the movie. At present, the average budget for a Nepali movie hovers around Rs six million. If a producer wants to raise the investment, then the movie needs to make over Rs 20 million which is almost impossible looking at the current scenario.
How can the industry be uplifted to make it into a major business sector of the country?
Sufficient study and research helps. This will create good results and produce hits. The producers and directors making films need to understand the sector very well.
Only one percent of the country’s total population is watching Nepali movies at present. If we can make five percent of the population watch the movies, I think the Nepali film industry will become the major business sector. Introducing box office regulations for the classification of movies according to the level of cinema halls is also important to uplift the industry.
How does the introduction of box office regulation enhance the industry?
It takes two months to collect the total box office report from across the country which is also in paper form. A computerised database system is required for timely box office reports. Systematic box office collection is important for any movie industry.
Nepali producers are prioritising movie promotions as well. What else can be done to promote movies so that it can attract more people?
Audiences these days have become tech savvy. The industry somehow ignored the new generation who are connected to the digital media. Digital media is the best way to promote movies. Still, story presentation and the quality of the videos are the most important aspects to attract more crowds.
What else can be done to improve the standard of Nepali movies?
Releasing three or four movies on the same day is a major problem in the Nepali film industry. Due to this, a good movie may fall under the radar of the audience. More support is needed in the industry and the Film Development Board also needs to take the initiative to support good movies by creating a more favourable environment.