Kathmandu, May 9
Vivek Maharjan, a self-proclaimed movie buff, used to make sure he did not miss a single movie playing in the local theatres. Even when news of the rapidly spreading coronavirus had deterred many movie goers, he continued to indulge in the luxury of watching movies on the big screen.
Then came the lockdown on March 24.
“I miss going to the cinemas, but what can anyone do in this situation,” Maharjan said.
Movie theatres were struggling even before the lockdown as the number of visitors had started dwindling.
According to Madhusudhan Pradhan, president of Nepal Motion Picture Association (NMPA), around 200 movie theatres across the country are at risk at this moment.
While he said it was difficult to estimate the exact loss facing movie theatres ‘as collection depended on the movies’, he added, “It was rather unfortunate that some crowd-pullers had been released just before the lockdown.”
According to Pradhan, most movie theatres have paid full salary of all staffers till April, but discussions are under way regarding the future. He informed that NMPA will be meeting the finance minister soon urging deferral in loan repayment.
Meanwhile, Rakshya Singh Rana, president of Film Directors’ Guild of Nepal, said the World Health Organisation had enlisted the movie industry at the bottom as it was part of the entertainment sector. Hence, the sector has been least prioritised by the government too.
“The lockdown has already put our investment on ice and even after the restrictions are eased, adopting precautionary measures will not be possible during movie making,” she said.
According to her, the guild is providing support to the technical teams that have been rendered jobless.
The Nepal Film Producers’ Association (NFPA) estimates the country’s movie industry has faced losses worth Rs two billion during this lockdown period.
“Around 40 movies were all set for release, however, due to the lockdown, all our investment went down the drain,” said Akash Adhikari, president of NFPA. “A total of 15 movies had already scheduled their release date while around 25 movies were in post-production phase right before the lockdown,” he said, adding that most movies had garnered good response from the audience during promotional campaigns.
According to him, each movie has investment up to Rs 40 million.
“Producers have started breaking in sweat wondering how they will pay back their loans, while jobs of around 200,000 people — both directly and indirectly employed in the sector — are at risk now,” he said.
Adhikari worries that it will be a long hard recovery for the industry. “It will take at least two years for things to normalise,” he predicted.
NFPA has demanded that the government waive 100 per cent tax on movie tickets once the movie halls resume operation. Likewise, the association has also demanded waiver of electricity bills for the movie industry. Meanwhile the deadline for loan payment should be extended till the end of this year, said NFPA President Adhikari. “The movie industry will take longer to heal, so the government has to give at least six months to clear the loans,” he added.
In the current fiscal, around 57 Nepali movies have been produced. While movie theatres are planning to drastically reduce seat occupancy and implement online ticketing, the measures may not be enough to lure back patrons.
“Even if movie theatres do open in the near future, I don’t think I will be visiting any cinema hall for a while,” said Maharjan. “The risk is just not worth taking.”
A version of this article appears in e-paper on May 10, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.
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