Screen Space Of Nepali Cinema : P. Kharel

Gone are the days when a new Nepali movie hit the screen after a year or two. Nepal now is among the world’s 15 most prolific movie producing countries, and the second in South Asia. These days, the release of two feature films on a Friday is no longer a rarity, what with some 100 movies being released last year alone. The contradiction lies in the meteoric rise in the numbers and drastic stagnation in fresh approaches to the theme and treatment of storylines.  

The banner of the Nepali cine-industry presents a sharp contrast between the volume and the value of feature films in a telling tale of the existing tragedy in tinsel town. The glamour and glitter associated with the movie world are an overpowering attraction for producers. For that matter, individuals before and behind the camera dismiss the bleak prospects of making it big in terms of praise, prestige and profits of the financial variety.

Volume & value

Although Nepal’s first movie hit the silver screen in the mid-1960s, the first 25 years did not even produce 25 feature films. The latter 25 years have recorded some 1,000 movies. It has been a decade or so since the industry churned out more than 70 productions annually. In the year just gone by, however, as many as 100 films were registered.  

If reports and comments in the entertainment pages of the broadsheet dailies are any indication, nine out of every 10 movies released are doomed to fail at the box office. This could be because of the stories being too thin for sustaining audience interest. There is even less for an intelligent audience. In fact, the industry’s prevailing practices cater neither to the mass nor to the discerning class.

Viewership cannot be a permanent charity response to presentations that are below par. Taste patterns of the increasing number of potential movie-goers in the youth community are shifting. Films made outside the film establishment are quite different from those made inside the establishment as far as financing and distribution are concerned. If story themes spread too thin and are repetitive with predictably monotonous regularity and pattern, the lack of minimum required value inherently keeps cine-goers at bay.

In Nepal, films get boxed at exhibition queues and bomb at the box office for a variety of reasons - nine out of 10 losing money even if generating modicum of satisfaction for all involved to have a taste of active role in cinema making. Amid cash registers recording deeply disappointing collections, the cine-sector competes with too many choices but extremely little newness in various aspects of presentations.

In neighbouring India, the world’s most prolific movie producing industry for more than 40 years, critics regularly come out with sharp comments on the story lines in and treatment of productions under various banners. Many of the commercially successful presentations are derided for either being straight copies from Hollywood products or for only pandering to the frivolous tastes of the less discerning. Most movies churned out in various Indian languages, including Hindi, bomb at the box office.

f Nepali film producers were to churn out cheap copies of Hindi cinema, audiences would go for the original. A mass audience does not mean it accepts copies from foreign films just as a class audience does not mean abstract themes, monologues, inordinately long shots and slow scenes. The call is for the production unit to scan the script, dig deep into the theme and be on constant drive for something fresh and interesting.

UNESCO has it that India, Nigeria, the United States, Japan, China, France, Russia, Germany, Spain, Italy, Korea, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Switzerland were among the top-notch film producing countries for the years 2005 to 2009. The countries registering the highest figures in admissions, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory, are China, India and the US.  India and Nigeria, as producers, were into the four figures. Britain and France were producing a little over 100 films a year. The US, China and others were in the three digits whereas the Philippines, Bangladesh and Switzerland were in the two digits. 

If the 2009 figures are assumed to maintain the same pace and progress today, Nepal would be listed as the top 15 film producing nations in the world. The certainty is that Nepal has certainly joined the exclusive club of 20 top film producing countries. As for the box office grosser, the situation is sharply pathetic.

As the avenues for movie entertainment have expanded, attracting theatre visiting cine-fans faces stiff competition in many large film industries. Movie halls might attract less and less numbers of audiences but sales through other outlets like TV screenings and CD sales give big returns. There are, however, some countries that record marked upward swings. For instance, China’s box office revenue in 2014 recorded a remarkable spurt of 36 per cent over the previous year’s figures. As recreational spending increases, new avenues for improved techniques, larger settings and incentives for trying new concepts also get a big boost.

Make way for better

The elements of subtlety, consistency and persistence are valued for impact of a durable type. Sophistry of arrangement and treatment applied in a cinema are of prime significance. Cinema calls for becoming creatively communicative, visually pleasing and meeting the basic criteria of the movie-goers who are after different genres of this mass media. The youth make the most potent presence in the audiences. The subtle stories of propaganda ensnare and poison the minds to lose the power of critical faculties and become tools or puppets for the designs of vested interests. The degree and dimensions of distortions derail the opponents’ tactics.

Nepali cinema goers have been addicted to Hindi movies for seven decades or so. Screenings of Hollywood films are few and far between in this country. In fact, movies in the English language hardly ever get screened outside the Kathmandu Valley. As for Nepal’s film industry, the challenge is to become competitive by taking the plunge into the cinematic genre that is off the beaten track in theme and presentation. This is undoubtedly an extremely tall order in the existing disorder, but absolutely necessary just the same if film producers are to offer wholesome entertainment and raise the prospects of their success and status. 

World cinema has come a long way since France screened the first moving pictures in 1895. Today, big banners in Mumbai and Hollywood spend as much as 40 per cent of their total budget on advertising and publicity to promote films. Nepali cinema buffs have access to many avenues for not just movies but also other varieties of entertainment.  

The days of the government in Nepal producing Aama, Parivartan and Hijo, Aaja, Bholi are long over. Earlier, the novelty value was in merely seeing Nepali locales and Nepali artists speaking the Nepali language, which no longer is the case for the audiences who want something more. Invitations must be extended to credible foreign investors with the purse and experience to build studios for promoting Nepal as an ideal shooting spot to generate revenue and enable Nepalis to rub shoulders with talented technicians and other hands in the departments of production, distribution and exhibition. In the process, the Nepali film industry would benefit considerably in enhancing the quality of its fares in an increasingly competitive market.

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