The price of the pandemic on Nepali film actorsWith all projects either halted or postponed, the entire entertainment industry is at a standstill, leaving most actors with nothing to fall back on.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Saksham Subedi thought that he was finally making headway as an actor. Three years ago, Subedi had left a job as a healthcare manager to become a full-time actor. Since then, he has been doing short movies, music videos and bits in feature movies. “Acting is my passion and I wanted to turn my passion into my career. And I thought I was doing pretty well for myself,” said Subedi.
However, following the nationwide lockdown, declared in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19, Subedi said that his acting projects have collapsed, leaving him anxious about his future in the entertainment industry.
“I was preparing for my role in a short movie scheduled to be shot in March,” says Subedi, whose last mainstream film was the 2019 rom-com ‘Sano Mann’, where he played a supporting role. “I was also excited for two other acting gigs in feature movies. But now, all these projects have been postponed indefinitely,”
If the projects do not kick off on time, Subedi will face a financial crisis. “There is no money coming in right now and I am solely relying on my savings. If the situation prolongs, I’ll be in a financially vulnerable position,” said Subedi.
Acting in Nepal has always been regarded as an unstable vocation with financial risks with many actors depending on other side projects—such as modelling and advertising—to assist their financial needs. And with the Covid-19 pandemic putting the Nepali film industry, already not a profitable and stable industry, at a standstill, many actors are now anxious about their uncertain future in showbiz.
Shilpa Maskey, who has worked as a lead actor in three Nepali films, says that due to the volatile nature of the profession, most actors may not have enough money in savings to survive the long halt.
Maskey, who has worked in the Nepali entertainment sector for several years—first as a model and now as an actor, says financial uncertainty comes with the job, and that she says she has had to heavily depend on commercials and music videos to cover her expenses. “Since working in the entertainment industry is generally freelance and project based, I have neither been able to predict the quantity of the projects nor the revenue amount,” said Maskey.
Maskey too was supposed to start working in a web series but the project has now been postponed. The post-production of her movie ‘Devi’ too has been halted for now. “Our entertainment industry is small with a limited budget. With projects being cancelled and postponed, most actors have nothing to fall back on now that the industry is at a standstill,” said Maskey. Times are particularly difficult for newcomers in the industry.
But even before the pandemic, the Nepali movie industry was already struggling to sustain itself. And the current situation has only pushed the movie industry further into financial insecurity. Because of the lockdown, films that were ready for release have now been halted, others in production have been stalled. And working from home isn’t applicable for this industry when the crew cannot gather for shoots.
Things are looking grim for the industry. And the effects of the lockdown are already visible.
According to Akash Adhikari, director and President of Nepal Film Producers Association, the release of 15 movies have been cancelled whereas around 45 movies projects are dealing with pre-production, production and post-production delays. “Millions have been invested in these movies and due to the lockdown, producers are already suffering great loss,” said Adhikari.
There is also the fear among actors that even when the lockdown is lifted, business might take a while to pick up. Deepak Raj Giri, an actor and the producer of the ‘Chakka Panja’ franchise, believes that even after the lockdown is lifted, it is unlikely that many will go to a movie theatre. “People will still have that fear of Covid-19, and I am sure social distancing protocols will still be encouraged, and people will feel reluctant to go to the cinema hall. This will affect the overall movie business,” said Giri.
Considering the financial stress the pandemic has caused the Nepali film industry, Giri has decided to drop the project ‘Chakka Panja 4’ for now. “As a producer, I don’t want to put my project into any kind of financial risk,” said Giri.
But Giri is also an actor, and he is worried more about his future as one. “Along with being the co-producer of the Chakka Panja franchise, I am also an actor and I am scared that I may be out of an acting job for at least one year even after the lockdown,” said Giri.
Even for those who have secured acting gigs, the future is dismal, said Nischal Basnet, actor, director and producer. Many will have to compromise with the money, he says. “It is highly likely that the budget of all projects will also be reduced; it will affect everyone in the crew,” said Basnet.
Although both Giri and Basnet acknowledge the presence of online streaming sites, which is getting popular among the audiences especially during the lockdown, both say that Nepali productions have yet to wade into the digital realm. “There have been talks going on between some producers and Netflix to release their movies on the platform, however, nothing has come into conclusion,” said Basnet.
At uncertain times like these, for the industry to survive, it needs government assistance. For that, Adhikari, from the Nepal Film Producers Association, said that the Association has already sent an appeal to the government seeking financial aid. “Millions of people depend on this industry for their livelihood,” he said. “So, we have requested the government to provide us with a security fund. As an industry that pays tax to the government, we have also requested the government to provide subsidies of 20 percent for the production of every movie.”
As of now, there’s little else actors can do except wait. To make use of this time, however, many of them have sought the internet to keep audiences, and themselves, entertained and occupied. For instance, Loonibha Tuladhar is using YouTube to air ‘Pawankali’ episodes from her home.
Maskey has also been collaborating with other celebrities on social media platforms to run podcasts. “I don’t want to think a lot about my future for now. It only makes me anxious,” said Maskey.
Subedi too is keeping himself busy. He is unsure if the project for which he was roped in will go on the floor once the lockdown is over, but cinema is his passion and he’s working on himself to better his craft.
“I have always wanted to try my hand as a producer for short movies. So, instead of worrying a lot, I am now spending my spare time on trying to develop a script,” said Subedi.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.