On and off screenNepal and China could reach an accord to nudge their film industries to join forces.
Come Friday, the release of a new Nepali feature film is a normal affair. For that matter, the simultaneous release of two new Nepali movies is a frequent feature. Every now and then, a string of three releases hit the big screen. The cast, craft, narrative and treatment entail many challenges to underscore the content’s status as king. Star power in the commercial hour does not necessarily sustain an industry.
By virtue of annually recording more than 80 movies for quite some years—and now having achieved the three-digit mark—Nepal figures in list of the world’s 15 most prolific film producing nations. Even if the quantitative progress achieved since the second half of the 1990s has been notable, the quality and gate collections tell a sorry story.
Stripped of boast and laboured pretensions, the so-called star power in the Nepali film box office is virtually non-existent. On the balance sheet, barely 10 percent of the annual churn-out avoids the red. The other week, a daily newspaper in Kathmandu carried a headline ‘Heartthrob of a superstar’ to describe Anmol KC. But viewers were not quite star struck by the lead cast to take the box office by storm when his latest movie hit the big screen. Trying to reach all the audiences would go for the lowest denominator in terms of tastes and storylines. Viewers in the interior and rural areas should be reached for cultural elevation through various shades of society in theme and treatment.
What went wrong
Producers have the daunting task of walking viewers to the theatres, with multiple entertainment channels and choices all around. Some prove to be better artistes off screen than on screen. Others shed copious tears to attract attention, yet others purr with confected pleasure while a few feign purring with pleasure and swooning after ‘oohs and aahs’ over what they claim to be overwhelming viewer response to their screen presence. All along, producers find their pockets burnt. Some learn their lessons but most don’t, and keep on repeating the same doomed track for other (mis)adventures.
Used and abused genres far too often fail to attract cinephiles to the big screen when there are vastly more entertainment avenues than a generation ago. Producers and directors should learn to avoid the predictable and gear to adapt and adopt ideas, but with the required rigour and vigour. Formula-laden fare is the antithesis of creativity that precludes anything of the classic variety. Lifting sequences from Hindi movies that are often poor imitations of Hollywood and other Western presentations cannot carry a fare far. The outcome becomes pathetically poor presentations, giving short shrift to originality and creativity.
A copy of a copy exhausts story lines while formula fare fatigue kills cine-fans’ enthusiasm to flock to the theatres. A cinema with appeal across generations can be categorised as a classic, perhaps also chronicling contemporary climes. Nepal’s first movie hit the silver screen in the mid-1960s. In the next 25 years, less than 15 Nepali feature films were released. In contrast, the last three decades recorded about 1,500 films.
Glut and gold
The glut of Nepali movies has not prevented disastrous gate collections. Of the 100 Nepali films released in the past 12 months, barely 10 are believed to have recovered their investments. Which would mean that the entire industry’s collections would be less than what a single moderate Hindi hit film fetches. The Man from Kathmandu, in Nepali and English, directed by Pema Dhondup, was quoted, “We want to create interest for Nepali movies abroad.” Nakim Uddin’s production house Tree-City, in collaboration with Los Angeles production companies, produced the film that did not create much stir in Nepal. Its overseas collections, too, were said to be modest.
China allows an annual quota of 34 movies to enter the world’s most populous country. This means intense lobbying for the prized berths in the officially approved list. The prospect profusely wets the lips of the movie world’s big and mighty in the often over-rated Hollywood business and indeed in India, especially after Dangal’s 2017 runaway hit with $191 million (IRs9.9 billion) gate collections, outstripping the revenues of all previous Hindi movies on Chinese screens. This year, another Hindi movie, Andha Dhun, collected $150 million, nearly double of what it made in India.
Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners collected a strong $88.2 million as against its collection of $64 million in North America, the world’s No 1 movie market. Sony’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter did even better at $160 million in China against the $26.8 million it registered in North America. Big banners in Hollywood and Mumbai allocate up to 40 percent of the total budget for publicity on particularly small screens and other channels of mass media.
Commerce and creativity
The Unanico Group, an award-winning independent production company in London and a Shanghai-based company signed a $51.01-million agreement for the production and distribution of animated feature films. Cloth Cat Animation, another British company, and Chinese company Magic Mall announced collaboration on a 52-episode animation series to be distributed worldwide. Given China’s investments in Africa surpassing those of the rest of the world combined, the prospects of cooperation between China and the African continent are high. The US has 38,000 screens and India only 9,000. China is geared to have more than 80,000 screens by 2021. By comparison, Nepal has about 180 digitalised and 30 high vision screening halls.
The governments of Nepal and China could reach an understanding to nudge their film industries toward undertaking joint ventures. The cast of characters of the two neighbours sharing screen space would be a unique cultural undertaking showcasing what Asian cultural cooperation can produce for world moviedom to watch and study. Producing nearly 1,000 films a year, China—like India, Nigeria and the US—figures in the world’s top four most prolific film producing nations. Cinema making is a serious, risk-ridden creative undertaking. Matching quantity with quality is an ambition many dream merchants crave for.
The money a movie might fetch at the box office is uppermost in the minds of movie moguls. Yet, even if the cash registers indicate deep disappointment, the lure and power of the glamour and glitter of the cine world remains too overpowering for many movie makers to tread with caution. A mass audience does not mean indifferent people. Content-driven films are what contribute to both class and commerce. Two large film producing and consuming countries are Nepal’s immediate neighbours—India and China. Nepali cinema goers have been addicted to Hindi movies for too long. The movie making mantra stands: Be competitive.
Kharel is a former editor of The Rising Nepal.