The entertainment industry has been massively hit by the coronavirus pandemic with film productions delayed and cinema halls remaining closed.
Roshan Adiga, CEO of QFX says, “Since different halls have different owners, it is difficult to give the exact figures of the losses that we have faced. One thing I can say for certain is that the losses run into millions.”
QFX, which is one of the biggest cinema companies in Nepal, has around 12 halls across the nation and everybody is anticipating a time when halls will be allowed to open like in the good old days.
“We have not approached the government directly regarding the issue of halls being allowed to reopen. But we have been talking to the Nepal Motion Pictures Association (NMPA) about it,” informs Adiga.
However, he adds at present they are stuck in between a rock and a hard place. “We want to reopen our businesses but without any new film releases there is no point in doing so,” he adds.
After the first lockdown last year, NMPA decided to reopen cinema halls but Adiga mentions it was a futile exercise as there were no Kollywood or Bollywood flicks to run. With no movies in production, he points out it is better to keep cinema halls closed for the moment.
However, the sad part of is that most of the staff working in various halls has been laid off since the first lockdown was announced last year.
Adiga says, “We have had to let go more than half of our staff due to the lockdown as the future is uncertain. We did pay them for the initial six months but beyond that it was just not possible.” He adds there are only a few management staff still employed, besides the security team and cleaners who come at times to check on the auditoriums.”
Madhu Sudhan Pradhan, President of NMPA, says, “In my opinion only the private sector trying to keep the cinema industry afloat is not going to work. We need the government's help but since the lockdown we have realised how the government views our industry. They view us differently.”
There are many factors that affect cinema halls like electricity and water bills and the bank loans which need to be paid.
“We have been talking to the Film Development Board about the next best step for the film industry,” says Pradhan, adding production houses, distributors and movie theatres have all been affected and the association is trying its best to find solutions for all.
According to Pradhan, the most disappointing aspect is that the banks have been charging 2 per cent penalty on late repayment of loans. He further adds that producers are not willing to release any film because the last time they did, they faced big losses.
“In Nepal, a movie is successful only when the shows are houseful. But with the social distancing norms in place I doubt if people are going to visit a theatre,” he states.
Nirak Poudel, Managing Director of Gopi Krishna Cinema Hall, says, “As a person who has been in the movie business for quite a while, I can confidently say is there is no point in reopening cinema halls even when the government does allows us to do so if there is no content to release.”
About the Gopi Krishna Cinema Hall, he informs, “We are demolishing the old structure and building a multiplex with only three halls and 167 hotel rooms,” Previously, Gopi Krishna had seven halls under a single roof.
“We are facing a lot of hurdles right now and we had to let go of 80 per cent of our staff but I believe in the age-old saying that every dark cloud has a silver lining,” shares Poudel.
He believes that the trend of ‘big screens’ is not going to lose its appeal. “I feel nothing can beat the beauty of watching a movie on a big screen with popcorn in one hand a cola on the other.”
However, he says the government should extend some help during these trying times. “The government says time and again that it will provide necessary help but nothing has been forthcoming.”
He cites the example of the government announcement on providing relief on electricity bills during the budget. “When we approached Nepal Electricity Authority they told us they had not heard anything about it,” he shares.