Like other sectors, the film industry took a hard knock owing to the lockdowns and other restrictive measures imposed to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the movie theatres bring in a large number of people into a confined space, they can be superspreaders of virus, posing a threat to public health. This is a reason why the authorities first shut them down as the pandemic began to spread in March 2020. Altogether 150 cinema halls across the country were closed while 30 to 35 single theatres have permanently been shut down, causing the knock-on effect on the entire cine industry. Around 35 films were ready to hit theatres, 22 of them in post-production phase and 88 in their initial shooting stage. The extended lockdowns forced them to shelve and postponed their production for months. According to the news report of this daily, around Rs. 1.75 billion was frozen in those 139 films.
During the pandemic, some 25 production companies took permission to continue their activities but only 10 were able to shoot their films. The shutdown of cinema halls forced at least 35,000 people to lose their jobs while 175, 000 persons, who were indirectly involved in the cine sector, were affected badly. With the sharp decline in the COVID-19 cases and virus-induced fatalities, the country has returned to new normal. The emergence of Omicron variant has, however, posed fresh challenge, requiring people to strictly follow health safety measures in the public sphere. The country is now on the path of economic recovery but the cine sector has found itself at the receiving end. In addition to the pandemic, the Nepali cine sector faces survival challenge in terms of quality, investment and competition with the foreign movies. Bollywood and Hollywood movies always pull crowds of cinegoers and Nepali producers hesitate to release their movies when Indian blockbusters are on the screen.
Just recently, some halls showed Nepali films - Churifuri and Dandako Bar Pipal – but their release turned into a damp squib owing to the Indian movies Suryabanshi and Pushpa that attracted larger audience. Nepali producers are blamed for not making quality films that should be in line with the need of time and taste of the audience. The fact is that it requires a huge investment to produce quality and powerful movies but the cine sector often faces the shortage of investment. Post-pandemic phase demands the injection of a large amount of money to give a new lease of life to the industry. Adoption of advanced technology, innovative concept, alternative digital platforms and mini-cinema halls can give a boost to the ailing cine sector at this moment.
It is praiseworthy that the Film Development Board (FDB) has unveiled ‘special assistance package’ to support for VPC (Virtual Printing Cost), encoding, publishing, printing, and promotion of the films ready for their release. It has implemented ‘Project Insurance’ to cover the risks and encourage people to invest in film production. As a vital culture industry, films do not only entertain the audience but also educate the people and spread the inherent values of the society. They reflect history, culture, lifestyle, dress, rituals, geography, bravery and success of the people and nations. They form the powerful instrument of propagating ideas and communicating with the people. Therefore, the state needs to frame appropriate policy and pour investment to breathe life into the sick cine sector.