Incapable Film Development Board rules Nepal’s underdeveloped film industry

Film Development Board screening procedure
File: Film Development Board

Two decades ago when the Film Development Board’s idea was envisioned, everyone from the film industry was ecstatic. Industry experts had felt the board would help in the development and uplifting of the industry, which during the time was at a crossroads.

But as years went by, the board did little to nothing as it became a place for political preachers. Having seen it become irrelevant, filmmakers and actors have started to question the role of the board and whether it should still stand even though it has done next to nothing for the development of the film industry in Nepal.

The absent guard

Hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the film industry is in a weird place currently. There is confusion about many things. From the launch of a cinema to the shooting of new films, currently, Nepal’s movie industry is at a delicate phase. As things are getting worse, the board, however, has not been doing anything to help the industry.

Movie halls that spent billions are shut. Producers who spent tens of millions of rupees on films are waiting for the right time to release the films as they fear they will lose all their money. The industry’s technical workforce has left the country to look for jobs abroad. Covid-19 has broken the back of the film industry that was already struggling.

Despite these problems, the board seems to have turned a blind eye, as it has not been able to help anyone.

Neither action nor cut

After the first lockdown lifted, almost all sectors opened. But, the government showed no interest to reopen the film sector as it felt film halls could be a hotspot for Covid-19.

Due to this belief, no effort was made to reopen them. The board says it did talk to the government asking it to reopen halls, but the government did not budge. Disappointed by everything, halls opened their doors to the audience themselves in December 2020.

Halls have been given permission to open again by the District Administration Office but there is confusion about how to reopen them when there are no new movies.

The board’s chairperson, who was also a movie director, Dayaram Dahal, due to peer pressure, has been meeting various ministers and political leaders with filmmakers and producers. They say that these meetings have been positive, but a month on, halls are still shut.

There are 60 films awaiting release, but due to various reasons, producers are refraining from releasing them as they await the board to talk to the government about relief packages.

Hands tied

Hall operators have refused to open up unless they are guaranteed a new film every few weeks. Photo: Aryan Dhimal

Filmmakers say the board in the past two years has only acted as a mediator between them and the government.

“We learnt that they do not have the power to do anything,” says Akash Adhikari, the president of the Filmmakers Association. “As long as it is under the Communication Ministry, nothing is going to change. Unless it becomes an autonomous body, nothing will change.”

Nepal Motion Picture Association’s former president Pradip Kumar Udaya says he feels the board is a sorry organisation that has its hands tied. He says they cannot work independently and has to ask the Communication Ministry if it wants to spend in excess of Rs 500,000.

“It’s clear the government doesn’t care about the film industry and unless they do, the board can’t do anything,” says Udaya.

Ashok Sharma, the association’s general secretary, seconds Udaya and adds the board has no right to make important calls. “Dayaram Dahal is with us and working for our benefits. He took us to various meetings and helped us a lot, but we’ve realised this board is useless and we can’t rely on them for help,” says Sharma.

No money, no might

Another problem the Film Development Board faces is budget. Various people associated with the board say the board hardly gets any budget. The board sustains itself from the tax brought in by Hollywood and Bollywood films.

Udaya says the board will only be effective if the government provides the board with the budget. “They told us they don’t even have the funds to sustain themselves,” he says.

The board’s chairperson Dahal also agrees. He says he understands the trouble that the filmmakers are facing but adds it just does not have the funds to help them out.

“Due to a lack of foreign films, we’re broke. We will have to shut our offices if no film releases in the coming months,” says Dahal.

Hoping against hope

Film Development Board
Halls have been shut since the pandemic started.

Dahal says professionals from the film industry must understand the pain and stop putting all the blame on the board. He says the situation is the same in most countries whose film industry has been affected by Covid-19.

“Despite that, we are planning to announce a financial relief package to help some of the filmmakers out. We’ve already told producers to start preparing a release calendar so that we can start releasing these movies,” says Dahal.

He says the board will help the sector come out of the Covid-19 crisis financially. But, he adds it cannot decide on things like a rebate of taxes and electricity bills as they are not in the board’s hands.

“What we can do, we will; rest assured,”  he says, adding the board has helped actors who faced financial trouble during the pandemic.

He also adds the board has been in constant contact with the ministry about tax rebates for both producers and halls but adds there can be no guarantee.

Need for autonomy

For a long time, stakeholders have been demanding that the Film Development Board be autonomous. But, the government has not shown any interest. Many people claim the board is just the ministry’s puppet as it keeps changing the chairperson in every two years while the ministers continue appointing people close to them in the board. This has questioned the integrity of the organisation.

Industry leaders are calling on the government to make the board autonomous and provide it with an annual budget so that the board can help people in need. They want people from the industry to be part of the board and stop political appointments as they claim only people who have worked in films will understand the pain filmmakers and producers go through.

“It needs to be autonomous. Until that happens, nothing is going to change,” says Sharma.

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Bijay Subedi 'Aawaj' is a senior entertainment journalist at Onlinekhabar.

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