Akash Adhikari is a multidimensional talent of the Nepali film industry. Adhikari, President of the Nepal Film Producers Association, is also a successful actor and producer. He has fought hard for the professionalization and commercialization of the Nepali film industry. He is also behind the recent efforts to implement Box Office system in Nepal. Adhikari, who is also an executive committee Member of the Federation of Nepali Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI), has already spent two and half decades in the Nepali film industry. He is a graduate of Madhumati Film Institute, Mumbai and has directorial experience with Hindi tele serials as well. His film production company ‘The Sky Movies’ is behind the production of many acclaimed movies like ‘Panchhi’, ‘Dag’, ‘Ko Afno Ko Birano’, ‘Krodh’, ‘Kathmandu’, ‘Kohinoor’, ‘Kanchhi’ etc. He is an active social worker, helping with post earthquake reconstruction and relief work. Saraswati Dhakal of Karobar National Economic Daily recently caught up with him for an interview. The excerpt :
There has been an improvement in the business of Nepali films lately. What do you have to say about it as the President of the Nepal Film producers Association?
Nepali cinema has come a long way ahead. We cannot directly compare ourselves to Bollywood and Hollywood movies. We need to consider our geography, audience size, economy and the technology. If we take these things into account then we have really made some improvements.
There are a number of things that go into the making of a film. Production of a film is just one aspect of it. We have definitely made some good progress in production technology and methods. The screening of film is also an important part. Previously, our cinema halls were of very low standard. Now more than half of Nepali film halls have high end projection system. When I went to watch my movie ‘Panchhi’, where I was also a lead actor, I could not recognize myself on the screen. Our halls were of really poor quality until recently. We have improved ourselves much from the situation. Me and my friend Kapil Parajuli were researching into camera technology in 2006 when the Red Digital camera was introduced in Hollywood. We decided to import it to Nepal. The Camera's total cost was $29,000 USD and $17,500 USD just for Body. We paid an advance of $5,000 and finally I brought it to Nepal in 2008. It took me three years to release a film with the camera, ‘Kathmandu’ in 2011. We faced many technical difficulties then. Today there are about 25-30 Red cameras in Nepal. The progress in all aspects of filmmaking has been noteworthy.
What percentage of Nepali films earn profit, how many of them breakeven and what share of Nepali films flop at the market?
Nearly 6,000 films are made in Bollywood in a year but a much less number of films are released. We make about 120 film a year but 80-85 films are released. 5-10 films earn profit on average. Some year as much as 15 films may earn profit but the average number is as I said earlier. 25-30 films recover their budget while other films bear loss. Some films bear a little loss of 10-20 percent but some lose about 90 percent of their investment. Nearly Rs 3 billion is invested in Nepali films in a year but our investment is not secure. There is definitely excitement about Nepali films in the audience. Weekends and holidays are the prime time for movie business. There is difficulty in doing business in other days.
Why is there an increase in investment in Nepali films despite many films not being able to make profit?
It is our profession. I started a three year diploma in filmmaking in 1992 after my graduation. I have now been involved in this trade for more than two and half decades. I would have to start from absolute zero if I have to do any other thing. There are many people in our industry who have given their life to this field. Some have studied filmmaking while others have learned it practically with experience. Therefore, we make films despite all odds. There are challenges. Every good film is backed by sound technology. We are not technically as advanced compared to other industries. New technology needs money. We are making films within limitations but we are doing our best. We have compulsion to complete our shooting works in 30-35 days and post-production in 3-4 months. We need to appreciate Nepali film producers who are investing in the industry despite all the problems and are sustaining the industry.
Nepali film producers often complain of receiving unfair share of the film earning from hall owners. Is it true?
It is true. The major reason behind the producer’s situation is our inability to come together. No one can succeed in any field alone. The film industry is not an exception. I received the best directors award from my first film and have enjoyed a successful career, having made 18 hit movies till date. However, my success is not a solo effort. Many people have contributed for it. If I go alone, I will definitely not be as successful. The situation we producers are in today is because of our inability to come together and the tendency to move ahead independently. We had a 42 day struggle in the past, which brought the film hall owners to the table with us producers. The agreement that then happened was fair and just for both parties. However, hall owners slowly started to deviate from it. This is the reason we are raising our voices again. This time, most of the producers have united for the common cause.
There is much talk about Box Office. What is Box Office?
Generally speaking, it is place to buy tickets. The Box Office we are saying is a system which allows hall owners, distributors and producers to track the commercial progress of the film. It is not possible with manual ticketing. However, with electronic ticketing, we can use the system to see how the film is doing on the theatres. These are the basics but there are other hardware and software related details that needs to be worked out. If the system is implemented then there is transparency in business. One can see the progress of his films from any place in the world in his phone by entering a username and password. Only about 2 percent films sell their entire commercial rights to the distributors. The rest 98 percent films go on a commission sharing basis. Currently, we need to depend upon the report of the hall owners regarding the performance of our films. It is not possible to send our staffs to every show of every halls to verify the reports. Implementation of box office will remove this difficulty and create transparency. Transparency creates trust. I have been talking about box office for the last 8 years. Many producers refuse to make films after their first project because of this situation where their investment is not properly secured. If we can implement box office, it will help sustain the livelihood of half million people who are directly or indirectly dependent upon the film industry.
Can you implement Box Office during your current tenure?
We worked with the Film Development Board for three months and readied a framework. We presented our findings to the responsible government agencies for implementation of the system. Because of lack of film industry related policy there were some problems in implementation. There was a court case. The government won the case. The then President of the Film Development Board put forward the proposal to the Minister of Information and Communication. There was a tender for the box office software. Rai’s tenure has ended and now Nikita Poudel is the President of the Board. She is very positive on the issue. We have a majority government in the country and we hope fast implementation of some necessary things for the betterment of the industry. The current state minister for Communication and Information is also positive in this regard. A decision has been made for the test implementation of the Box Office System in Kathmandu Valley from Jestha 1 and commercial implementation from Shrawan 1. The system is to be fully implemented nationwide from the end of coming Magh. If the system is not implemented from Jestha 1, we producers have decided to go on a stern protest and stop the screening of all national/foreign films. Apart from implementation of Box Office, we also demand a fair share in cinema hall adverts etc. We have 16 various umbrella associations in the film industry. We are all united for the cause. We are sure the system will be implemented this time.
You are also an executive committee member of the FNCCI apart from being the President of the Nepal Film Producers Association. Is cinema a service sector or a legitimate industry?
We are a service sector upto now and have not gained the status of industry from the government. We are working for it though. The current team of FNCCI, alongside President Bhawani Rana, is very positive in this regard. All 17 members of the present FNCCI team have come unopposed. It is our duty to implement all pending works.
The Industry of Ministry has already given us a formal approval for the process. For the implementation of the decision, a no-objection letter from the Finance Ministry and the Information and Communication Ministry was required. I have been making daily rounds to the government offices for quite a long time but still not able to complete the work. I now understand the bureaucratic process in Nepal. It is very difficult to work here. The letter from all the concerned government offices have now finally come to the Ministry of Industry. We hope the decision will now be implemented.
You are accused of turning into a politician from being a producer. Do you have any plans of entering into politics?
Nobody from my family has ever done politics and I too, do not have any plans for it. The current causes that I am representing are my duties. I became the unopposed President of the Producers Association after requests from people within the industry. The same applies for FNCCI. It is my duty as a chair bearer to represent the causes of my office. I am a director and an actor first. I say this despite being the President of the Producers Association. I have directed 18 films till now. I did my diploma in acting and filmmaking. I still want to act in films and direct them. My fans request me to come back to acting. I will comeback to it after my current office. Politics is not even a dream.