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Written by Fatima Siraj  •  Features  •  May 2013 PDF Print E-mail

The Nepalese film industry has a long way to go before it can free itself from the Indian influence and make its own mark.

Far removed from the popular Hollywood films and the colorful Indian films that take the lead when it comes to appealing to the global masses, ‘Kollywood’ tends to take a back seat. The term ‘Kollywood’ itself is unheard of for many South Asians. It is a very unfamiliar term that finds its roots in the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu and refers to the Nepalese film industry. It is interesting though that in direct imitation of the term ‘Hollywood’, film industries in the subcontinent are referred to as some ‘wood’, such as Bollywood (Bombay), Lollywood (Lahore) and now Kollywood (Kathmandu).

Kollywood, very much like the land locked country it is associated with, remains largely isolated and confined. Very few people outside Nepal are aware of Kollywood’s existence and yet it has been thriving since the first film in the Nepalese language, Satya Harishchandra, was released in 1951. The film was shot in Nepalese but was produced and released in Calcutta. The first official film to be produced in Nepal itself was Aaama in 1964. Two years later, Maithi Ghar was released, providing the ultimate kick-start for film production in the country. Maithi Ghar, not surprisingly, starred an Indian actress to foster the relationship between the Indian and Nepalese industry.

However, despite needing to borrow resources from India and being under-developed, the Nepalese film industry has managed to produce several films over the last few decades. Some of these offer deep insights into Nepal’s cultural heritage while they also provide a thought-provoking glimpse into the many upheavals that have defined the country’s history.

Ever since its inception, Kollywood has endured several setbacks, with more movies being produced in some years than in others. Towards the end of the 1990s, the industry took a hard hit from fierce competition from Indian movies. The strength of this competition has always posed trouble for Nepal’s weak industry that lacks in expertise, technical equipment, quantity and quality. Furthermore, the violence that ensued during the Maoist rebellion in 1998 caused the economy to crumble and the security situation to deteriorate. Many cinemas outside the cities had to be shut down as a result. During this period, very few films were made, the audience numbers declined sharply and many actors left the country to look for work abroad. Film production nearly came to a standstill only to be revived once the situation had calmed down and democracy had been restored in 2006.

Despite positive developments and political stability, the Indian film culture has strongly permeated the Nepalese film industry because the audience demands Bollywood style movies. In the 1950s, the government had encouraged filmmakers to go to Bombay and learn the art of cinematography. However, incorporating a distinct, Nepalese identity in films has proven to be commercially non-viable as Indian movies continue to dominate local cinema. It is therefore not surprising that Nepalese films have failed to gain popularity in the South Asian region. Furthermore, for those who fear cultural dominance and a loss of Nepalese identity, Bollywood has been perceived as a significant threat to Nepal’s own cultural heritage. This threat has been so pronounced that the Maoists included it in their recent manifesto: ‘The invasion of colonial and imperial culture should be banned. Vulgar Hindi films, videos and magazines should be immediately outlawed.’ The ban only led to the emergence of a black market demand for Hindi films and after democracy arrived, the ban was lifted leading to Indian films gaining further access in Nepal. With the increasing spread of cable television, Indian content continues to appeal to the masses, curbing the voice of indigenous themes that Nepalese directors are trying to experiment with.

This is not to say that the directors have given up. The works of Chiring Ritar, Navin Subba and Ravi Baral are a testament to originality and innovation and reflect the new era of Nepalese films. This is characterized by a refreshing approach that focuses more on unique presentations and stories as opposed to Indian-inspired themes. Such efforts are in accordance with the desire to build Nepal’s image as an industry with its own unique voice.

Those associated with the industry harbor a positive attitude and realize the importance of producing films that can gain international critical acclaim. Efforts are being made to learn from the mistakes of the past, experiment with unique approaches and produce quality films that local and international audiences find worthy and refreshing. In order for this to happen successfully, a conscious effort is required to move away from Indian-inspired themes, dances and characters and instead focus on authentic Nepalese characteristics. It is inevitable that Indian-associated experts will help build the Nepalese film industry but this should be done only on a professional and technical basis. Directors should be careful to maintain their distinctiveness on the creativity, script writing, performances and character development fronts. Such a measure would ensure that new Nepalese films are produced without being influenced by the dominant Indian culture that has inexplicably seeped into the Nepalese film industry. 

Fatima Siraj is currently pursuing a BBA degree at the Institute of Business Administration. She frequently writes on marketing and social issues.

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