Filmmakers and critics in Nepali movie industry have still been divided as to whether the history of Nepali movie begins from Satya Harischandra or Aama. Some argue that Satya Harischandra was not the first Nepali movie for two reasons: It was not produced in Nepal: all the work of this historic film was done in Darjeeling, India, and it was dubbed from an Indian movie of similar name. If we look back at the history of Indian movies, we find Satya Harsichandra to be the first movie produced in any Indian language.
This year, a Marathi-language movie ‘Harischandrachi Factory’ was India’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Oscars. It was the second Marathi language movie nominated as India’s official entry for the Oscars after Shwaas (Breath) in 2004.
‘Harischandrachi Factory’ was based on the life of Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, the father of Indian Cinema, who made Raja Harishchandra in his own effort in 1913 spending Rs. 35,000. It became a box-office hit ahead of World War I. There is a popular belief in India that a film industry cannot sustain if its first film is not on Satyaharsichandra, a character in Hindu mythology, and all films on Mirabai flop.
When Satya Harischandra or Raja Harishchandra was the first movie produced in almost all Indian languages, it was natural that the first Nepali language movie would also be Satya Harischandra. But a section of film pundits never take D. B. Pariyar’s Satya Harishchandra as the first Nepali movie. The film was released in Darjeeling in 1951, a few months after the end of Rana regime in Nepal.
However, filmmakers like Tulsi Ghimire claim that Satya Harishchandra was a genuine Nepali movie. Some argued that giving Satya Harischandra the status of the first Nepali movie would be an insult to the palace as it was a film produced by a Dalit. Even after the abolition of monarchy, the Kollywood has not been ready to recognize it as the first Nepali movie on the ground that it was not produced from Nepal. If we take Satya Harischnadra as the first Nepali cinema, then the history of cinema in Nepal is 59 years long.
Aama, released almost 14 years after Harischandra’s release, is officially recognized as the first Nepali movie. Aama was produced under the initiative of the palace to promote the Panchayat polity under the then publicity department’s film division and was released in 2022 BS. King Mahendra himself had invited its director Hirasingh Khatri from Mumbai, India, and Khatri left Kathmandu after making three pro-Panchayat films—Aama, Paribartan and Hijo, Aaja, Bholi. All the artistes of these films were Nepali nationals.
Maitighar, the first commercial film made by the private sector, set the tone for the real development of the film industry. Nanda Kishor Timilsina had a crucial role in making of Maitighar. B. S. Thapa was the director of the first commercial movie that starred Mala Sinha and C P Lohani. However, Maitighar did not prove to be a source that could bring about vigorous private sector in making films. Only Juni, produced 18 years after Aama, could inspire the private sector to be involved in filmmaking.
The black and white Nepali movies turned to colour by the time Kumari was produced. It was rather a slow pace in which the film industry moved forward. Seventeen years and only five films!
By the 1980s, the private sector almost completely replaced the government sector productions. Some of the best Nepali films like Jivan Rekha, Kanchhi, Chino etc. were produced in the 1980s. Filmmakers who had been to Mumbai earlier contributed to the development of Nepalese movies. Prakash Thapa and Tulsi Ghimire played a key role in this regard.
With the advent of multi-party democracy, Nepali films flourished in the same manner as other forms of mass communications did. Within a decade of democracy, domestic films could be seen in most of the country’s film markets which were earlier dominated by Hindi movies. Besides, the industry which had to rely on Indian technicians and technology to develop a film could produce all essential human resource for a film and install studios to develop films. When the country’s law and order was normal, the output was some 50 films a year, which was high enough considering the population of the country. Some good films of the democratic era were Prem Pinda, Dakshina, Darapan Chhayan, Carodpati. Tulsi Ghimire was the dominant filmmaker of the first decade of democracy.
The number of movie halls increased in a dramatic way across the country after the political change of 1990. A number of new halls and multiplexes emerged in Kathmandu valley. Moreover, the industry employed thousands of Nepalese.
However, the flourishing film industry suffered a setback due to increasing violent activities of the Maoists, especially after the royal palace massacre of June 2001. Between the years 2000 to 2006, a number of halls were shut down. The Ashok cinema of Patan, one of the oldest halls of the country, was turned into a party palace whereas Manakamana was pulled down. The annual output dropped to 20 or less from 50 films and the film market once again went under the grip of the Indian movies.
However, after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement following people’s movement of 2006, the film industry witnessed a gradual improvement. Although the film entrepreneurs were divided in different factions, the number of annual output rose in a dramatic way.
According to Raj Kumar Rai, the chairman of the Film Producers’ Association, about 250 films, videos and documentaries were produced in two years after Nepal was declared a republic. The number is much higher in comparison to the annual growth of pre-republican years.
The new entries in the industry made it possible to produce such a large number of movies. However, the impact of the transition period was also experienced in the entertainment sector of the country with growing disorder and division within the industry. "The industry is in a mess due to the entry of inexperienced filmmakers and their highhandedness," said Rai.
Moreover, many filmmakers turned politicians by joining the UCPN-Maoist after the country was declared a republic two years ago, which is sure to widen the gap among the professional filmmakers and the politically motivated ones.
However, Rai was hopeful that the unification of the two rival associations and the elections to the association would pave the way to sort out the problems.
While the silver screen saw an encouraging growth, the increasing number of television channels also led to the growth of small screens. The serials, comedies and the music have also been flourishing. The only shortcoming of our industry is that it is failing to explore international markets for its productions.
By Bishnu Gautam
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