New Delhi: Nepal is spellbound by Bollywood, which continues to eclipse the local film industry, but a new breed of home-grown directors seems to be scripting a change in moviegoers’ tastes for the first time.

Different take: Alok Nembang, director of the popular film Sano Sansar. Utpal Bhaskar/ Mint

“The Nepali movie industry has been around for three decades, (and) it has been following Bollywood (in style and substance). This seems to be changing for the first time, thanks to young directors such as Alok Nembang, Simosh Sunuwar, Bhushan Dahal and Nirak Poudyal," says Kathmandu-based anthropologist Manohar Karki.

Nembang’s Sano Sansar posted record ticket sales for a Nepali movie, touching Rs6.25 lakh within eight days of its release on 12 September. Produced by Nepal-based Quest Entertainment Pvt. Ltd at an investment of Rs53.12 lakh, Sano Sansar, which means “small world" in Nepalese, was released in 20 of the country’s 120 theatres.

Says Nepali film critic Girish Giri: “Directors such as Nembang have created a new kind of viewer of movies in Nepali language. These movies made by Nembang and Dahal target the urban Nepali youth."

“Poudayal, on the other hand, targets both urban and rural viewers."

Since Nembang’s style, story and theme are contemporary, the movie has appealed to the (urban) youth, Karki notes. As much as 60% of Nepal’s 29 million population is below 30.

“He (Nembang) is the face of (the) new Nepal," says Prashant Aryal, editor of Nepal National Weekly magazine.

Nembang, who has tasted success with his city-oriented approach, now wants to attract viewers from the countryside as well. “People from villages cannot relate to my movie (Sano Sansar), as it is about chatting on the Internet, etc. With my next project, I want to bridge this urban-rural divide," he says.

“With this movie, we as an industry have achieved something. I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond rather (than) a small fish in a big pond," Nembang adds. “Earlier, the whole film scene (in Nepal) was dominated by Indian (mostly Bollywood) movies."

The Nepali movie industry is valued at around Rs1.25 crore and employs around 1,000 people, including actors and technicians. There are around 25 movies slated for release in 2008-09.

According to a person in the film industry, who didn’t wish to be named, the average budget for a Nepali movie is estimated at Rs25 lakh, which is reflective of Nepal’s economy that is valued at $12 billion (Rs58,440 crore), with a current GDP growth rate of 5.6%. Nepal’s per capita income is $470 per annum, around half of India’s.

The top actors’ pays are nowhere near their Indian counterparts—most of whom charge crores of rupees for a movie. While a top hero charges around Rs1.25 lakh per movie, it is Rs47,000 for a top heroine, he said.

Besides, the Nepali film industry is plagued by financing and distribution hurdles. “The main problem with Nepali cinema is that it cannot compete with Indian films, which have big budgets," says Giri.

Financing is also a problem for Nepali movies, with the entire movie industry being controlled by a few distributors and exhibitors. “In a way, it is kind of a mafia. It is not only the industry, but the whole society which is very disorganized. No one knows what will happen here five years down the line. It is like watching a suspense film. All these years have been very disturbing for Nepal," Nembang says.

While Nepal’s movies have an overseas market for its diaspora, there are no proper channels for distribution. “We don’t have the reach," Nembang says.

Although Nepal became the youngest democracy in the world, there is a lot of political uncertainty in the country. A section of the main party in the ruling coalition wants to set up a totalitarian regime. Internal rows within parties, too, seem endless, and are threatening to derail the constitution-building process. Unemployment is high, labour is militant and unorganized, and the country is yet to come up with policies that can attract foreign investors. “The production (movies) was in boom before the Maoist conflict and it has been doing good after the peace process started," Nembang says.

“Movies can help in taking the peace process forward. People would rather watch a feel-good movie, which they could sit and watch without thinking too hard. There is, however, not much craze in Nepal for what is considered as serious cinema. For example, (the) Bollywood movie Om Shanti Om worked here. It was a superhit. On the other hand, a movie like Sarkar Raaj did not do very well here," Nembang notes.