‘Avatar’ wilts under Maoist strike in NepalDecember 22nd, 2009 - 3:00 pm ICT by IANS
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Dec 22 (IANS) Hollywood director James Cameron’s globally-hyped new sci-fi epic “Avatar”, that rockets a paralysed ex-Marine into a battle of the worlds on a distant moon, has run into an unexpected enemy in Nepal — a mammoth general strike called by the republic’s former Maoist guerrillas.
The new, much-awaited release by 20th Century Fox that grossed $232 million in its worldwide debut Friday, including Rs.220 million in India alone, has however been wilting in Nepali capital Kathmandu after the opposition Maoist party called a three-day countrywide closure, that includes industries, markets, transport and educational institutions, from Sunday.
“It is a blow,” said Nakim Uddin, whose Quest Entertainment Company runs the two cinema theatres in Kathmandu - Jai Nepal and Kumari - that alone screen Hollywood movies in the entire country.
“After brisk business on Friday and Saturday, we have had to shut down the cinemas for three days now due to the strike.”
When the strike ends Tuesday evening and things limp back to normal, Nakim Uddin is apprehensive ticket sales may not perk up due to another menace - pirated DVDs and VCDs.
“The strike forced people to stay at home for three days,” the 45-year-old told IANS. “The chances are many people got hold of the pirated VCDs that hit Nepal almost the same day a Hollywood or Bollywood film is released. Now who would want to spend so much money and take the trouble of going to the theatre!”
English film audiences have been steadily dwindling in Nepal, Nakim Udin says, and his cinemas run the risk of losing money screening them.
“I paid Rs.500,000 to 20th Century’s regional office in New Delhi to run the film in my two cinemas,” he said. “Hollywood distributors refuse to negotiate the distribution fees, which are growing, and we lose money running English films.”
The 10-year Maoist insurgency that began in 1996 and affected security also hit Nepal’s theatres. Growing power cuts made the situation even bleaker. In addition, fuel scarcity, which has hit transport, and in winter the growing cold have contributed to make running cinemas a risky proposition.
In an almost rare gesture, another multiplex in Kathmandu, Gopi Krishna Movies, also released “Avatar” though it usually screens Hindi and Nepali films.
For three days, Gopi Krishna too has remained shut due to the strike. Even when the strike ends, its hope of getting English theatre lovers is only during the weekend.
Nakim Uddin is keeping his fingers crossed that the introduction of the 3-D version of Avatar from this week will help perk up sales and combat piracy.
He has to remain optimistic since he has invested substantially in acquiring 3-D projectors from Belgium and the eyewear from South Korea.
It is not direction, acting or the plot that determines a film’s fate in Nepal. Politics is also an important factor.
In January this year, Nakim Uddin incurred yet another loss after the new Bollywood release his cinemas were showing - “Chandni Chowk to China” - was banned by the Nepal government.
The ban was imposed following violent protests by students over the film hailing India, instead of Nepal, as the birthplace of the Buddha.
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