On May 6, two more Nepali films – Shatkon and Laka Gwan – were released in cinemas alongside Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in Multiverse of Madness. While Doctor Strange had a lot of interest and business, the two Nepalese films weren’t so lucky. In fact, of the two, Chatkon has been removed from the majority of Nepalese cinema halls, having barely survived its first weekend.
A Nepalese movie that rolls out of the halls within just three days of its release may sound pretty ordinary. However, the fate of Chatkon, which is said to be in an experimental genre with some potential, has raised questions about the low priority these films receive from cinemas. Amidst the controversy and even the demand that cinema halls give priority to Nepalese films, Shatkoon can be an example that will help identify the culprit.
Is it favouritism?
The obvious reason Shatkon’s work has been hit so badly is his feud with the MCU’s Doctor Strange in Multiverse of Madness, the much-anticipated sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange. Aside from the undeniable charms of the Marvel movies, the fact that the sequel also featured in Kamar-Taj , a fictional training ground for magicians based on the sights and architecture of the Kathmandu Valley as well as the mountains of Nepal, also attracted a lot of Nepalese audiences.
Chatcon director Milan DiCapri was well aware that the engagement would affect audience access to the Nepalese film.
“When we learned about this, we expected the results. Even before that, we were sure that the film – being experimental – wouldn’t do much at the box office. So the results are not surprising to me.”
After the hit, the film received fewer slots. But Capri is also skeptical about cinemas giving low priority to Nepalese films in general.
“We have one show a day. We only got slots between 11am and 3pm on Friday, but not after that day, when people were more likely to go to see movies. The timing wasn’t right for a Nepali movie to attract the audience. Then, it was done. Cut the slots on Saturday. Therefore, not one slot operates all day, during business hours, for all moviegoers,” Capri claims.
QFX and Big Movies, two big Kathmandu multiplexes, defend and say they give slots based on the hype the movie made before its release. Dibesh Sharma, CEO of Big Movies, says that keeping a movie going becomes difficult when he only sells two tickets. However, he assures that his company wants to promote Nepalese films as well.
“First, we allocate only one slot for any movie in any language in prime time viewing,” says Rano Besta, COO of QFX (Team Quest). “But based on demand, inquiries, and pre-booking as well as counter-sales and hype on social media and interactions, we are ramping up the numbers.” Their performance also makes a difference as it did with another release on May 6, Laca Guan.”
Besta adds that Chatkon has also made the same mistakes as other Nepali films and has spent almost nothing on its marketing. “The content is worth watching, but no one will watch it if the movie isn’t making a fuss.”
Karma, the main actor of Shatkon, also accepts the flaw. He adds, “Without clashes, we could certainly have received more audiences. However, the genre of this film was not well received by people. However, similar Bollywood films would be well received.”
Director Capri accepts the lack of a pre-release upgrade on his part. But he adds that access may also have been affected due to him being a new director in the Nepalese film industry and the film’s lack of detachable faces except for Karma.
Rarely does anyone enter the cinema hall to be empty. But this is what the newly released Nepali movie saw.
Even before his release, Shatkon was making a very low noise about him. When it was released, moviegoers chose to watch not only the much-anticipated Doctor Strange, but KGF: Chapter 2, Laka Gwan and A Meru Hagar 4 instead. Shatkon received a heavy blow, consistently, which resulted in his unfortunate exit from the majority of major cinema halls in Nepal.
According to Surendra Maharjan, Business Analyst at QFX Cinemas, 13 shows have been set aside for Shatkon in these three days. “But, in the three days, there was only 17 percent occupancy for the film with the highest occupancy being at the Chaya Center with 27 percent occupancy among QFX movie halls across Nepal.”
Reportedly, there was no occupancy for the Nepali film even in multiple shows on Friday and Saturday, while some halls watched about 10 people at a time. Of course, the box office collection was also minimal, almost disappointing. Even Damauli at QFX, where she was still operating, had an occupancy rate of 7 percent [till Sunday].
By comparison, Lakka Guan saw an overall occupancy of 20 percent on day one at QFX Cinemas with a 63 percent occupancy rate in Civil Mall. It saw 23 per cent and 12 per cent of occupancy on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. A Mero Hajur 4, released on April 14, saw an overall occupancy of 48 percent in QFX cinemas through Sunday with a 98 percent occupancy in QFX movie halls on its first day.
Shatkoon received the same response at Big Movies, too. “We gave Shatkoun prime time in the morning and there were only 13 people. Saturday also had the same performance while Laka Gwan had over 100 viewers. Sunday was only minimal. Based on the numbers, we didn’t give any slot to Shatkoun,” Sharma shares.
Film consumption and marketing
Director Capri further says that the low reception forced him to consider the film consumption behavior of the audience.
“People are more inclined to big canvas movies with more entertainment that looks larger than life and requires less critical thinking. There is no blame on them, but it gives less opportunity for more experimental and psychological thrillers,” shares the junior director.
“There have only been a few psychological films and this genre is unpopular here. Although the film didn’t get to work, at least I hope it sets a precedent for future filmmakers and expands my own filmography.”
However, Besta disagrees and says, “Kathhaputali was also a Nepalese experimental film, in a similar type of Shatkon, but it did well and got more shows. In fact, we increased the shows for that. But films like Shatkon and Chapali Height 3 couldn’t It gets the same attention.”
The reason for this, she adds, is marketing, “So today’s makers have to rethink and invest in marketing if they want the audience to enjoy their films in the auditorium. All we do is play the trailer for two weeks before the release.”
Karma adds, “There were more familiar faces in Kathupali, and the marketing was very strong, along with the visual effects. For also being the first post-pandemic movie, it had that advantage.”
Is there any hope for Shatkon?
QFX exercises a minimum occupancy of 20 to 25 percent before deciding to exit a movie, while Big Movies has an occupancy threshold of over 15 percent.
But, even their plan for timing to be the same with those who do a better job of redirecting the flow of other programs has not been in Shatcon’s favour, Besta shares.
However, despite the disappointing performance, both QFX and Big Movies say that if there is demand, they are ready to relaunch the Nepalese film and present it to the public.
The director says that the trailer for the movie has attracted people and he hopes to attract more people in the coming days.
Karma notes that there is still a lot to do including more attempts to attract the audience. We have tried to grab attention with the popularity of Rahasya’s music video for Uniq Poet. Efforts like this can also be a glimmer of hope for attracting young people’s attention to films.”
But he adds that Nepalese filmmakers still need to work on characterization and casting as it affects their choice of films as well.
The film is only 1 hour and 37 minutes long in the less experienced or investment genre. This could be a revival factor for the movie.
Aside from the successes, errors, and important sections that could have been removed, the movie has some amazing shots and angles that fit the narrative and genre perspective. The use of music and silence also enhances the fearful experience.