Bhutanese movie industry face financial crisis as theatres still closed

With movie theatres in Bhutan shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet to open up even after a year, the film industry is facing an acute financial crisis

Mar 17, 2021

With movie theatres in Bhutan shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet to open up even after a year, the film industry is facing an acute financial crisis. Many production houses have either shelved or delayed the release of their films, incurring millions of losses.

This has also impacted the livelihood of hundreds of people involved in the entertainment industry.

“Interest on the money I borrowed from private individuals is piling up. It has affected me a lot. I really want to screen my movie and pay back the money. If given an opportunity, I am willing to screen my movie today,” Gyem Dorji, an actor-producer, was quoted by The Bhutanese Expression. 

He is not the only one. There are many other producers who invested millions of ngultrum in producing movies, but their movies have been shelved for over a year now.

“One of my movies has been complete since March and the impact is definitely visible. We couldn’t screen at all which is the only source of revenue for making a movie in our country. So when the production house does not earn, we cannot plan other projects,” said Dorji, a film producer.

“We take loans from private individuals to make a film. On usual days, we screen our movie within six months and return the money but this year, movies were made before the pandemic, and theatre were closed right before we could screen our movie. This has affected all the 24 movie producers,” Rigzang, a board member of the Film Association of Bhutan (FAB), was quoted by the newspaper.

There are 24 films waiting to be screened once the government lifts the restriction on entertainment centres, they said. 

The cinema of Bhutan is small but is considered to be an emerging industry. It has been supported by government officials and different businesses. However, the film industry is highly influenced by neighboring India's Bollywood movies, with most Bhutanese films being adaptations of Indian ones or based on the Bollywood format. However, of late, Bhutanese culture and traditions are getting highlighted. As of 2011, Bhutan's film industry has produced an average of thirty films a year. By 2012, Thimpu had six cinema halls.

After Bhutan reported the first COVID-19 case in March last year, movie theatres were shut down.

“After the pandemic, we had to close our theatre and we don’t have any income. We depend on this business for livelihood and to run the family. However, since His Majesty waived the loan interest and my theatre owners waived the rent, things had been easier for me,” said Tobgay, from Trowa Theatre.

This has left more than a thousand crews and artists jobless. One of them is a sound designer, Chencho Dorji, who has been without work for over a year as his studio is closed.

Chencho usually earned around Nu 200,000 from designing a background score for a movie. “I completed producing music for a movie and then theatres were closed. After that, no producers were producing movies and my work stopped completely...I spent all my savings paying rents and on other expenses,” he said.

While making the movie, a producer recruits an average of 50 crews and artists. However, now they have another worry, which is losing skilled crew members to other jobs if theatre continues to remain closed.

“The greatest fear at this point of time is not just in terms of revenue losses, we might also lose the skilled technical team to other sectors. As we are planning to enhance the quality of the movie and if we don’t have a skilled team, then it will be the main cause of concern for any filmmaker,” said Dorji.

With this massive realignment in the film industry, they say, will have implications for entertainment ventures going forward.

“For another two or more years, we will be bearing the brunt. This is because we don’t have many theatres. So if a movie takes a month for screening on average, the last movie of the 24 on the list will be screened only after two years. The producers will have to wait for another two years to make revenue,” added Rigzang.

After many in the film fraternity requested to open the theatres with protocols in place, the FAB wrote to the government. However, they said they are yet to hear from the government.

With the vaccination programme around the corner, they hope cinema halls will be opened soon, and they will hopefully get back to the business of producing and screening films. 

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