Choki Wangmo 

Desolate and locked away—this is how the movie theatres in Thimphu look after a year of the pandemic.  Without any government directives on reopening them, theatre owners and producers expect the worst.

Like all other sectors, the Covid-19 pandemic affected the cinema business gravely.  Even after the Film Association of Bhutan (FAB) proposed to the government thrice about theatre reopening with safety protocols in place, the industry is still waiting for the green light.

There are about 30 new movies waiting to be screened.  With limited cinema theatres across the country, screening these movies could take another two years, said the officiating president of FAB, Nidup Dorji.

There are only three cinema halls in the capital.

Worse still, the FAB is quickly losing experts and trained people and there are risks of theatres converting into other commercial spaces like warehouses if the situation continues.

Passang Tshering runs the Lugar Theatre.  It has been closed for almost 13 months.  He is awaiting government instructions to reopen the theatre for which he pays a rent of about Nu 250,000 a month.

The theatre has 500 seats.  He is happy to run the business at half the capacity if the government allows with proper Covid-19 safety protocols. “Due to the pandemic, businesses within the theatre premise couldn’t run. It has further reduced my source of income.”

He rents out the spaces to other shops.

Dawa Gembo has been running Mig cinema in Phuentsholing for five years.  He pays Nu 32,000 in a month but couldn’t since the pandemic started.

Directors and producers had booked the cinema halls before the lockdown.   Many had to wait for more than a year and still haven’t cancelled the bookings.

“If the government could make proper protocols for the entertainment and film industries, our businesses could continue well,” Passang Tshering said.

He, however, hopes that the future would be brighter once the vaccines roll out this month.

A producer, Dorji Wangchuk, is waiting to screen his movie, which was supposed to be released last year during Thimphu tshechu. “We have no income and we’re struggling to stay afloat.”

“We requested the government for a soft loan but there was no response,” he added.

Dorji Wangchuk is worried about the long-term impact of the pandemic on the industry. “We’re losing manpower and expertise to other sectors.”

Producer and Director of Wisdom Pictures, Yeshey Tshering, said that the pandemic caused huge losses to the film producers and there was a ripple effect on other members in the industry. “With no filming, there is a loss of employment opportunities for young people.”

He said that without project-based loans, many producers had to depend on private lenders and have to pay them back with interest. “Opening the theatres with protocols in place will save the industry from collapsing. Many countries have opened the cinemas in full capacity.”

A production cost of a movie ranges from Nu 2M to 10M and takes about 45 days to shoot.

Additional reporting by Kinley wangchuk