Cover Story

ahead of the curve : nakim uddin prophesying the movie watching experience with qfx cinemas

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From the humble beginnings of selling pote necklaces in Ason, to backpacking across Europe trading silver, to pushing the envelope of the Nepalese market, he seems like he’s someone who’s done it all. But oh no, there’s still a lot more to do.

Being someone who grew up during the latter part of the 90’s and the former of the 00’s, movies were a big part of my life. And the first memory I have of a movie experience is that of Gopi Krishna Hall. It is quite hazy, though, for the smell of pungent armpits, musty seats, and rowdy hoots shroud it all. However, the second memory is vivid. It’s of Spider-Man that came out in 2002. And to watch it, all of my folks went over to Jai Nepal for two reasons: a. It was the only place where the movie was being screened, and b. The theater had just been revamped.

To a kid at that time, all of this went over my head. But for the people that were like my parents, this was a tremendous feat. Plush seats, velvet walls, a great giant screen with an even greater Dolby sound system. And above all that, a better mannered crowd. Jai Nepal was simply ahead of the curve, specially for a hall that used to be a crocodile hatchery.

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Now, being ahead of the curve is tricky. See, you can be as creative and unique as you want, but you’ll have to walk that fine line between being weird and seeming generic. If you come out with your big idea, say 5 years too early, people will just not be ready for it. And if you come out with it 5 years too late, you’ll just be someone else who’s bandwagoning on a trend. But if you’re around 3 years early from the rest, you become a pioneer.

And that’s why QFX is so big now. Not only did they come out with something that’s new, but they continued to change the game. And the persons to thank for that are Mr. Nakim Uddin, Mr. Bhaskar Dhungana, and Mr. Rajesh Siddhi.
Now, anyone who knows anyone in the business industry knows who Mr. Uddin is. However, in the off chance of you not knowing, he is a mogul who made a brand a standard for other brands to be compared by. Being one-third of what QFX is, he has made the franchise a hallmark when it comes to cinemas. He has achieved this by setting standards. And sure, the theater does charge you a premium, but you’re not just paying for the movie, you’re paying for the whole experience. The very same thing Mr. Uddin wanted to bring about.

“When I was growing up, going to the theaters was a tradition. My parents would drag me along with them whether I liked it or not. It was a huge part of my upbringing. And when I was studying in Taiwan, watching movies at the cinemas was religious for me. When I got back to Nepal however, going to the halls was followed up by making a promise to myself to never to go again. I personally craved for a watching experience that did not distract me from the movie and actually add to it.”

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 WE STARTED QFX THINKING THAT EVEN IF PEOPLE DON’T COME IN, IT WILL BE A PLACE FOR OURSELVES TO TRULY ENJOY THE MOVIES WE LOVE.

That is the reason why the trio gave birth to QFX, known as Quest Entertainment back then. “And in all honesty, we started it thinking that even if people don’t come in, it will be a place for ourselves to truly enjoy the movies we love.” Fortunately however, they did not have to resort to keeping this gem for themselves.

When they had started out, they just had Hollywood movies in mind for they were Hollywood buffs. Also because no one else was really showing these foreign films. This was a no brainer to them. And here’s something that goes unappreciated: they actually went to the studios to legalize and make the screenings official. See, this was a time when DVDs of movies were pirated to the county in “hall print” and the best way to fight this piracy was to do D-Day releases. Why would you steal something that’s already available to you, right? With this, they are now the official affiliates to blockbuster studios like Fox and Sony, with more on the way. We really have to thank them for allowing us to enjoy movies on the very same day they’re released elsewhere.

However, they eventually moved on to screening Indian and Nepalese movies. When I asked him why they had this shift he said that the market for English films was, at least for that time, niche. Then, he also realized that there was a certain vacuum in our own movie industry. Which is why he went on to produce movies. Kagbeni and Sano Sansar were the ventures they embarked on, and we have Mr. Vinaya Shrestha, our cover from October 2018, to testify for how advance the production was. But then again, these movies were only critically acclaimed, not commercially.

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WE CAN’T COMPETE WITH WHAT HOLLYWOOD AND BOLLYWOOD ARE PUTTING OUT. THE COMPETITION I’M TALKING ABOUT IS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY. WHAT WE CAN DO, HOWEVER, IS TO TELL STORIES THAT MEAN SOMETHING IN A MEANINGFUL WAY.

When something like this happens, my go-to assumption would be that the audience was just not ready for it; being ahead of the curve and all. However, Mr. Uddin disagrees. “When we came out with these films, the audience was already habituated to seeing Hollywood and Bollywood films, movies where all of these themes and techniques are explored. In my opinion, it was the directors who couldn’t really present it well.” And looking back at those very movies, one can see that they didn’t age very well. What was cutting age once seem choppy, campy, and even corny at certain points

Mr. Uddin stopped producing after that and focused on expanding Quest to become the giant it is today, by opening a multiplex in Civil Mall, turing into QFX, and the rest is pretty much history. And perhaps it is a new found confidence, but he is into producing again, that too as a solo venture this time. The Man from Kathmandu is his upcoming movie, and interestingly enough, it is an international project. The movie has an amazing cast of action choreographer Jose Manuel from Puerto Rico who plays as the lead, Gulshan Grover as no other than the antagonist, Hameed Sheikh from Pakistan, and our own Anna Sharma, Neer Shah, and Karma Shakya. This is quite an ambitious job for one person, but judging by the trailers that have been floating around, it is not going to disappoint anyone.

Now, stepping back a bit and talking about the business side of things, Mr. Uddin intends to release The Man from Kathmandu in international screens as well. The production cost of this project has been approximately 5 crores in our currency, “and to break even and actually see profit, penetration into the international market is necessary.”

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He sees this as an experiment to tap into a different vein. And if it turns out all right, it will be easier to feed in more movies as such. But it’s only about money. Movies are an art form after all, and by extension, an expression. And to get our Nepalese expression onto the radar is a major feat. No one has really heard of a Nepalese film making a buzz overseas apart from Caravan, and it is about time for something to stir things up. We see that potential in The Man from Kathmandu and with Mr. Uddin, we have our fingers crossed.

“If we are to talk about the present context, I’ll be honest with you, we can’t compete with what Hollywood and Bollywood are putting out. The competition I’m talking about is about technology. What we can do, however, is to tell stories that mean something in a meaningful way. I had a hard time sitting though Thugs of Hindosthan because there wasn’t any content in it. A movie can only get so far from being high tech. It needs a strong story line. And I firmly believe that Nepalese movies can establish their own identity and mark by churning out films that tell a tale.”

And parallel to it all, Mr. Uddin believes in opening more theaters as well. And I must say that it is a really smart model. If you look at a pie of movie consumption in Nepal, a huge chunk goes to Nepalese movies. We might favor Salman Khan or Tom Cruise over here, but outside the valley, Nikhil Upreti or Aryan Sigdel are the beloveds. This indicates that there is a high demand for our own flicks. And a lot of movies are being made. But a big part of the reason why they don’t perform well is that there aren’t enough theaters. People don’t watch them simply because they don’t get to watch them. This is exactly why the man we are looking at intends to open a theater in almost all parts of Nepal. Then, with an abundance of platforms, Nepal can truly launch it’s movie game.

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“In the recent times, what I have realized is that watching movies is a favorite pastime for a lot us, especially for us Kathmandites. And for those outside the valley, it is pretty much the only recreation. Aside from that, I am seeing new infrastructures enter into these markets. Hence, to capitalize on this opportunity, I want to build theaters in such parts and provide a quality movie watching experience. And to do this, I have started Regal Cinemas.”

And to start things off, they have already signed with Bhatbhateni Super Market to open up cinemas in 3 different BBSMs; Bhaktapur, Butwal, and Biratnagar. In the coming 6 months, these theaters will be operational with plans to accompany every new BBSM with a movie hall. Then, they already have 4 new projects in the pie line for the coming year.

You see, all of this is like the question of what came first, was it the chicken or the egg? Do you want to make movies first? Or do you want to create platforms to exhibit them? To Mr. Uddin, movie production is not going to run off anywhere. He wants to expand the exhibition aspect of things, then only create things to be exhibited. And with plans to make close to 15 theaters in the coming 3 years, his prophecy for the prosperity of the movie industry is something we all will be thankful for being fulfilled and be rooting for.

 

WORDS BY NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH | PHOTOS BY GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR

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