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Bollywood’s Covid-19 Test

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Like all other industries, Bollywood too is going through tough times. COVID-19 and the nationwide lockdown has brought the film industry to a standstill. With film shootings postponed, cinema halls closed, promotional activities cancelled and new movie announcements stopped – all work has been stalled. Many actors have taken to social media to share videos and photographs of them cooking, doing household chores, working out and other activities during the quarantine.

Bollywood, which churns out around 1,000 films a year, is standing to lose more than Rs 1,000 crores. The first quarter wasn’t successful, so all hopes were pinned on the second quarter, which had some big releases lined up like Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi, starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif with cameos by Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh; and Kabir Khan’s 83 starring Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Saqib Saleem, among others. Now, they will hit the screens later.

Then again, Salman Khan-starrer Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai, which was scheduled for an Eid (May 25) release, is most likely to get delayed because a few portions of the film are yet to be shot.

The makers of these films haven’t yet announced when they plan to release them. But one thing is certain that the box office will get crowded in future Fridays because of the delay.

Will make it sense to release films soon after the lockdown is lifted? Not really. Industry experts believe that it’s going to take a while before movie goers flock to the theatres again. People might not immediately want to go to crowded places for fear of the virus.

Theatres will not see a rush

Director-producer-writer Siddharth P Malhotra says, “I don’t think it makes sense to release the films because people are not going to rush to the theatres till normalcy sets in. I don’t know how many people will follow the concept of social distancing inside a theatre.”

He feels that the first few films to hit the screens will bear the brunt.

Sharing similar sentiments, veteran filmmaker Subhash Ghai believes that there will be hardly any craze to watch movies in the very first week because of fear psycho of the crowd. “But only big star cast movies may be able to recover their costs if all gets well,” he says. Adding to this, Malhotra says it’s a call that studio owners will have to take.

Producer Anand Pandit says, “Producers backing these projects are studying the market very closely and have an extremely strong understanding of how things are panning out. I am sure they will not take any hasty decisions.”

Coming back on their feet

No releases mean no revenue. So, the industry collectively needs to come together and find ways to revive it so that the impact is minimal. There is no denying that the industry will have a tough time getting back on its feet. Still, the Ram Lakhan and Taal filmmaker says that the industry has always stood together and even now as COVID warriors. “Movie industry has always stood and will stand united for any social or national cause whenever it happens, and that is what I have experienced for the last 45 years,” says Ghai.

To get the industry back on track, Ghai says that they have to rethink the business model and reduce production cost. “Especially actors and directors. Time to make movies or projects on a sharing basis than a guaranteed lump sum amount they charge. The government should also give tax holidays to theatres,” he says.

Pandit adds, “We are still in the process of formulating a detailed list of action that needs to be taken individually and collectively. While we still don’t have industry status, we are all united in working for the larger good through various guilds that function effectively.”

He further adds, “For one, we need to look at the possibility of taking a cut in our profits and for it to be divided equitably among all stakeholders. Two, we need to be united in how releases are planned. Crowding a Friday with too many releases is not going to benefit any film, and it will definitely destroy smaller films.”

Malhotra, who has directed films like We Are Family and Hichki, points out that producers need to ensure that shootings are conducted in more enclosed spaces, within studios mainly. “For those scenes which have to be shot outdoors, all precautions need to be borne in mind, especially sanitisation of the place. Masks will have to be worn at all times, and all the equipment — mainly lights, cameras and other electronic contraptions need to be sanitised. You’ll need a doctor on set, as well as an ambulance. We will also need to lessen staff entering a shooting area and cut on the entourage accompanying actors,” says Malhotra.

In theatres, at least three seats in between will need to be kept vacant. “Maybe, theatregoers will have to wear masks like the 3-D ones or something to protect themselves inside. Seats will need to be sanitised, and the theatre will also have to be disinfected after every show and every night,” he adds. Pandit also believes that cinema hall owners will have to follow strict guidelines of sanitisation for cine-goers to feel safe when entering a theatre.

Plan of action

Talking about the plan of action post corona, Ghai says that they will produce big-budget movies for theatres and small budget ones and web series for OTT.
“Mukta Arts believes in doing its best with changing times,” he says.
Pandit, who has two big films lined up for release this year, including Chehre, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Emraan Hashmi, and The Big Bull, starring Abhishek Bachchan, says, “Both the films have release dates etched out. However, I would like to see how the industry and the economy functions when the lockdown is lifted. Remember, ultimately, the audience rules this industry. We will have to follow their lead,” says Pandit, adding that for his new projects he is rethinking — from storylines to shooting schedules and production timelines.

Smaller films to take OTT route

Because Fridays are going to be crowded, smaller films might get affected in the process. This might prompt many producers of small-budgeted films to release their films on the OTT platform, which will at least guarantee them a release and visibility. We recently saw Paresh Rawal’s son Aditya’s debut film Bamfaad, which was originally set to have a theatrical release, making its way to Zee5. Malhotra is sure that many of the small films are already in talks with OTT platforms but does OTT have the bandwidth to release so many films?

“The small budget movies made in a budget of Rs 7-8 crores need to be given the money. I am not sure OTT has that kind of money to offer right now. OTT platforms are not willing to do revenue sharing anymore. Even if they don’t, what choice do these films have? They opt for OTT and just break even their cost of production. Small budget films are likely to face real tough times now,” adds Malhotra.

Ghai adds that this trend on OTT is bound to happen but with a huge creative competition ahead. “Small budget movies have to wait for one year at least,” he shares.

This is not a completely new trend because during pre-corona days too, smaller films did release on these platforms. Agreeing to this, Pandit says, “Even before the pandemic, OTT platforms were becoming a much safer and stronger option for smaller films that don’t necessarily get the same value for money in a theatrical release and can’t afford a promotional blitz. Post the lockdown; they will most definitely have to rethink theatrical releases. I understand that every filmmaker imagines a Friday release but the world is changing and we must evolve constantly.”

Courtesy – SakalTimes

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