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Covid-19 Paints Dark Cloud Over Film Production Houses

The Indian film industry, which employs over four million people in both direct and indirect employment, is trying hard to work out options to get back to their business of show

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While the rippling effects of the Coronavirus were felt by every industry in the wake of lockdowns, the film and television industry was the first to face the brunt with an abrupt grinding halt. Now that the country has begun to ease the strict restrictions of lockdown in a staggered way, the Indian film industry, which employs over four million people in both direct and indirect employment, is trying hard to work out options to get back to their business of show. 

Production houses are planning to open, cautiously taking baby steps so as not to disturb the flattening COVID 19 curve. Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President, Films, and Television Saregama - India, keenly awaiting government guidelines for the go-ahead required for shooting said," We are still awaiting guidelines and the go-ahead from the Government with a clear sense of rules and restrictions to resume shooting. Shooting will commence only once we have clarity of what the Government wants as preventive measures to be put into place. The safety and security of our cast, crew, and technicians are of the highest importance." The veteran producer Anand Pandit quips in Saying," We are at a cautious stage in this pandemic. I believe the Government has done a credible job in keeping the numbers in check and I really appreciate the efforts being made to flatten the curve of this pandemic. However, the opening of the film industry while anticipated by one and all cannot be a knee-jerk reaction. We need to ensure that there are guidelines in place and every preparation is made beforehand so that there are no slip-ups on set. We are happy to open but the health of everyone on the set is the first priority and we cannot open for shootings before we have clarity on that aspect." 

Since the coronavirus is not loosening its grip easily, the "New Normal", might include an exhaustive list for social distancing however this has not deterred the unbeatable spirit of Indians, Siddharth optimistically chirrups," We will be adhering to all health guidelines in the place stipulated by Government and health agencies. Besides the basics - masks for everyone, sanitizers at all touchpoints; we would also want to ensure that medical assistance on sets; minimal unit strength, and least amount of travel for all involved."

Although India is still reeling under the economic pressure of lockdowns amid the coronavirus, Bollywood films have already had an estimated loss of over INR.1, 300 crores as box office revenues alone, though the true economic impact is difficult to gauge. Several films have missed their releases and the one's underproduction has ceased operations, Anand Pandit says," I will not be able to comment on individual losses or even collective losses. The impact has been - very simply put - that all plans for all production houses are in limbo. Work, to a great extent, has been put on a pause. The film industry, just like every sector of the industry has been hit and the real impact will be evident once work starts and the new normal emerges.  Kumar echoing the same sentiments comments, "I would be unable to put a figure on the losses by the industry. For production houses like Yoodlee Films, it has resulted in a delay in a couple of our releases. Luckily we didn't have any films on the floor during this time, but we are utilizing this time to fine-tune some of our screenplays that were ready to roll. These extraordinary circumstances have given producers a rare luxury of time to pause and review all projects without rushing towards a deadline."  The Rs 183 billion Indian film industry might take up to two years to fully recover financially from the losses incurred due to an abrupt halt of its big-ticket projects, threatening jobs of tens of thousands of people. 

Meanwhile, the ever-resilient production houses have ensured that the show must go on, they were quick to shift on the OTT platforms, for instance, Yoodle Films, had rolled out some projects during the ongoing corona debacle, said its Vice President, "we were planning to go on the floor with our next Marathi feature film - a massy horror comedy and a commissioned film by a major OTT player - an urban rom-com during this time. We are also planning for these two films to kick off once things get back to a sense of normalcy." Although the OTT platform was one option, however, the Indian production houses remain sanguine about the future of theatre as well, the veteran producer Anand feels that there is a need to examine each project individually and not just direct everything at one platform alone. Siddharth adds saying," Each film demands its own audience and showcasing - whether it's a theatrical release or an OTT one. OTT seems more viable at this point but it can't be one rule for all."

Meanwhile, the production houses that were overworked before the pandemic hit the country, positively utilized the time that they now had in hand to further mull about the projects and their future execution in the times to come. Siddharth says," We are going through an unprecedented time in our history. I don't think it's going to go back to being 'normal' overnight, or what we considered normal. I think some things will go through a complete upheaval - releases of films in their turnstiles will see a lot of shuffling and negotiating. There will be changes in the way you shoot a film, but yes we will get there." Similarly, Anand Pandit says," I think we should be prepared for a new set of norms to abide by immediately after the lockdown is over. Things I feel will change in phases. What is acceptable now is more than likely to change in a few months. The real scenario I feel will emerge once a vaccine is available."

With the kind of determination being displayed by the Veteran producer Anand Pandit and Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President, Films, and Television Saregama - India, we are sure that the Film and television industry of India which is the purveyor of dreams to many would continue to thrive despite the recent economic backlash faced by them.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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media and entertainment movie production houses

Mallika Chugh

The author is working as an intern with BW Businessworld

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