With COVID-19 continuing its relentless surge and the Maharashtra government tightening restrictions, film and TV producers are scouting for locations outside the state in a desperate bid to complete long-stalled movie projects and build up episode banks. The pandemic last year had slammed the brakes on the Mumbai-headquartered entertainment industry that provides employment to lakhs of people. And just as shooting schedules were picking up pace and dates getting finalised for films awaiting theatrical releases came the second Covid wave more powerful than the first with Maharashtra leading the tally of cases.
As the state government clamped down further on movement, following its announcement that all shootings stand suspended to curtail the spread of the infection, and fears of a lockdown grew, so did uncertainty about what the future holds.
Producer Bhushan Kumar’s “Ek Villain Returns” is one of the biggies to be affected. The shoot has been moved to Goa but Kumar said there is no decision yet on their other films.
“The sudden surge in Covid cases is definitely something to worry about. We stand by the decision to not shoot in the city. To meet the shoot deadlines we have found the perfect location in Goa to shoot ‘Ek Villain Returns’. The shoot has begun there and we are abiding by the protocols laid down by the government. We will soon take a call on the other films,” Kumar told PTI.
The shoot of Prabhas-starrer “Adipurush”, which was taking place in Mumbai with minimum cast and crew, is now on hold due to the virtual lockdown in the state. In television, where producers have to come up with daily episodes, they have gone to second-tier cities after Mumbai shut down production.
Goa, a convenient flight away, seems to be a favourite.
Star Plus shows such as “Yeh Hai Chahatein”, “Ghum Hai Kisikey Pyaar Meiin” and “Aapki Nazron Ne Samjha” are currently being shot in the coastal state. Zee TV has also shifted the shoot of its popular shows “Kundali Bhagya”, “Apna Time Bhi Ayega” and “Qurbaan Hua” to Goa.
Hyderabad is the location for “Imlie” and “Mehndi Hai Rachne Waali” and “Ek Mahanayak Dr B R Ambedkar” has moved to Umergaon in Gujarat.
“Every producer is facing a certain challenge. There was anyway a weekend lockdown which had hampered the shoot. So now, nobody has a complete episode bank,” said actor-producer J D Majethia, chairperson, TV & web wing, Indian Films & TV Producers Council (IFTPC).
Majethia said he himself has run out of episode banks for his show “Wagle Ki Duniya” and will rely on repeat telecasts.
Also hit is the release schedule of films. While many films were premiered on OTT platforms, some held out and were waiting for things to improve before releasing them in theatres.
“Both the films will release in theatres but nothing has been decided yet. Once normalcy returns, the team will decide,” the source added.
As producers and distributors plan their next moves, actors, crew members wonder what will happen.
“We are back in the same situation as last year and it is really grave… Although the restrictions are just for 15 days at the moment, I remember last time, when shooting was stopped, it had a major impact,” said actor Pratibha Ranta, who plays Chahat in Zee TV”s show “Qurbaan Hua”.
The new curbs in the state could spell disaster for the thousands of daily wage workers who depend on the film and television industry for their livelihoods.
Rakesh Maurya, treasurer, Film Studios Setting & Allied Majdoor Union, which has more than 46,000 workers, including carpenters, painters, and technicians, said the worry is that 2020 is repeating itself and they will have to head back to their homes.
“Around 300-400 of our workers had a three-month schedule of ‘Ram Setu’, but since the shooting stopped, the entire set had to be dismantled. There”s a similar situation for Yash Raj Films and other productions. Like last year, the workers are again worried about the future.
“They are not sure whether they should wait for the restrictions to lift or head back to their villages, because the work will now completely stop and that”s a huge setback,” Maurya said.
As many as 45 members of the “Ram Setu” crew had tested positive for COVID-19 along with lead actor Akshay Kumar, who had admitted himself to a hospital as a precautionary measure but has now recovered and is back home.
Ashok Dubey, general secretary, Federation of Western India Cine Employees, which has nearly four lakh members, said they held a meeting with different producers’ bodies — IFTPC, IMPPA, WIFPA, and the Producers Guild and broadcasters – to discuss the issue.
“If the restrictions are extended, we will send a proposal to the government. We will have to create a bio bubble and figure out a way to shoot safely.” Dubey also plans to request the government to help workers.
“We have bank details of nearly 50,000 workers who were in need of financial help last year. The workers are worried and quite scared. The work was halted last year and now when the industry went back on track, this happened,” he said.
Maharashtra on Tuesday reported 62,097 fresh coronavirus cases, taking the tally to 39,60,359. The death toll was 519, pushing the total fatalities to 61,343, officials said.
A minister indicated that the Maharashtra cabinet favours a “strict lockdown” to curb the coronavirus pandemic. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to make an announcement on the matter on Wednesday.