Bollywood 2.0: Will cinema be the same for artistes, audience post-coronavirus era?
While traditional doors are slamming shut, unconventional windows of opportunity are opening for the film industry
What do the recently released Home Stories on Netflix, the short film Banana Bread, the experimental visual essay Love in the Time of Corona on YouTube, or writer-director Arati Kadav's sci-fi film 55 Km/Sec have in common?
All these films were shot remotely during the lockdown. Till very recently, filmmaking was perhaps one of the most socially immersive professions. The coronavirus has changed all that. Or, as actor Arjun Kapoor tweeted while shooting after a gap of four months: "Sab badal chuka hai. New World Order. Accepted."
From camera angles, lights and scene compositions, a filmmaker is directing all this and more from the confines of their living room through a mobile phone. Actors are self-shooting their scenes on personal devices, post-production is also done remotely, the editor uses a screen-share option to share their timeline with the director, while the composer and even the sound designer are constantly exporting files, and the VFX (visual effects) team is stitching it all together.
Experts from the industry are worried that even if traditional shooting does commence, social distancing will affect intimate scenes, besides other norms such as the ban on smoking, and allowing food and beverages on the sets will have their own effect.
Film exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi rues, "Movie exhibition traditionally employs lakhs of people. Even if theatres open, we’re not sure if audiences will come. Big films such as Sooryavanshi, Coolie No.1, Radhe, Wonder Woman, Brahmastra, '83, etc are awaiting release. Some are in the post-production stage, while in some cases a few scenes need to be shot."
As uncertainty looms large, there is the added question of loss of fee regarding actors—big and small. Rathi is hopeful that the government will extend help in the form of subsidies. Also, in the post-COVID world, contracts will have to be drawn up in a completely different manner. Faced with huge losses, filmmakers and exhibitors are looking towards big-ticket stars to bail them out with profit-sharing measures.
They are also hoping that actors would weigh in regarding their opinion on pay cuts. Bliing and Exceed Entertainment, the organisations which represent a host of actors from Vidya Balan and Ali Fazal to Saif Ali Khan and Sonakshi Sinha, are looking for the best options for their clients.
At a time when fewer staff would be allowed on the sets, stars would have to do without their entourage. Maybe one Jeeves will be allowed, but not a horde of makeup artists, stylists, secretaries and what have you.
Ashok Pandit, president of Indian Film and Television Directors’ Association (IFTDA), says, "We have started the shoot of serials on a restricted note and people are still adjusting to the present scenario. As far as films are concerned, filmmakers who have already shot 60-70 percent of a particular project are waiting to get over with their shoots. Those who have finished are busy with post-production, music, re-recording, VFX, mixing and animation. Shooting locales will have to be changed now. Once they reach their locale they will have to be quarantined and the budget is going to go north."
While traditional doors are slamming shut, non-conventional windows of opportunities are opening up and that’s a good thing. Saregama’s film division—Yoodlee Films—has moulded itself for these constrained circumstances.
It makes it a point that no shoot can exceed the two-hour mark and all of them are shot in real locations with no artificial sets. Actors dub their dialogues, which are live-synced on location. And there is no five-star treatment. The production house has already begun shooting with the 30 per cent mandated workforce and encourages online auditions.
Also, getting ‘COVID insurance’ will be the new norm. Ellipsis Entertainment has initiated a conversation with legal firms for ‘COVID-19 insurance’ for their upcoming project. Not just that, Indian Film & Television Producers’ Council (IFTPC), Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) and Cine And TV Artistes' Association (CINTAA) are working towards insurance cover to restart filming.
A death cover of Rs 25 lakh due to COVID-19 and hospitalisation cover of Rs 2 lakh will be provided across hierarchy to cast and crew. Meanwhile, the humble umbrella is all set to be upgraded from its lower-middle-class identity. Apparently, in order to shoot while following social distancing norms, this equipment has been made must.