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Editorial: Camera-ready in times of COVID
One of the many industries pummelled by the impact of COVID-19 is India’s entertainment sector. Trade analysts pegged the quantum of loss borne by the Indian film industry from the lockdown to over Rs 2,500 cr.
Now that the I&B Ministry has given the green signal allowing film shoots to resume across the nation, stakeholders and those earning their livelihoods from the business have heaved a sigh of relief.
While I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar had released guidelines concerning contact minimisation and safety measures to be followed on film sets, the Tamil Nadu government is yet to announce the date from when film shoots can be resumed in the state. However, there are pertinent concerns that need to be addressed before we can term the entertainment industry as camera-ready in the time of COVID. For starters, film and TV production is an expensive affair. Even during non-COVID times, production houses have been frugal in the way they apportion their budgets towards everything and everyone but the top stars. Setting up the infrastructure to safeguard crew members from COVID-19 will only add to the overheads of many small-scale production companies that are already struggling to pay its staffers. The Indian film industry has often faced flak for its poor safety track record that has seen numerous casualties, a recent case in point being the accident on the sets of Indian 2.
Earlier in June, the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association had flagged off impracticalities in the guidelines to resume film shoots in Maharashtra, in a request sent to CM Uddhav Thackeray. Some of the points raised in this petition included how it would be impossible for film crews to mandatorily have a doctor, nurse, and ambulance throughout the duration of the shoot, as even hospitals were running short of such personnel. The Association raised an objection towards barring staffers or actors over 65 on the sets, as these crew members were essential to shoots. The state guidelines also recommended accommodating shooting units in the studio itself, which again was impractical. The Centre’s guidelines in comparison, seem more grounded and feasible with regard to such concerns.
But they leave many areas unattended. At this point, there is no specific announcement concerning setting up of a dedicated film and TV-industry focussed fund that could be used to mitigate COVID-19 health emergencies encountered by film crews in the line of their work. Owing to the unorganised nature of the business, thousands of contract workers would not even fall under the ambit of group insurance pertaining to film crews. Here in Chennai, Kodambakkam which serves as the hub of Kollywood, is littered with editing, post-production, and dubbing suites across the length and breadth of the region. It’s hard to imagine if these set-ups are in any position to implement the Centre’s guidelines in letter and spirit, considering the shoestring budgets with which they work.
Administrative and safety concerns aside, one also needs to consider the very nature of the beast. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that star-power rules the roost in Kollywood. And even as major titles such as Annaatthe, Valimai and Ponniyin Selvan have been halted midway, it would be safe to assume that most A-listers would hesitate to honour their call sheets until a vaccine sees the light of day. Any postponement owing to infection or illnesses could throw the entire production into a tizzy, and there’s zero coverage so to speak for losses arising from such contingencies. Filmmakers have also spoken about how the pandemic has forced them to do complete re-writes of their scripts, as filming inside cramped spaces or even shooting of actors in close proximity is now a no-go, which once again adds to the cost. In an industry that has been unorganised and often hierarchy-driven, the pandemic could be seen as a messiah for change. But it will need a significant amount of support from the government and a few fundamental changes in the way the industry is run to ensure it can get back to lights, camera, action!