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The jury is out on whether the pandemic will spark dystopic or humanistic tales.
The jury is out on whether the pandemic will spark dystopic or humanistic tales.

Bollywood taps covid tales for movie scripts

  • Filmmakers Anubhav Sinha, Sudhir Mishra, Hansal Mehta, Ketan Mehta and Subhash Kapoor are coming together for an anthology on the pandemic
  • The jury is out on whether the pandemic will spark dystopic or humanistic tales in Bollywood.

The covid-19 pandemic is giving some acclaimed Bollywood filmmakers fodder for plot-lines. The question is: will they mirror life or contrive to give audiences a happy ending?

First off the mark, director Ram Gopal Varma has already released the trailer of his Telugu-language film Coronavirus, shot entirely during the lockdown.

And filmmakers Anubhav Sinha, Sudhir Mishra, Hansal Mehta, Ketan Mehta and Subhash Kapoor are coming together for an anthology on the pandemic.

Anand Gandhi, known for films like Ship of Theseus and Tumbbad, is also working on a script that he says “will be set in a post-pandemic world".

The jury is out on whether the pandemic will spark dystopic or humanistic tales in Bollywood.

Coronavirus is not a horror film," Varma tweeted at the launch of his trailer. Coronavirus is set in a single isolated house and tells the story of a family whose members are all eerily engulfed by the virus.

“It is about the horrors which are inside all of us, including our great political leaders and bureaucrats who actually know only as much as us... which is just nothing."

The Indian film industry has been here before. Film critic Manoj Kumar R. pointed to the 2019 Malayalam language medical thriller Virus, set against the backdrop of the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala. With the virus contained to a single state, it spawned only one film.

Not this time around.

“Covid represents the failure of collective critical thinking and there are so many angles to it. I’m sure it will open up a flood of movies," Kumar said.

According to Kumar, the pandemic presents opportunities for big-ticket, high-budget films, too, along the lines of Hollywood’s mega-scale disaster movies Independence Day (1996), 2012 (2009), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Contagion (2011).

“Seemingly overnight, the virus has changed our daily lives and the way we interact within our very own communities," said Sai Abishek, director, content, factual and lifestyle entertainment, South Asia at Discovery India that has brought out multiple documentaries on the pandemic.

“There is obviously very high level of interest from audiences across genres."

To be sure, given the dogged grip of the pandemic, there is a fear that films centered around it may hit home too hard.

And too early: With a happy ending yet to be sighted, audiences may find them hard to take.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, that owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films, said they have been receiving many pitches with stories set in isolated settings such a home or a resort.

“But, at the end of the day, cinema is supposed to be escapist, so that may not be sustainable," he said.

Others emphasize the unexplored, under-reported angles that will make for interesting stories.

“The human drama is the most interesting part," critic Kumar said. “There is a whole middle class that was fortunate to just be locked up at home that doesn’t really know the magnitude of the situation on ground, the struggle of the migrants or the fact that the healthcare system had completely collapsed. So that real crisis should definitely have some appeal."

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