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A few months ago, a film about a pandemic would have most likely been a work of fiction. But that is no longer true. Dozens of films based on stories of isolation, suffering, tragedy, hope and resilience during the coronavirus pandemic will soon hit screens, big and small.

Amazon Prime Video has brought out an anthology of lockdown stories titled Unpaused, set against the pandemic’s backdrop. Rival Netflix has a comedy special called Vir Das: Outside In for a bit of humour during the dark times and perhaps a few viral coronavirus jokes. Netflix also has non-India covid-related content such as Italian-Chilean anthology series Homemade, which follows stories during the pandemic. Actor Sanjay Mishra will soon feature in a film called Andaman that revolves around a quarantine centre.

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Executives at video-streaming companies and filmmakers say the world has changed in ways that few could have imagined at the start of the year and the crisis has thrown up many human tales of hope and suffering that need to be told.

“Coronavirus is not a horror film," filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma had tweeted at the launch of his Telugu film’s trailer. The film is set in an isolated house and tells the story of a family whose members all fall prey to the virus. “It is about the horrors that 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 union of such creative forces is a testament to the fact that art will always find expression, even in the most challenging times, Aparna Purohit, head of India originals, Amazon Prime Video, said in a statement at the launch of Unpaused. “These stories are a reminder that there is hope at the end of the dark tunnel and a chance for us to embark on new beginnings."

Filmmaker Avinash Arun, who helmed a segment called Vishaanu in Unpaused, said it has also been a challenge to find innovative ways of telling a story, keeping in mind safety and health protocols.

A senior executive at a streaming platform, who did not want to be named, said streaming services believe that some of these lockdown tales can tell lesser-known stories that “may be about us, or someone we know or someone we want to know more about, and that’s when the magic happens".

“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," film critic Manoj Kumar R. said in an earlier interview. While several such projects may not be large in scale and size, covid offers the opportunity for a big-ticket, high-budget film as well, he said.

To be sure, Hollywood has already experimented with massive-scale disaster movies such as Independence Day (1996), 2012 (2009), besides, of course, Contagion (2011).

Given the nature of the tragedy, filmmakers remain divided on the appeal of such content that may hit home too hard, and say it may be a better idea for creators to focus on slice-of-life subjects that make for easier community viewing in theatres.

“At the end of the day, cinema is supposed to be escapist," said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films that has received a lot of pitches with stories set in isolated sets such as a home or a resort.

However, under-reported aspects of the crisis such as the plight of migrants deserve particular focus and will make for great stories, critics like Kumar say, given that they may not have entirely caught the attention of the privileged class of people who were fortunate to have just been locked up at home.

Even from a viewership lens, disaster movies catch the pulse right.

In a report published on news website Insider, Dr Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in California, explained the phenomenon behind watching movies like Contagion or Outbreak in one word: closure.

“It makes us feel we’re not alone, and there’s a resolution to these stories, so we can express our anxiety that way," Rutledge said in the Insider report. “Whether it’s zombie movies or Contagion, any thriller ramps up a lot of anxiety and fear that then gets resolved by the end."

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