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New Delhi: The ongoing third wave of covid-19 infections may not have brought film, television and web shoots to a complete halt like the past two lockdowns, but it has added to production costs on account of bio-bubbles and shorter operating hours.

“The new variant is not as severe as Delta and there is a faster churn of people coming back to work even if they do test positive. Plus, the Maharashtra government has not shut down commercial activity which proves they are in favour of business. So we will get through this," said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films. Kumar’s company has continued shooting a web show in Mumbai and the company had already factored in higher costs. Its Punjabi film to be shot in Chandigarh has been moved to the outskirts of the city.

Rishi Negi, chief operating officer at Banijay Asia said the past two lockdowns have taught producers whatever they needed to learn about creating bio-bubbles and ensuring safety protocols on sets. Banijay that currently has a web project on floors besides comedy series The Kapil Sharma Show and is shooting only during the day, has the entire team staying together for the former, and is creating separate zones on sets, for the actual shoot, for the actors’ entourage and so on, to ensure limited interaction between people. “Of course, there are cost escalations because you’re providing accommodation even for people staying in Mumbai. But the biggest challenge right now is the uncertainty on when curbs may be tightened so you can’t really plan too far ahead," Negi said.

J.D. Majethia of Hats Off Productions and chairman of the Indian Film and TV Producers Council said many TV producers are even trying to work their way around night curfews, making sure people get back home on time, instead of having them stay around the set. “Television is an on-air commitment and has to go on. We can’t shoot outdoors or with big crowds right now and have to change storylines if the situation demands," Majethia said.

Yet some producers have called off shoots. Jitendra Hirawat, director at digital agency SoCheers Films said the company has postponed four projects, including one where the main actor tested positive for covid. Some campaigns are being shot on the phone through Zoom calls. “You can’t just cast someone else or replace the director overnight. There could be other complications like if a talent’s building turns into a containment zone and is sealed. We don’t want to shoot just for the sake of shooting," said Hirawat whose company is using this time for research and pre-production and will take a call on shoots in February.

Several projects that had already started shoots in specific locations are also waiting for the local police and administration to ease restrictions, said Vibhu Agarwal, chief executive officer and founder of video streaming app Ullu that had shoots scheduled in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. “We can’t change locations now. Even if we do, they will have to approved from a creative point of view. The team will have to be flown down from Mumbai and by the time they reach, there could be restrictions imposed there too," said Agarwal adding that it’s best to wait.

Every state is dealing with the third wave of the pandemic and producers will have to be well-prepared to work in tandem with local administrations to get clearances for crowd sequences, the use of public spaces, and shooting protocols, said veteran producer Anand Pandit. “For independent productions, cost escalations due to a bio bubble and the presence of medical staff on sets can be rather challenging but it is better to be safe now than to risk a health crisis," said Pandit who was keen on foreign locations for his latest Marathi film Victoria.

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