NEW DELHI: Taking cue from Hollywood which had pushed several big-ticket films to 2021 soon after the covid-19 pandemic struck in March, Bollywood is gradually announcing release dates for next year. While Akshay Kumar will bring out his film Bell Bottom on 2 April, Ajay Devgn has locked in the Independence Day weekend of 2021 for his sports drama Maidaan. There is also speculation around Varun Dhawan’s Coolie No.1 releasing on new year’s 2021. Not just Bollywood, Baahubali star Prabhas’ new multilingual film Radhe Shyam too has announced intentions to release in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam in 2021.
“Hollywood had realised much earlier that this pandemic will take its time and that closed movie auditoriums are one of the highest risk areas which will be one of the last to reopen," film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar pointed out.
Action thriller Fast and Furious 9 was one of the first films to reschedule from May 2020 to April 2021. Jared Leto’s Marvel vampire movie Morbius and Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife too were moved from July 2020 to March 2021.
Earlier, the big target to resume cinema operations in India was the Independence Day weekend in August, which now seems out of the question, says industry experts. Given that the government has provided no clarity on when theatres can reopen, scheduling films for this year or expecting audiences to flock back to movie halls are factors that need to be viewed realistically. As of now, the only films to have confirmed a theatrical release for 2020 are Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and sports drama ‘83 for Diwali and Christmas respectively. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, while sticking to its 12 August global release for now, has not confirmed a date for India.
“Perhaps the period starting September and the Gandhi Jayanti holiday are better targets to eye now," Johar pointed out.
The team of Bell Bottom, scheduled to fly to the UK next month to start shooting, is one of the first Hindi film units to resume operations along with two John Abraham-starrers, Mumbai Saga and Satyameva Jayate 2. Emphasising that a number of people are dependent on the film industry starting up again, Bell Bottom producer Jackky Bhagnani said all activities will be closely monitored to make sure no one is at risk and they are following issued guidelines. Apart from locking in release dates and resuming shoot, Bollywood has also been announcing new projects off late, such as Ajay Devgn’s film on the Galwan Valley clash, Vivek Oberoi’s Iti and Rosie: The Saffron Chapter and new looks of films such as Meghna Gulzar’s biopic on Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw starring Vicky Kaushal.
Unlike other industries, trade experts point out that the movie business can only restart pan-India at the same time and irrespective of language, any big film will have to hit screens across the country. That is a challenge given that covid-19 cases are steadily increasing in small towns while they show no signs of dipping in metros at all.
“We are extremely disappointed with the measures (taken for the movie business) so far. The government has to look into it because eventually people’s livelihoods will suffer," Mohan Umrotkar, chief executive officer, Carnival Cinemas said referring to requests made to the government to waive fixed electricity charges of theatres and provide other relief to help them tide over this crisis. Johar said India’s cinema screen count is already down by 15% as a number of small properties have shut shop across the country.