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The challenge is aggravated considering Mumbai, the entertainment hub and film capital of India, currently stands ravaged by covid-19, with more than 2,700 cases
The challenge is aggravated considering Mumbai, the entertainment hub and film capital of India, currently stands ravaged by covid-19, with more than 2,700 cases

Bollywood preps for social distancing, hygiene on sets

  • Producers and entertainment industry experts say helping cast and crew tide over the fear psychosis of working in large teams is their single-biggest concern,
  • Most lower-rung workers such as painters, lights-men and stuntmen have returned to their native places and finding new trained workers will be a challenge

NEW DELHI: Bollywood won’t be the same when it resumes production activity after the lockdown is lifted.

Producers and entertainment industry experts say helping cast and crew tide over the fear psychosis of working in large teams is their single-biggest concern, besides ensuring sanitary conditions, which could escalate costs.

The challenge is aggravated considering Mumbai, the entertainment hub and film capital of India, currently stands ravaged by covid-19, with more than 2,700 cases.

“Our film sets are extremely democratic in the sense that they employ everyone from top-rung actors to daily wagers. Our biggest concern is to convince all of them to congregate and create work," said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India.

He said most lower-rung workers such as painters, lights-men and stuntmen have returned to their native places and finding new trained workers will be a challenge.

This, at a time when the need for social distancing and work from home has led to surge in consumption of content worldwide leading to a demand for fresh material.

Producers like Kumar suggest measures such as masks, gloves, sanitizers and personal water bottles to keep washing hands on sets, besides exploring a safe way to disinfect the floors. There could also be facilities to pick up and drop employees instead of having them use public transport. A lot of the work on sets requires touching of equipment and sitting on furniture so cleaning and disinfecting after pack up will be a regular feature.

Shibasish Sarkar, group CEO, Reliance Entertainment, which has two big-ticket films scheduled for release, Sooryavanshi and ’83, does not see partial normalcy in production before June, and completely before October. Given that entertainment is not a high-priority segment, theatres and film sets will be the last in line to resume operations, Sarkar said. In fact, there will be fewer productions for a while because production houses will be strapped of funds.

“Everything can’t happen in one shot. Some filmmakers could perhaps choose to shoot in small towns or hill stations that have been less affected by the pandemic, but a set in Mumbai with 400 people on board does not seem feasible," Sarkar said.

Some of the international conglomerates operational in Bollywood could lead the way, he said, setting the mandate that others would then follow.

That unit size will have to be smaller is a point filmmakers reiterate across the board. Reliance, for one, does not intend to resume production with full team strength at least from day one and will have several people continue to work from home, especially if their jobs do not require them to be on set. A typical film set can have 80-125 people.

“The increased costs on maintaining hygiene would be offset by reducing the number of workers. We should look at this optimistically, this will teach us to be more efficient. Over the years, we have always wondered why so many people need to be on sets," said producer-director Siddharth Malhotra.

Sameer Nair, CEO at Applause Entertainment, said challenges would be different for the limited timelines that films and web shows follow compared with the ongoing nature of television shows.

“It can’t be a one size fits all though we are all in the same boat. But as an industry, we are working closely with the government and the various producers guilds to figure out a way forward," Nair said.

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