NEW DELHI: Suspension of film, television and web production for close to two months, along with payouts for staff salaries and other fixed costs, has pushed Bollywood studios into a deep crisis.
Most foresee a minimum of 10-12% escalation in production costs to accommodate additional safety and hygiene measures that will become mandatory on sets, and smaller crew that will have to deliver the same amount of work that higher numbers would dish out earlier.
“It’s a triple whammy for most filmmakers. You can’t monetize on the number of films that you wanted to this financial year because one, many of them are in jeopardy and cannot be delivered in time, two, others will not find showcasing in theatres unless they are big-ticket ventures and yet you have to account for higher costs," said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India.
Kumar referred to measures that are likely to become crucial on sets in the coming months -- longer breaks for cleaning and disinfecting, which means shorter working days and longer schedules, bringing the crew size to half of what it originally would have been to meet the same targets while following social distancing and providing for private transportation for employees.
Pradeep Dwivedi, CEO-India, Eros International Media Ltd agreed that all movie releases, big or small, will get pushed back significantly and this will have a direct bearing on revenues of the sector along with cost escalations for onsite production. Producer Anand Pandit added that a large number of investors might not want to invest in films given the state of the economy.
Ajit Andhare, chief operating officer at Viacom18 Studios said the crisis is definitely serious for filmmakers and studios given that most of them are incurring fixed costs already and some have massive productions holding up.
Among other projects, Viacom has Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha slated for Christmas that is in the middle of shooting. Like Viacom, several other Bollywood studios had announced big-budget star vehicles for the coming year, among them, Karan Johar’s Brahmastra and Takht, Yash Raj Films’ Prithviraj and Shamshera and others. Industry experts say big-budget productions will definitely be put off for a while because producers will be fearful of mounting such high costs in uncertain times.
“The question really is how do we get started because shooting is an intimate and crowded affair and how can we reformulate a light shooting model even as there are costs and risks to manage along with the setback of low revenue," Andhare said.
Kumar said the other challenge will be to recruit labour for technical jobs such as lights, art, make-up, costumes and so on as many of these small, marginal workers have gone back to their native towns. Producers like him are working with industry bodies to make sure there is enough skilled labour on sets and that they do not have compromised health conditions.
“The dearth of talent will be another big blow," Kumar added.
While labour may still turn up for the sake of livelihood, several industry experts are doubtful of when top stars will feel safe enough to step out of home and report for work.
In an article for Film Information, trade analyst Komal Nahta pointed out that to presume that actors will agree to come to sets soon after the lockdown is lifted may not be correct.
“Every top star of Bollywood is so secure financially that there will be no difference in his or her lifestyle even if he or she were to not work for another year after the lockdown ends. Given the privileged situation that they are in, it would be natural for them to not venture out in a climate which is fraught with danger," Nahta wrote.