How do you know that the second wave of the Covid 19 outbreak is upon us? Just take a look at the list of movie stars who’ve got it in the past few of weeks. Akshay Kumar, Aamir Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Katrina Kaif, Vicky Kaushal, Bhumi Pednekar, Manoj Bajpayee, Kartik Aaryan. Directors such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Some of them were in the middle of shooting their films, others in other stages of production. One way or another, the Hindi film industry is working on full swing. The numbers were going down, vaccination is on. But the unprecedented spike in cases (currently counting at over a lac per day, with the Government declaring the next four weeks as critical) has meant that film shoots—one of the most complex collaborative endeavours involving a large number of people—have become even more difficult.
Increasing number of cases among actors, directors, technicians and other staff have sent productions into a logistical chaos. The film shoots, divided into Zones, as prescribed by the directives of the government of Maharashtra, have upped their precautionary measures. Some productions have made it mandatory to test every alternate day—with new people joining the cast and crew can only do so after they have tested negative twice.
When the director of a film tested positive, this is what happened. According to the creative producer of a major studio who was working on it, “every single thing had to be relooked at.” Owing to a delay of two weeks, the first things to be affected were the location and the availability of actors, whose dates were arrived at after rounds of permutation combination. The booking dates for the location on the other hand also expired. As a result, the shoot had to be rescheduled. A new location had to be scouted. Then there was the problem of matching the actor’s dates with that of the heads of the different departments.
When the lead actors, directors (and maybe the cinematographer)—people without whom the shoot just won’t happen—test positive, the trickle down effect is huge. For example, even when there is no shoot, the team of assistant directors and daily wage staff have to be paid because they’ve been hired on a monthly basis. Same with people who have to be replaced, for example the VFX guy. He still has to be paid, even though you have to hire a replacement. All this has shot up the budgets.
In another production, to keep the budgets in check, a supporting actor was replaced after he tested positive, even though he had already shot for a day. “I had to let go of this actor and cast another person because if I lost the location, then I would have lost about 15 lakh a day. We reshot that footage that the actor had previously shot with a new actor. That meant getting the location, the actors and the crew together for one additional day of shooting,” said the creative producer on the project.
The new curfews in Maharashtra have added to the complication. “I have had to make a 100 versions of the schedule,” said Pooja Kadam, an assistant director at Excel Entertainment, “Like earlier night shoots could happen, now they cannot. We cannot do split days anymore; you can’t shoot from 2PM to 2AM because after 2AM the crew can’t go back home. Till recently, we were hopeful of being able to shoot on the weekends and now we’ve found out that we can’t.”
Despite all the adversities, the shoots are on. Filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane started shooting his next four days ago. Even though no one has tested positive on his set yet, the director of such films as Udaan, Lootera and AK Vs AK is fully aware that things can go “haywire”. “Everybody is mentally aware what you are planing to be a 4 month shoot is going to be a 6 month shoot, a one year project is going to be a 14 months project. Everybody is just figuring that this is the reality,” he said.
(Inputs by Gayle Sequeira and Sankhayan Ghosh)