Bollywood Professionals Answer 7 Questions about the New Film Shoot Guidelines, Film Companion

Over the past two months, there has been a fair amount of speculation on when film shoots can start again, and what it might look like in a post-Corona world. While some shoots are beginning in South East Asia, and some other parts of the world, India is a different ballgame altogether. Here the film sets are even more chaotic and unorganised.

Last week, after a meeting with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray, the Producers Guild of India presented a 36 page guideline. Not many surprises there — except specifics, such as how a studio set will need to be divided into ‘zones’, or the compulsory presence of two junior doctors and a nurse, and how face shields might be a better option for hair and make up artists than masks. (The guidelines will now have to be approved by the Government of Maharashtra, to which they might introduce changes — even though shootings are supposed to begin in Andhra Pradesh from mid-June).

We spoke to various people across the spectrum — a costume designer, a catering service owner, a TV Creative Producer, a chief Assistant Director and a movie producer — to point out the loopholes and the lack of clarity in the guidelines and offer possible solutions.

How watertight is the Producers Guild India guideline?

Ajay Rai, producer (Killa, Nil Battey Sannata): It focusses only on the activity on the sets. But the local workers go back to their respective homes after a day’s shoot. What about their family? It might be better to shoot outdoors than shoot in Mumbai. It’ll be more safe, more in your control, where you can keep the whole unit in one place. Flights have opened up, but not hotels. Once that happens, that might be a better option.

Aditya Gupta, chief assistant director (AndhaDhun, Ok Janu): It’s a great starting point, but as each scene might require different setups and requirements we need to flesh it out more. For instance, the circular has said that we need to divide the studio space into ‘zones’ to restrict free movement of people within the set. Now, say someone with the blue colour band can go to any zone, and the person with yellow badge can go to A or B zone. But who will ensure how many people get the blue band or not. And tomorrow, if someone on the set says the shoot is about to hit over time, so give everyone the blue band let everyone walk around, let’s shoot fast, it’ll be a problem. We need stricter guidelines.

How to cut down the crew size?

Rai: The main thing is that the unit has to be small. We have the habit to shoot with 100-150 people. If we bring it down to 50 or 60, we’ll be able to follow the rules. Like how we go in small crews when we go for a foreign shoot, it has to be like that.

Gupta: It will need to start from the inception of the project and streamlined from the very beginning. I’d say reduce the number of labourers/ daily wage workers on set and have more educated resourceful technicians on set, because that’ll be easier to control. Anyway, on an Indian set a job that can be done by 1 person is being done by 3, as we have cheaper labour. Maybe with every shoot a particular amount of the fund can be distributed to the daily wage labourers.

The guideline lists certain must-haves on a set, including two doctors and a nurse, sanitization, PPE suits and an ambulance. How much additional cost will it add for the producer?

Rai: These costs are fine. It will be at the most Rs 50000 extra per day. If you buy gloves and masks in wholesale they come for cheap. But I don’t understand why you need an ambulance. You need an ambulance only for emergency. And even if someone has the virus or falls sick, you can take the person in to a hospital in a normal car.

Approximately when can shooting start—and what?

Sandiip Sikcand, Creative Producer, TV: The Telugu film industry is supposed to start shooting from June. As of now we are gearing up to start shoot the TV serial Gorintaku in Hyderabad. But till the time I don’t see the floor and people are there and shooting is actually starting, I will always be a little unsure.

What about actors aged above 60. The guidelines say it’s not safe for them to be on set?

Sickand: We have to use senior actors very sparingly. Say, if there is a daughter and a father scene, the daughter would be sitting in the hall doing dusting or whatever and the father will be sitting in the room reading a newspaper, and they are talking across. We keep the senior actor away from the rest, so that he is not interacting too much with a lot of people. And also call them on the show as less as possible. We have to safeguard our seniors.

PGI guidelines state that costume fittings with the talent must be done on set on the same day of the shoot. How much of a hassle is that going to be?

Niharika Bhasin Khan, costume designer (The Dirty Picture, Band Baaja Baraat): Impossible. That can happen only with ads. Who will give you the product? So for bigger actors, we get a whole bunch of stuff and see what works. So if Ajay Devgn needs a white shirt, we get 15 white shirts from 15 companies and see which fits best. Now we’re also going to have to be stringent with how much we buy because we have to wash the clothes carefully before putting them on the actors, and stores like Zara won’t take back clothes that have been washed. So I don’t have the liberty of just picking up stuff anymore, if I pick up something, I’ll have to buy it. That’s going to be very difficult. I doubt producers will give us bigger budgets. We don’t usually go to rental companies, we go to stores with return policies. And now I don’t know if stores will entertain returns for fear of virus transmission.

Costumes usually take a month or two – you do a presentation, then you figure out each character and make presentations for them and then you start buying stuff. And you buy stuff that might work because sometimes the actor’s body type doesn’t suit what you’ve bought for them, especially if it’s a period film. So you have to do fittings. It takes at least two to three trials before your main characters are sorted. For secondary characters, one or two trials will work.

It’s possible to keep fittings to a minimum if everything is planned. The producers can put out guidelines but if the actors don’t agree, then there’s nothing we can do. Costume trials are tiring, and to do all of them in one day with an actor, he can turn around and say, ‘No, I’m too tired, I don’t want to do that.’ And then you’re stuck.

There won’t be fun or creativity with all these restrictions. If you’re just picking up stuff from a rack, that’s styling, not costume designing. And that anyone can do. I just finished Shakuntala Devi and I would’ve been totally stuck if these restrictions had been there. You are tripling our work and tying our hands. Are you going to give me a bigger salary?

The guidelines recommend that all catering staff wear PPEs and that disposable plates and food boxes are used. How feasible is this?

Rohit Yadav, owner, RR Catering: I don’t see any alternative because people have to maintain social distancing and stay at least 2 metres away from each other. So imagine there’s a buffet, 40 people standing in a line, 40 X 2 means the line will be 80 metres long and will go out of the studio. That’s not feasible so boxes are the only option. With boxes, the food will get cold fast. The shelf life will decrease because food that is packed is cut off from oxygen and so will start to ferment faster. So we’ll make sure that the food is packed while hot and that the containers are microwave safe.

We will ask productions to buy their own microwave, which can be kept on the sets so the food can be reheated. This microwave won’t be for the entire cast and crew, just the 20% of crew who come last to eat. We’ll make sure that food that is easily fermented, like chutney and certain dals, will not be served. We will serve items that have a longer shelf life and also mention the shelf life on the box. Every box will have a sticker. So if food meant for lunch is packed at 11 am, I’ll put a sticker saying: Only for consumption till 3 pm. So I’m clarifying to the client that if he eats after 3 pm, he’s breaking the pact and that could lead to an upset stomach.

We charge for food and 5% GST, now we will ask the client to also pay a small packing charge. I consider caterers to be part of the crew and so it’s the responsibility of the production to supply us with safety gear and PPEs.

As told to Gayle Sequeira and Sankhayan Ghosh

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