Sanjay Gupta Interview Mumbai Saga Covid19

Sanjay Gupta’s Mumbai Saga will be one of the first major Bollywood productions to resume shooting post the lockdown. The ensemble gangster drama stars Emraan Hashmi, John Abraham, Jackie Shroff and Suniel Shetty among others.

Gupta says 90% of his film was completed before the lockdown and he has only two weeks of shooting left to finish the movie. He intends to go back on set mid-July. Luckily, the complex action and crowd sequences are behind him and what’s left are the relatively easier scenes, although they will require the entire cast.

I spoke to the director about adhering to the extensive safety guidelines set by the Producers Guild of India. Gupta says he’s ready to take on the risk and because “how long are we going to let the risk paralyse us?”. “When we go on set, we’ll have to figure that out as we go along,” he says.

Edited Excerpts:

It’s reported you’re planning to shoot at Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad which allows you to have the entire crew shoot in one location where you can control the environment and also stay together to minimise risk. Do you think that’s where most shoots will take place in the near future?

Yeah, I came up with the concept of shooting at Ramoji purely for that reason. When you shoot, you don’t know where your staff and crew is travelling from every day. Secondly, public transport is not entirely open yet so how are they going to travel? These are things we’re still trying to figure out. That’s why I told my team to explore Ramoji. Firstly, it is completely self-contained, and whoever you take there, stays with you so it’s very conducive. I just have to arrange the flight, take my actors, and move there. Even my heads of departments and other staff would have their hotel within the studio, so basically no one is stepping out.

But we are still looking at all options. There is a possibility to do it here in Mumbai and my team is working on that because the work that we have left is pretty doable. My main work is on two sets and on a set it is pretty under control and safer than open locations.

But if you shoot in Mumbai, I imagine you wouldn’t have that same level of control? Would you still have everyone stay together in one location?

In Bombay, we can’t have everyone stay together. There is a level of risk involved, we are not denying that. But the point is, how much longer are we going to let that risk completely paralyse us? The danger is everywhere. At some point you have to get out of your house and go to work. So right now we are weighing both location options. Hyderabad is still looking like a safer option, but that’s a call we’ll soon have to take.

How big is your unit going to be on set?

My usual unit strength is 300. We’ve been told to limit that to 33% so we are looking at 100 people. As long as we are maintaining all the distancing norms and following the rules it’s fine. There’s been an unnecessary expanding of crews that has happened over the last 8-10 years. When we made Shootout At Lokhandwala in 2007 the crew was just 50 to 60 people maximum.

Now suddenly what’s happened is everyone comes with people, make-up men who come with assistants and understudies and all of that expense is on the producer. And it’s not the expense that bothers me, it’s the fat of the crew.  Suddenly a job that can be done by 80 people is being done by 200 people.

Nowadays even locations are determined by where you can set up your basecamp because you have so many people and trucks and equipment. And everything is called for and kept on standby. Earlier the cameraman would give his requirement for his lights and that’s the amount that would come. Now, the light trucks come loaded with some 300 of those lights and you can use as much as you want, and you will be charged on how much you use. But the point is you’re sending me four times the amount of material which I now have to make space for. Even a dolly is worked by only two guys, but comes with a team of six.

Also Read: Bollywood Professionals Answer 7 Questions about the New Film Shoot Guidelines

But what about the specific changes and precautions that need to be taken now during shoot? Things like having a doctor and ambulance on set at all times, using thermal scanners, sanitization, masks and gloves?

Those are standard things we were following even before all of this started. When the pandemic first started, I was bang in the middle of my shoot. I was shooting right till the 15th of March on the Dadar station over-bridge. It can’t get crazier and more crowded than that.

I had a team of 150 juniors and 50 fighters, and the action directors had 8 to 10 assistants with them. We always have a doctor and ambulance on set in any case whenever we shoot action. We had given masks and gloves to the whole crew. So that isn’t something new we’d have to do. We were doing the whole thermal scanning thing which still does not make any sense to me. When 65% of your carriers are asymptomatic, what are these scanners pointing at your head going to do?

Even if you get someone tested, so many times it has happened that the test is showing negative, but the person is positive because we don’t know a thing about this virus. So even with every precaution you take there is a risk. Even if I test someone today, and we start shooting tomorrow, in between that person will be travelling to so many places and doing so many things.

Could you walk me through how you’d shoot a typical scene now keeping in mind all the precautions you have to take?

Luckily for me, the complicated parts and fight scenes are done. We have this one scene to shoot where people come into a bar and sit. We’ll have to space them out so there is 6ft distance between the characters and stuff like that. In any case, we’ll be getting all these people tested when they come on set. Like I said, the risk is there but that is a chance you will have to take. We don’t have a choice.

Even if you get someone tested, so many times it has happened that the test is showing negative, but the person is positive because we don’t know a thing about this virus. So even with every precaution you take there is a risk. Even if I test someone today, and we start shooting tomorrow, in between that person will be travelling to so many places and doing so many things.

There’s been talk of getting the different departments such as lighting and costumes to work one at a time rather than all at once. Would that be a new challenge?

No, not really. But I can’t comment on that right now, when we go on set, we’ll have to figure that out as we go along.

In any case, when we shoot generally also, a day before shoot the art team comes and does their work and the light team comes and sets up the place, and then on the day of the shoot we call the actors and shoot it. It is not like 100 people are on the set all the time.

Has the film changed at all or is it exactly the same? Did you make any changes on a script level to fit current scenario?

No, it is exactly what we set out to make. We finished almost 90% of the film. I’ve just got two songs left and a couple of scenes. The thing is when you have made 90% of the film already, you cannot make changes to it. You cannot compromise on the vision as well as the story.

Is there a protocol in place if someone on the team is found to test positive?

Send the person home. What more can you do? This is something we’ll only figure out as we go along.

Are there any sort of checks or inspections in place to ensure film shoots are following the enforced guidelines?

No, absolutely nothing from the government. I think they have a lot more to do right now.

Is part of you scared to be the first filmmaker to resume production and be responsible for so many people?

I am not scared at all. But I am anxious for my cast and crew and their safety.

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