Just when Bollywood seemed to be getting back on track with releases being planned and film shoots announced, a second surge in the number of Covid-19 cases has brought everything back to square one. With a night curfew imposed for the past one week, filmmakers are no longer able to stick to their schedules that included post sundown scenes. And now, with the state staring at another lockdown, the date diaries might be further thrown astray. For this week’s #BigStory, we take stock of how Bollywood is putting up a brave front in the face of adversity, even as the scepter of 2020 threatens to make a comeback.
Movie releases postponed
At least three films were postponed last minute—Rana Daggubati-starrer ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ was held back just a few days before the release, followed by Yash Raj Films announcing the postponement of ‘Bunty Aur Babli 2’, and Amitabh Bachchan and Emraan Hashmi-starrer ‘Chehre’ pulling back from theatres for now. The postponement of theatrical release dates is an indicator that all is not well, and producers are still not confident that the audience will come back to the theatres anytime soon.
Atul Mohan (Trade analyst): The scenario is again very stressful for Bollywood
Lending an insight into Bollywood’s dilemma, trade analyst Atul Mohan says, “The scenario is again very stressful for Bollywood. We had thought that business was back to normal, but we were wrong. The second wave of Covid has hit us hard again. So far, three movies have announced that they are being postponed, and a few more are likely to follow in the days to come. Weekend lockdown, night curfews in several cities and states, procuring a negative Covid report before entering malls, which house cinema halls, and 50 per cent occupancy in major markets like Mumbai and Maharashtra, are all impacting the business’’.
Akshaye Rathi (Exhibitor): The government needs to balance out saving livelihoods along with lives
While producers are ducking from the impact of the second surge by delaying the release of their films, cinema hall owners are bearing the brunt of the night curfew. Exhibitor Akshaye Rathi shares, “I am not sure if the night curfew and restriction is going to help in any way. The only thing that needs to be controlled is the discipline and the sincerity with which people follow protocols. The onus needs to be put back on citizens, rather than penalising enterprises that have already suffered over the last year. Unemployment, as a problem, is real. There are enterprises that are functioning on a hand-to-mouth basis right now. And to penalise them further, without any kind of help or support or financial relief from the government, is completely unfair. The government needs to balance out saving livelihoods along with lives, and for that, these kinds of measures and restrictions will not really help.’’
The makers of ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ held back the theatrical release of the film in Hindi but went ahead and released the Telugu and Tamil version of the film, which trade pundits feel was a bad idea. “Our products have a finite shelf life. If you try and release a film in certain states and not in others, it is not that film will do anything later. By then, piracy would’ve killed it. And there are so many filmmakers who are waiting with their films, who have been bearing the mounting costs. For them, to hold on any longer, may not be easy. The government needs to take into account that the livelihood of millions of people in the state is at stake here. Let’s focus on the right measures–accelerating the vaccination drive, penalising citizens who are not following Covid protocols,” he further suggests.
Sanjay Ghai (Exhibitor): Our industry works on the basis of Maharashtra, and if that state is under a curfew, we are bound to suffer
Exhibitor Sanjay Ghai of Mukta Cinemas New Delhi shares, “Our industry works on the basis of Maharashtra, and if that state is under a curfew, we are bound to suffer in our business. After one whole year or no business, the month of March brought some relief with ‘Roohi’, ‘Mumbai Saga’ and ‘Godzilla’ bringing in some decent business for exhibitors. The announcement of ‘Chehre’ getting pushed has disappointed exhibitors, now we will have to run cinemas with shows of old movies and dubbed South films, which is not a solution. If the government is planning a lockdown, I would like to ask them what compensation are they going to offer to our sector which has suffered immensely. Patient ko toh aap oxygen de rahe hain hamari toh haalat patient se jyada kharab hai (You are providing patients with oxygen, but we are worse off than them)”.
Nitin Datar (Exhibitor): We have been forced to pay all the charges, and no relief has been provided to us by the government
Nitin Datar of Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association informs that several cinema halls will close down and there are some who have shut shop already after the government diktat allowing 50 per cent occupancy. With night curfews, the last two shows of single screens have also been ruled out now. Nitin says, “The government is not giving us the benefit that we are supposed to get. As per the law, the property tax is waived off if the nation is hit with a natural calamity. Also, as per the Madras High Court order, if electricity is not consumed, the minimum and demand charge should not be levied on us, but the government has ignored all of these requests made by the association. We reopened after we were told that the Covid situation is under control, and within three weeks the numbers are up. It is simply not our fault if you cannot control the surge; as it is we had no business for the last year, and just when things were looking up again, this break. Multiplexes are more or less on rent, but we, single-screen owners, own the property–multiplexes are not losing much; as it is they have thrown out a lot of people. But here, we have been forced to pay all the charges, and no relief has been provided to us by the government.”
Revealing the manner in which business has been hit due to Covid, Nitin adds, “If the Bombay Circuit is hit with no release it will have a ripple effect in Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, and a bit of CP and Berar, and you know the business comes from Bombay and Delhi. If Bombay goes, business goes. We have also challenged the government order of the ’70s that states if a cinema owner wants to redevelop the property, he will have to have a theatre on the premises. Today, we have multiple avenues of entertainment and theatre is not the only place, like it used to be in the past. Then why are we being forced to bear the burden to entertain others–that is for public benefit. We are ready to offer the government to take our property on lease and run cinema halls.”
Deepesh Shah (Marketing executive): As of now, every movie releasing is a loss
Speaking about the loss that films are facing because of the night curfew imposed in Maharashtra, marketing whiz Deepesh Shah says, “With the night curfew, the path to recovery for the film industry has been pushed ahead by 4-5 months. Getting back audiences is going to be a challenge but good content will surely get footfalls. However, the overall box office collection will see a huge drop. The Rs 100 crore mark will not be easy to achieve. As of now, every movie releasing is a loss. ‘Mumbai Saga’ should have been a Rs 70 crore-plus film, projected number on the low side, ‘Sania’ should have at least earned Rs 50 crore, ‘Roohi’ would have made Rs 60 crore but none of the movies are going to achieve these projected numbers.”
Is pushing film releases the right move?
While Bollywood revamped its release date calendar as soon as theatres opened up, the current scenario might force filmmakers to revisit their dates. Buzz is that the Rohit Shetty-directed ‘Sooryavanshi’, which was scheduled to hit screens on April 30, could be held back too. “It is tough to say whether it is a good idea to move the films and then come in the middle of a lot of clutter. Maybe we can negotiate to reduce the window between the theatre and other platforms. This will allow the producer to earn more from other platforms – satellite or OTT. We can plan out a scenario in which producers can space out the releases of all the tent pole films a week or two apart so that each film can optimise revenues; plan a scenario we all can co-exist in, without damaging each other,” points out exhibitor Akshaye Rathi.
What Bollywood feels
Bollywood had announced a promising slate of films for the coming months, with biggies like ’83, ‘Thalaivi’, ‘Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai’, and ‘Bell Bottom’ gearing up to entertain on the big screen. However, a domino effect is being predicted as filmmakers are deferring releases further.
Aashish Singh (Producer): It is also about the health of the people, so let us not just concentrate on the business side
Aashish Singh, CEO of Lyca Films, feels that safety should be of utmost importance. He asserts, “Mumbai, Maharashtra is a big market and we are facing a challenge there. The cases are going up and it may take a couple of months before things are slightly better on the exhibition side. But it is also about the health of the people, so let us not just concentrate on the business side. We are hoping that the vaccination drive will definitely have a positive impact a couple of months down the line.”
Hansal Mehta (Filmmaker): If we are not allowed to shoot, the industry will go from being in the ICU to becomingbrain dead
And it is not just the movie-watching experience that is being affected, procuring permissions for night shoots is also proving to be difficult with an increase in the number of cases. Hansal Mehta, who delivered one of the biggest OTT series during the lockdown, ‘Scam 1992’, is now worried about shooting his upcoming projects. He rues, “Even though we are saying that we will be in a bubble, shoot in one location, and follow all the SOPs, the permissions are difficult to come by. I cannot invest in a set without knowing what the permission situation is like. We cannot afford to have shootings being stopped if the industry is to survive. The content will be consumed in any case, whether it is theatrical or OTT release, but the content creation industry must be kept alive, otherwise, it will become disastrous. Whenever theatres open, they should have content to play. If we are not allowed to shoot, the industry will go from being in the ICU to becoming brain dead.”
BN Tiwari (FWICE president): BMC is not entertaining permissions for outdoor locations
FWICE president BN Tiwari, when contacted, informed that securing shoot permissions are bound to become an issue. “We have just been told that choreographer Ganesh Acharya is going to Hyderabad to shoot a song for Dharma Productions. As it is a lot of filmmakers are shooting in Uttar Pradesh, Hyderabad, and other cities, and are avoiding Maharashtra. BMC is not entertaining permissions for outdoor locations. People are coming to us with verbal complaints but no official complaint has been filed with us”.
Mohit Chadda (Actor): By releasing ‘Flight’ we are helping theatres sustain
Actor Mohit Chadda, whose film ‘Flight’ released on Friday, has a positive approach to the present situation. “It is not only about Maharashtra, but the rest of the country too, where cinemas are open. Releasing ‘Flight’ is our own little way to help them sustain themselves. We are worried about the business too but it is not right to announce the release date and not proceed with it. I know a lot of producers have postponed the release of their films and I understand they have their own valid points, besides they are very big films and have a lot of money at stake but our logic is simple, agar hum hi nahi support karenge cinemas ko, toh kaun karega (If we, ourselves, don’t support cinemas, who will)
JD Majethia (Producer): Shifting location is not a good solution for now
However, JD Majethia of IFPTC, who is shooting his shows in the city, says that there is no need to panic as another lockdown won’t be imposed, as assured by the government. “There is no official announcement of a lockdown for now and besides that, almost every state has the impact of virus spread. We have our sets where we can keep the situation under control which becomes difficult in other states for now. All the states have different entry permissions for now like Gujarat requires everyone to undergo an RT-PCR test and test negative. Shifting location is not a good solution for now,” he affirms.
OTT emerging as the champion?
From a commercial masala entertainer like ‘Coolie No 1’ to a fun biopic like ‘Shakuntala Devi’, several films released on OTT platforms last year. Aashish Singh feels that streaming services may have done some damage to theatrical releases, but in the long run, cinemas will continue to rule hearts. “OTT is good for the overall business. Producers who are financially stuck, at least have a way out. In the long run, both will complement each other. OTT cannot buy big-ticket films, theatrical films will have to complement the platforms. In the short term, it is eating into the business of theatrical releases, but now so many films are lined up for theatres, so, I don’t think it will matter if a few go on OTT,” he opines.
Om Raut (Director): If there are no cinema halls, movies will go to OTT
Filmmaker Om Raut’s blockbuster directorial ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’ was one of the last big films to release in theatres before the lockdown. While he is busy churning out yet another lavish period drama, Om shares that one needs to weigh in all the situations. Sharing that OTT and theatres are here to co-exist, the director says, “If there are no cinema halls, movies will go to OTT, but they will co-exist. Rohit (Shetty) has kept his film (‘Sooryavanshi’) for theaters, which is phenomenal. He is putting in so much effort in keeping that film, it is great dedication and an expensive affair. At the same time, there are films that cannot be held back, and for good reasons, they have gone to OTT, which may not have been their first choice. But they had to do it because of the pandemic. We all were sitting at home, so why can’t films also go to OTT, it is a very normal thing. Our job is to entertain. We have to accept the facts and move on”.
Source From : Times Of India