Nearly 60 km from Jaipur, a battlefield was created for the ambitious Prithviraj, which has Akshay Kumar playing the titular historical figure. However, cutting short the shooting schedule, the unit comprising a cast and crew of 3,000 members packed up on Tuesday as a precaution against the coronavirus. “The shoot of Prithviraj was progressing smoothly. We had six doctors who used to test the crew every day before the shoot started. Yet, there was hesitation among the crew with regard to coming closer to each other,” says action director Pervez Sheikh.
With the coronavirus fear looming large, the upcoming two-month-long schedule of Prithviraj, which was supposed to start on April 1 in Mumbai’s Jogeshwari, too remains uncertain. Such unexpected disruptions in the production work might affect the Diwali release plan of Chandraprakash Dwivedi-directed Prithviraj. Already the making of a host of small- and big-budget movies such as Salman Khan’s Radhe, Karan Johar’s Takht and Brahmastra is affected due to the pandemic. In fact, the big-budget Brahmastra, supposed to release on December 4, has already suffered several delays.
The entertainment industry faces a dry spell at the box office as the release of Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi is postponed while Kabir Khan’s 83 might look for a new release date. The release of two other movies — Is Love Enough? Sir and Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar — scheduled this Friday, too was cancelled. Anil Nagrath, General Secretary, Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA), believes the present health scare puts the “already precarious” entertainment industry in a terrible mess. “This will cause a backlog of releases. That would affect the fate of upcoming releases. The show business depends on how many screens and theatres a film gets. The funds in the industry keep rotating. If films suffer losses, less money will be invested in productions and so on,” says Nagrath. With the shooting of daily soaps stalled, most channels will resort to repeat telecasts or reruns. “In such a scenario, the sponsors are not going to pay the same amount. That will lead to losses for the television channels,” says Nagrath. The losses for the film industry alone will run up to thousands of crores, he believes.
In the wake of the current crisis, producers are reviewing their marketing plans even as they wait and watch. “Once it’s safe again, the fight for catching timelines and new release dates will start. A lot of smaller films might have to take the big ones head-on or look at less lucrative dates. We will also have to closely watch how the audience opens up to watching films in theatres again. If this situation cools down within a quarter, it will be business as usual. However, if there is a large spike and things defer by more than a quarter, alternate release mechanisms such as OTT launches could be explored by smaller films,” says Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO & Co-Founder, TheSmallBigIdea.
The most affected lot in the industry are going to be the daily-wage earners. While Producers Guild of India on Tuesday announced setting up a ‘relief fund’ for the daily wage earners working in films, television and OTT productions, Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE), which has nearly 35 associations affiliated to it, intends to provide ration and basic materials to them from March 22. Ashok Dubey, General Secretary, FWICE, said, “There are nearly 5 lakh workers and technicians under our federation. At any given time, up to 20,000 people might be employed on a daily wage basis in making commercials, films and television shows. Most of these workers don’t get payments on time. On several occasions, even after a film is a commercial success, their payment is not cleared. In the past, we have complained about this to respective channels and producers.” This shutdown is also going to affect them because they don’t get regular employment. FWICE is yet to figure out how to distribute rations.
In the past few days, the making of a series of high-budget commercials related to IPL have been cancelled, causing a massive financial loss. Kumeil Bachooali, who is a coordinator of background models for commercials, said, “I mostly provide good-looking artistes, who appear in the crowd, and are called background models. They get around Rs 1,200- Rs 2,000 a day. After shooting a couple of TV commercials for IPL, we had to can around 15 projects. Most of these shoots involved big crowds and were to be filmed in stadiums. These shoots are postponed till April 15. Depending on the fate of IPL matches and other restrictions, we will plan our next schedule.” Incidentally, on Wednesday, he worked on a public service campaign shoot to creating awareness about coronavirus.
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