The Tamil film industry is slowly getting back on its feet after the coronavirus-induced lockdown. Many big-budget movies, including Superstar Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe, halted their shooting due to the pandemic.
Following multiple requests from senior directors and producers, the Tamil Nadu government gave its nod for the resumption of film and television shooting with certain restrictions, which included that only 75 people can be on the set and the entire crew should follow all the precautionary measures listed by the government.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, film producer and distributor G Dhananjayan said the filmmakers are completing their pending portions quickly so that they can sell their finished product through other mediums if not through theaters.
“All the films which were stuck due to Covid-19 have resumed, but the new films haven’t started. It is a challenging time. We completed dubbing for our film Kapatadhaari after the restrictions were lifted. Even those who have resumed shootings are completing their films as soon as they can to exploit other forums, be it OTT, or direct-to-TV premieres. Everyone wants their films to be sold somehow, that’s why everyone is shooting. No one has any idea of how the industry is going to shape up in this pandemic period. The industry will be back on its feet only when theaters resume operations.”
Dhananjayan added in big-budget movies, the lead artiste portion will be completed only after the situation becomes a little bit under control. “If you take Annaatthe for example, the crew will begin shooting in a few days without Rajini sir’s portion. The big artistes will naturally have their reservations during this period. Also, there is a general fear among everyone. All of them are maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, no one hugs each other, or shakes hands at the shooting spot. It is the same in post-production areas too. Editing and dubbing are done with proper precautionary measures.”
When asked whether the government’s restriction of allowing only 75 people on a film set will work for star-studded big-budget movies like period drama Ponniyin Selvan, Dhananjayan said the government will be easing those restrictions within a few weeks.
“They are planning to shoot in October second week. It is too early to talk about that. The government anyway will relax those restrictions and hopefully, the theaters will open soon which will put an end to many of the other issues including the conflict between the producers and the theater owners,” he said.
Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI) president RK Selvamani had said the Tamil film industry has suffered a loss of around 1,000 crore rupees due to the lockdown. He said close to 25,000 FEFSI employees were left jobless.
“There are 25,000 people in the union. Per day at least 15,000 people will be working on different sets. Their minimum salary is 1,000 rupees, and it goes up to 5,000 rupees depending on the production. If you keep 2,000 rupees as salary and if we take 17,000 people into account, it comes around 3 crore rupees. This is the amount the workers alone have lost in this pandemic period. If we take the actors, directors and other technicians’ salary, the industry would have lost easily around 1,000 crores,” Selvamani said during an interaction with the media.
He even wrote a letter to leading actors, directors, music directors and other technicians in the industry, requesting them to dedicate one day of their schedule in a year to help struggling workers.
National Award-winning director Seenu Ramasamy, who is currently working on the post-production of his next film Mamanithan starring Vijay Sethupathy in the lead role, said Covid-19 has pressed a pause button in people’s life and it provided an opportunity to reexamine ourselves.
“I lost a couple of my relatives and friends. It left me traumatized. I was not even able to pay my final respects to them. Covid-19 has taught us how to live with whatever little we have. People suffered a lot; they were left jobless. The situation looked grim several months ago; now I think it is slowly returning to normalcy. People are following precautionary measures which is a good sign. My film is nearing the completion stage. Thankfully, we completed the film before the Covid-19 lockdown. Producer Yuvan Shankar Raja will announce how the movie is going to reach the audience. I am working on my next film. The script work is done. Hopefully, we will start shooting soon,” he told indianexpress.com.
Seenu Ramasamy added that the SOPs should be followed rigorously in all shooting spots and it is the only way through which the industry can provide confidence to the government.
“Prevention is better than cure. The restriction of allowing 75 people at a shooting spot can be difficult for big-budget movies, but for people like us, it is adequate. I instruct my crew to follow all the protocols,“ he said.
Venkat Subha, actor and film consultant, says the current restrictions will only suit small budget films which don’t require a lot of artistes and technicians.
“Top-tier actors have reservations about their safety in this pandemic period, and hence the shooting of those star-driven films haven’t begun yet. If the big heroes participate in the shooting, the makers need to ensure all precautions because the entire movie is driven by that particular star. The entire crew has to undergo testing often to make sure there’s no community spread,” he said.
He added that shooting spots are a bit different now, as everyone is getting used to the new normal. When asked about the condition of union workers, Subha said, “Of 25,000 workers, at least 15,000 would have not worked for a couple of years. But Selvamani made sure each member of the union gets the required provision and other necessary items for their survival. He has to be appreciated for that. The industry doesn’t guarantee anyone a permanent income. Only if you have a permanent boss, you will have a permanent job. A couple of people who produced films last year are seen nowhere this year. Some of the companies which had produced blockbuster movies are in a financial crunch, and they haven’t done movies for the past four to five years. This is the reality, and people know this is the reality and still take a chance with a hope they can survive and succeed here.”
Actor Thangadurai, who had been part of several reality shows on a leading Tamil channel, says both the channels and the film production companies have reduced the artistes’ salaries citing Covid-19.
“Earlier there used to be a live audience for our shows and we will get to know whether our jokes have worked or not instantly. Their applause and reactions would boost our performances. We are missing all these things, which play a part in our performances as well. The number of junior artistes and other technicians in a reality show has also decreased. We are having pay-cut as well. Earlier, we used to do a couple of rehearsals before our performances. Now, even that has been limited due to various reasons. Everyone can be seen with fear in their eyes. That usual josh we experience on a film or TV shoot is missing,” said Thangadurai.
He added there is no production food and crew members are given an individual parcel. They are instructed to complete their meal maintaining social distance. “You get new ideas only when you sit around or have a meal together with people. We discuss various things and take a point from here and there, and that will enhance your performance. But with current restrictions, we are not able to interact much with others. I am not sure whether I am talking to my colleague or someone else because everyone is roaming around in the studio with a mask,” he chuckles.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines