In March this year, I was shooting in South Africa for my film Kakababur Protyaborton. It was a big unit, around 35-40 people. Around March 15, as information about the coronavirus started flowing in, our team grew tense. In the next 48 hours, the world changed — flights were stopped, lockdowns were imposed, there was a lot of uncertainty. We somehow managed tickets to return to India on March 19, and the entire crew was put in 14-day home quarantine.
I shifted to the fourth floor of my house in Kolkata and did not meet anybody. My food was sent to me by lift. I was doing the dishes and all other chores on my own. I am not somebody who spends a lot of time on the phone, but I tried. I would talk to my family, my son, who had returned from abroad too, through video calls. At times, I got very lonely, even upset, I only had my phone.
After 14 days, when I came down from the fourth floor of my house, it felt like I was returning from an exile. By then, both our Chief Minister and the Prime Minister had announced the lockdown, and since then it has definitely not been a holiday, especially with the crisis continuing to unfold around the world.
I have started waking up late. Waking up early and being at home made the days too long. To change my sleep cycle, after finishing work I now watch shows on Netflix till 4-5 in the morning. When I wake up late, the evening comes sooner. It feels like the day has ended. Many people in my team also feel the same way. They want to make their days shorter.
Along with the Covid-19 crisis, my state is also recovering from the devastation caused by cyclone Amphan. We are fighting back all of this, but it is not a healthy situation. Even our mental state is not very healthy. Everybody is trying to do their best for others, but there are limitations.
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After my shoot in South Africa, I was supposed to start a film with Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Das. And then, from April, I was slated to work on a Hindi series by Vikramaditya Motwane (director of Sacred Games, Udaan). It was an important project for me, but we can’t shoot now. However, we are trying to keep the wheels turning. From my personal manager to my sister, who looks at the business side of my production company, everybody has come together in this difficult time to make the situation ‘normal’. The time at home has also made me realise what is important. I have started focusing on my health, reading scripts which have been lying around for long, and discussing ideas with my team.
One day, I got a call from Mr Amitabh Bachchan to be a part of a ‘made-at-home’ short film, Family, to spread awareness about the importance of staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Actors such as Mohanlal, Rajinikanth were part of it. I agreed to do it. I realised that in such times people have expectations from us, from celebrities. While shooting the videos from our homes, all of us spoke about how grateful we were for getting a chance to act, to be part of a shoot, even if it was in front of a mobile phone. Later, as part of an idea conceptualised by our CM, Mamata Banerjee, I shot a song to help raise funds for junior technicians of our film industry.
The entertainment industry across the world is going through a tough time. Films are made with large crews and are considered successful only when a large crowd watches it in the theatres. Unless there is a miracle, no one can say with certainty when that will happen. But yes, we have to fight back. In Bengal, the silver lining is that filming of television shows has begun. Film shoots, however, will take some time since we are directly linked to cinema halls — malls have opened but not theatres. And, even if cinema halls open their gates, will large crowds rush to buy tickets again?
During the lockdown, online streaming platforms and web series have gained more popularity. They have a lot of potential and many international companies are now coming to India to set up OTT platforms. This has also given a platform to many talented actors and technicians. Having said that, cinema will stay. It has a special magic which unfolds on the big screen. It cannot be compared to watching content in isolation.
As television shoots resume in Bengal, for the first time in India there has been an insurance guarantee for actors and technicians. Talks are now on for insurance coverage in films too. As per our Chief Minister’s instructions, we can begin shooting any time and I can’t wait to return. I miss the smell of the set, the camera, my co-actors, technicians, my make-up van. For the past 38 years, I have spent all my time with these people, in those surroundings. I need to get back to them, to my audience.
The author is a National Award-winning actor, director and producer from West Bengal. He has been part of over 300 films.
As told to Amitava Chakraborty
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