Shooting films in the times of rising COVID-19 cases

Gautam Chintamani
·3-min read

One of the biggest productions to be launched after the resumption of film shooting amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ram Setu, has come to a halt after the film’s lead, Akshay Kumar, and 45 crew members tested positive for COVID-19.

The high number of people associated with the film testing positive for COVID-19 could be one reason why Ram Setu has made news as this is not the first high profile film to experience a stoppage of filming since the government allowed resumption of shooting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the recent past, stars such as Manoj Bajpayee, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, R Madhavan, Vicky Kaushal, and Bhumi Pednekar also tested positive for COVID-19 that led to a halt in their projects.

Additionally, the timing of the crew members of Ram Setu testing COVID-19 positive when Maharashtra sees a spike in the number of cases could also be a cause of more significant concern for the industry.

The last twelve months have been tough for nearly every human being and enterprise as much as they have been for the entertainment industry.

In August 2020, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry released SOPs for the resumption of shooting amid the coronavirus pandemic. Coupled with the decrease in the number of new cases, the news of a vaccine instilled a sense of confidence in the filmmakers that the ‘new normal’ has been defined. For the industry, it was a matter of time before the norms became a way of life.

The slow steps taken by the industry — releasing films theatrically, resumption of shooting, etc — were beginning to make things fine for the trade. Some, such as Akshay Kumar, broke an 18-year rule by shooting ‘double shift’, each shift is 8-hour, for Bell Bottom in Scotland to help cope with the financial burden.

Kumar worked 16 hours to compensate for the loss the producers suffered due to the crew observing the mandatory 14 days of quarantine upon landing in Scotland. Yet, the recent spike in new cases across India, especially Mumbai, the nerve centre of Hindi films, appears to change everything.

In addition to big-budget films not releasing on OTT platforms (Sooryavanshi, 1983), the industry chose to be overly cautious with new movies.

In this aspect, Ram Setu, reportedly the story of a man on a journey to discover if the ‘Ram Setu’ was a myth or indeed reality, was one of the first marquee films to start production. The film made headlines after Kumar met with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in December 2020.

The star was granted permission to shoot in Ayodhya, and the shooting, which was all set to commence in early April 2021, is now thrown in a state of disarray.

One of the other big projects whose run of delays refuses to end is the Ranbir Kapoor-Alia Bhatt-Amitabh Bachchan starrer Brahmāstra. The shooting had to be halted when Kapoor tested positive for COVID-19.

Later, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, in the making before the pandemic also had to halt production when Alia Bhatt announced that she was COVID-19 positive. The industry also had to face much flak when actress Gauhar Khan reportedly violated quarantine norms by shooting after testing positive for the coronavirus.

As the country races to get most of the population vaccinated, social distancing and other norms need to be maintained to ensure that the numbers stop increasing at the present rate.

In all likelihood, work would continue in Bollywood amid speculation of a partial or complete lockdown.

The industry has accepted the ‘new normal’ but also needs to accept that both the terms ‘new’ and ‘normal’ will keep getting redefined.