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India’s filmmakers are confining their scripts to small spaces

The fear of the pandemic is changing how films and web series are being made and what viewers will watch.

Writers and directors of films and web shows are developing content, keeping social distancing and strict covid protocols in mind. So, song and dance sequences are out, and so are crowd scenes. Also being avoided are intimate scenes and exotic locales.

The storylines are also innovative—be it thrillers or relationship dramas—played out only by a handful of actors and usually set in a single place: a home or a resort.

Amazon Prime Video, for instance, recently premiered Malayalam crime drama Joji, a take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set in the Kerala countryside, while its latest comedy reality show, Hasse toh Phasse, is about a bunch of comedians stuck together in a room.

Netflix’s recent Malayalam thriller Irul is set in a house with only three pivotal characters.

“Concept-driven stories have taken centre stage, and shoot location has become an enhancement to the story. Given the current scenario, scripts with a smaller cast and a concise production unit are common,” said Sudip Mukherjee, chief executive and co-founder of Biiggbang Amusement, a video-streaming platform dedicated to short movies.

Mukherjee has recently greenlit a project that will be shot entirely in a house with three actors.

“Working under these circumstances, we have become aware of what is a necessity and what counts as luxury. In the post-covid world, producers and studios will be more aware and mindful of resources,” Mukherjee added.

A senior executive at a production house who did not want to be named said they were getting plenty of scripts in the psychological thriller genre, on the lines of Rajkummar Rao-starrer Trapped or Ram Gopal Varma’s Kaun, both of which saw protagonists navigating inside a closed home.

“But it isn’t our priority to consciously think in that manner; the writing has to be solid for us to greenlight the project,” the person said, admitting that the company is dropping ideas that require grand execution such as large crowds, and many junior artistes and dancers.

“Those may not come back until the end of 2022 or even 2023,” the person said.

Mukherjee agreed.

His company was looking at lower production investments, downsizing on-set requirements and putting limitations on scripts.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films, has also been pitched plenty of scripts set in closed spaces but pointed out that audiences will look for a certain sense of escapism in video content and the job of content creators is to entertain them.

“Most of what we shoot now will only come to screens a year from now, and while we could reflect the reality around us in some way such as characters wearing masks, there will have to be dissonance with the outside world for which producers will have to look at scale and spectacle,” Kumar said. For the time being, though, Kumar is also using visual effects for crowd multiplication and has taken to shooting in outside spaces where the risk of transmission is lower. He has also shot in locations like Uttarakhand earlier.

Producers like Kumar are increasingly looking to vaccinate all cast and crew employed on their projects to lower risk, avoid hospitalization and help people work without fear for business and creativity to thrive. However, supply constraints are proving to be a challenge.

“We want to work in the safest, most productive way possible. If covid can play a part in the story, we will incorporate it by all means. But we don’t do it just for effect because viewers don’t know what goes on behind the scenes of a project, and they will not be forgiving if the story doesn’t work for them,” said Sanjeev Lamba, executive producer of Hungama Originals at Hungama Digital Media. Live Mint

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