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India filmmakers, broadcasters brace for production challenges

Content creators in India expect to begin production shooting in the coming days given that the government has said it will take a call on reopening cinemas in the third phase of India’s exit from the covid-19 lockdown. States like Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have endorsed a set of guidelines which helps but the mandates required to ensure safety and hygiene standards will be tough to execute, most in the industry believe.

Also, they expect television production to begin before film and web projects.

“Our primary concern at this time is how we will manage the number of people required on sets along with safety processes though the idea is to start things in a phased manner and see how the trial goes,” Abhishek Rege, chief executive officer, EndemolShine Group said, adding that at least in the first phase, production companies will avoid shooting in crowded, residential areas of Mumbai such as Goregaon or Andheri and go for studios on the outskirts of the city.

Given its controlled nature, television is likely to start before film that often requires outdoor shoots and live locations. Punit Misra, CEO, domestic broadcast business, ZEE, said the company has worked in close coordination with other broadcasters and all key stakeholders to develop robust SOPs for shoots, some of which have resumed in Karnataka and Kerala and will soon begin in Tamil Nadu.

In a set of guidelines issued on Sunday, the Maharashtra government asked filmmakers to minimise crew strength (not including the main cast) to 33% of pre-covid days, identify activities that can be carried out remotely via email or video conferencing, ensure temperature checks before people enter sets, and have medical personnel present on each set.

No audience participation will be allowed, and for non-fiction shows only online auditions would be conducted, only one person will be allowed as an acquaintance with children and in no case, would children below the age of 10 be allowed to participate. Also, there is a bar on extravagant or elaborate wedding or fight sequences till the covid threat subsides. Artistes will be encouraged to arrive on sets in costumes and make-up and carry their own food, intimate scenes will be avoided, and the unit would stay on or around the studio premises for the duration of the shoot, besides minimising travel.

Mukesh Mehta of Malayalam film production and distribution company E4 Entertainment was quick to point out that while the government can issue instructions, implementation will be tough.

“Workforce is dependent on the kind of shoot. It would be easy for TV and some web shows to restart with limited manpower but for films to really kickstart, we need more people on floors,” Mahendra Soni, co-founder and director at Bengali production house Shree Venkatesh Films said, adding that under the current mandate, the company won’t be able to resume shooting for Golondaaj, a biopic on Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari, considered the father of Indian football.

“The other big question is whether the top artistes will come. At least in Kerala, the major Malayalam stars are all senior citizens,” Mehta said referring to A-listers such as Mohanlal and Mammootty. In Hindi and Tamil cinema too, the star brigade is led by ageing actors such as Salman, Shah Rukh, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Livemint

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