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Lights, camera, masks off, action: Bollywood back in business after virus lockdown

PATNA: Lights, camera, masks off, action. After more than five months of lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Bollywood is back in business.

The Indian movie industry is rolling again with several filmmakers shooting for a slew of big releases next year after being forced to shutter up by the virus outbreak.

The first major production house to bell the cat has been Excel Entertainment, jointly owned by actor-filmmaker Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani, which has begun filming comedy “Hello Charlie” and gangster drama “Dongri To Dubai” amid strict anti-virus guidelines issued by the Maharashtra government.

“Getting back to work is a relief and a joy, but given the times we’re in, it’s important to be socially responsible and keep the environment hygienic for the crew and cast. They work to create. We work to keep them safe,” Akhtar, who is co-producer of the two projects, told Arab News.

Actor Aadar Jain, a cousin of national heartthrobs Ranbir and Kareena Kapoor, plays the title role in “Hello Charlie,” and said shooting for the film was a “unique” experience considering the circumstances.

“We didn’t hug each other when we met on the set and removed the (face) mask only when the camera rolled. We had to sanitize from time to time. The rest of the crew were all in PPE (personal protective equipment) kits and socially distancing themselves,” he added.

Other measures introduced to help prevent the spread of the virus, have included appointing health-care experts, or designated “COVID officers,” to monitor every shooting schedule and ensure that the strictest standards of hygiene and sanitization are followed on set.

Producers said the precautions were necessary to resume work, especially for those who had no other means to a livelihood or had been rendered jobless by the pandemic.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice president for films and events at Saregama, told Arab News: “We needed to resume shooting to avoid starvation among the daily wage-earners.

“We have employed specialized personnel on the sets who are responsible for all health and safety measures. Though we have masks and sanitation tunnels in place, the COVID officers will reinforce our safety efforts. COVID-19 is a reality, but the show must go on, albeit with a twist here and there.”

He was referring in part to the resumption of two projects by Saregama’s movie-production branch Yoodlee Films.

Bollywood spokesperson and filmmaker, Ashoke Pandit, said: “It’s about time (filming resumed). How long could the daily wage-earners of the film industry — the lightmen, the spot boys, the makeup persons — remain at home jobless? They were on the verge of starvation.”

The Indian entertainment industry is estimated to have lost at least 1,000 crore rupees ($133 million) since the virus lockdown was imposed in March. However, Nagpur-based film exhibitor, Akshaye Rathi, believes the figure could be nearer 3,000 crore rupees.

“Producers refuse to pay the grassroots workers. They dare not do the same with the actors. So, the daily wage-earners have taken the brunt of the lockdown. I am glad some filmmakers have taken the initiative to resume shooting,” Pandit added.

Actor Akshay Oberoi, who shot to fame with the digital web series “Selection Day,” was back in action for a film directed by K. U. Mohanan and said resuming work had been an “underwhelming experience.”

“This can’t be the way forward, though. This can’t be the new normal. (I) can’t work like this. It’s restrictive. In one take, I felt like hugging my co-star. It felt right for the scene. And then suddenly I was thinking about COVID-19 and whether it’s appropriate or not. That throws you out of the scene,” he added.

Actor and activist, Sonu Sood, who has been on the streets throughout the pandemic helping thousands of stranded migrant workers reach home, said going back to work was the only way out and was “worth the risk.”

“The virus is not going anywhere. It is good that shooting has resumed. If we take the necessary precautions, we can shoot without getting infected. There are so many technicians whose wage depends on shooting. It’s time we took a little bit of risk for the larger good,” he added.

Famous actor Akshay Kumar, who begins shooting next month for the big-budget film “Bell Bottom,” said: “The new normal has made us realize a different way of working that none of us could have imagined. As much as I’m happy to be back on the sets, it’s also important for us to take care of everything around us.”

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