Omicron troubles for Bollywood

It needs to be reiterated again--be it the content or its creation, the thought or imagination, everything will need to change for Bollywood

Representative image
Representative image

Namrata Joshi

Bollywood has not been able to escape the wrath of Omicron either and, like everyone and everything else in the world, has been rendered powerless by the latest virus variant.

Film producer Ekta Kapoor, actor John Abraham and his wife Priya Runchal and veteran actor Prem Chopra, all tested positive for Covid earlier this week with Chopra admitted to Lilavati Hospital. Kareena Kapoor Khan, Arjun Kapoor, Anshula Kapoor, Mrunal Thakur, Nora Fatehi, Rhea Kapoor, Shilpa Shirodkar, Amrita Arora, Alaya Furniturevala, Shanaya Kapoor, Maheep Kapoor are the other Bollywood celebrities reported to have been hit by the virus.

The most alarming development has been the one of several crew members of Shakun Batra’s much awaited Gehraiyaan testing positive. Thankfully there is no news as yet on the lead actors Deepika Padukone, Ananya Pandey, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor. However, what it brings to focus yet again is the fact that Bollywood could well be one the most vulnerable industries when it comes to the charge of the pandemic.

It makes one fear the spectre from the last two waves: cancelled shoots, dismantled sets, films stuck midway into production, trained professionals without job on hand and, worst so, the daily wage earners—make up artistes, light boys, spot boys, technicians, junior artistes—finding it impossible to make ends meet. While shoots are carrying on for now with the SOPs in place, fact remains that the situation is trickier for the film industry than any other and the future is looking uncertain. The making of a film has many people working together on the sets, that too in close proximity, over a longer period of time and often in enclosed spaces.

Beyond production is the exhibition sector which has anyhow been dealt the most crippling blow over the last two years. Several single screens, that had been struggling badly, are said to have downed shutters, especially in the interiors. The upper- and middle-class audience that had been getting woo-ed by the streaming platforms over the past few years has almost entirely switched its loyalties to it during the pandemic.

Moreover, it has also begun to open its eyes to the better fare from the language cinema in India and the global content from Korea to Turkey and other countries. No wonder Spiderman and Telugu film Pushpa have amassed more crores than the recent Bollywood films and are the emerging challengers that Bollywood would need to fight along with the virus in the future.

Omicron has arrived just when things were opening up a little with the release of big films like Sooryavanshi and 83 and the kindling of the hope that bit by bit the film viewers might return to the big screen again. But Delhi theatres were closed down last week. In Mumbai they are still running at 50% capacity. Last week the Multiplex Association of India delegation, led by Ajay Bijli, chairman, PVR Limited, met Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia seeking reopening of cinemas in Delhi. It highlighted the adverse economic situation being faced by the industry and urged that cinemas be given an equal treatment with comparable industries and institutions, “as cinemas have already demonstrated an ability to operate safely for the public and employees via usage of enhanced ventilation systems, hygiene and safety protocols”. Not a single outbreak of Covid19 anywhere around the world has been traced to a cinema, the delegation stressed.

As expected, film releases are getting stalled yet again in the face of uncertainty with the entire slate of releases in 2022 likely to feel the cascading effect.

Mrunal Thakur tested positive when she was busy promoting Jersey with Shahid Kapoor in the lead. The film, earlier slated to release on December 31 has now been postponed indefinitely. John Abraham may have put Attack teaser on Instagram before testing positive but its release—January 28—is now looking uncertain.

Gehraiyaan’s release on Amazon Prime Video has now been pushed to February 11 from January 25. Latest has been the postponement of SS Rajamouli’s big budgeted RRR which was supposed to hit the theatres on January 7 and Akshay Kumar’s next, Prithviraj, scheduled to release on January 21. Badhai do, Shabaash Mithu, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Shamshera, Bachchan Pandey, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Anek are the other Bollywood films up for release in the first quarter of 2022 that may have to change the plans.

It was said at the time of the earlier Covid waves and will need to be reiterated again. Be it the content or its creation, the thought or imagination, everything will need to change for Bollywood. From the star salaries to budgets to equipment and workforce, all will need to be rationalised.

A Bollywood insider recently told me: “It’s tough times for Bollywood. But the new way ahead will emerge from this only. Just that no one knows what the new way is.”

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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