Shooting resumes in Bollywood with bubbles, vaccination and Covid security officers

With shoots resuming now, the biggest concern is the safety of the entire crew. Bollywood now is seeing a bunch of start-ups and companies undertaking Covid security

Shooting resumes in Bollywood with bubbles, vaccination and Covid security officers

Garima Sadhwani

Ever since the term “socially distanced” entered our dictionaries last year, proximity to people and things has taken a U-turn from our lives. However, no matter what happens, the film industry is one place that can never say goodbye to proximity (not even temporarily).

Out of the innumerable ways that the pandemic has impacted Bollywood, the hardest hit to the industry has been the lockdown restrictions, that caused so many film shoots to halt in the midst.

Director Vikas Chandra says that the last one year has been the most difficult since a lot of people working on film sets come from the informal sector. Earlier, there would be enough work. Anyone and everyone would be welcome. But ever since the pandemic-induced lockdowns began, people’s livelihoods and savings took a dip.

With everything that’s been going on, Anup Pandey of Junglee Pictures believes that this isn’t the most conducive time for being creative. “Writers are finding it difficult to complete scripts. But since most of the work is commissioned, one has to meet deadlines,” he says. A similar thing is happening for others too- be it photographers, or stylists, or make-up artists. Despite the struggle, Bollywood is continuing to entertain.

And with shoots resuming now, the biggest concern is the safety of the whole crew. Rising to the occasion as always, Bollywood now is seeing a bunch of start-ups, companies that specialize in sanitisation. Aditya Gupta, the founder of Life First, which happened to be one of the first such start-ups, says that he wanted to help the industry that had given him so many great years as a director, stand back on its feet.

Chandra smiles, “It’s a testimony to our diversity. Whenever problems arise, we find innovative solutions.” He adds that there is one thing the pandemic cannot do, and that is, break Bollywood. Even Chandra shot a project as a showrunner within 80 days, avoiding any mishaps, during the pandemic. He says that his executive producer, Sunitha Ram, shot a few ads and short films last year to test the waters before stating confidently that a feature film could be shot while maintaining all protocols.

Ram nods. She says that film sets now have a rulebook for guidelines that they constantly follow, with a whole lot of checks and balances just to ensure that sets don’t become superspreaders.

What is being done now is that for every shoot, teams are being recognized. The ‘hotset’ includes actors, who cannot wear masks all the time, because their work doesn’t allow them to. So, they become the priority group that needs to be protected. There are other crew members who are in close proximity to them at most times. And so, each one of them is isolated and made to stay in bio bubbles until the shoot is complete. Covid safety officers are also employed on the sets. Besides this, production houses, like YRF films, are also taking the initiative to get their entire workforce vaccinated.

But Gupta says that traditional cleaning methods can’t be employed on film sets. “You need a dry way of sanitizing that can be effective, because of the electrical equipment.” Not just that, the method needs to be efficient and portable.

Gupta adds that his company has had to maintain a database just to ensure that people don’t contract the virus while they are away from the sets. “We also had to explain to the unorganised workforce that you can’t come to the sets if you have any symptoms. You’ll make the money for that day, but it’ll be harmful for everyone in the long run.” Imbibing a culture of sanitation in people is a task in itself.

Ram agrees, “It's better to be cautious and follow certain protocols, rather than jeopardizing everybody’s safety, or stopping the shoot that might turn out to be more expensive.” And so, in addition to a ton of daily tests and nose and throat swabs, the crew also ensures that they stay safe when they step out of their bio bubble.

Besides the need to keep everyone safe, there’s a very economical aspect to the whole thing as well, explains Pandey. Each day on the set costs the producer lakhs of rupees, and if even a single case is detected, the whole set has to be sealed for a minimum of 14 days at the least. This would translate to gigantic losses for the producers. He adds that even bio bubbles and booking hotels for the entire crew is an addition to the film cost, but that’s important considering the times we live in.

Pandey says, “Artists and crews have to take responsibility. But thankfully, everyone in the industry has been cooperative and understanding.” He thinks that the pandemic has instilled a sense of discipline when it comes to safety and sanitation in individuals. “It’s also taught us to be more efficient, with fewer people now working on sets. It’s less chaotic too,” he adds.

Gupta and Pandey, both agree that with shoots resuming, shooting indoors is a much better option because things are completely under your control. When shooting outdoors, things can go haywire pretty easily.

However, no matter how efficient and safe the sets become, the shoot life of the pre-pandemic era remains unmatchable. Chandra confesses, “It used to be like a party. 150-200 people coming together to realize one vision. The dedication and hard work, the zeal to create magic used to be unmatched.” And now he knows that even when a scene is great, he can’t just go and hug his team.

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Published: 19 Sep 2021, 8:30 AM