"It is not a good thing that theatres are closing down."
The phrase ‘Covid-19’ is like a wasp’s sting to many ears.
Beginning in early 2020, this pandemic has had a horrific impact all over India.
Naturally, the Bollywood film industry was unable to escape Scott-free from it too.
Films have been indefinitely postponed. Production halts and cinemas were closed.
There is even doubt as to whether several films will even make it to the big screen.
Bollywood faces a future of uncertainty. Will it ever be the same again? Well, that is the million dollars question.
DESIblitz divulges deeper into the impact of Covid-19 on Bollywood.
In February 2020, Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan sent a video message to his fans in China.
In the video, he was assuring his fans that everything will be well.
Aamir is also seen urging China to stay safe and healthy. One wonders whether, at the time, he, or anyone else in India was able to foresee the changes about to plague them.
With Covid-19 ravaging India, how can a close-knit industry like Bollywood be able to function properly?
Many shoots and schedules of several films were cancelled to contain the spread of the virus.
One of them is Aamir’s own film, Laal Singh Chaddha.
Other films that had to switch off the cameras include Brahmastra, Shamshera and Takht. The list goes on.
This resulted in actors out of work and many disappointed fans.
Laal Singh Chaddha resumed filming in Turkey in August 2020.
In February 2021, Akkineni Nagarjuna managed to wrap his portions in Brahmastra.
Aamir broke his silence on the production halts in his film:
“We had to deal with coronavirus and Kareena [Kapoor Khan].”
Kareena is the leading lady in Laal Singh Chaddha. Her pregnancy was a complication in the production.
Pregnant women are at greater risk if they test positive for the virus.
In April 2021, India announced another lockdown to control the soaring Covid-19 cases.
Many films have packed up until a safer environment beckons.
Despite Bollywood trying to make films, under Covid circumstances it is very challenging.
A halt in production only means one thing. Bollywood fans will have to wait longer to see their favourite stars in new movies.
One of the first examples is Sooryavanshi by Rohit Shetty.
The film, which stars Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, was initially set to release on March 24, 2020.
With the outbreak of Covid-19, the producers announced their decision to postpone the release.
The film was then confirmed for a worldwide release on April 30, 2021.
But the increasing surge of Covid-19 cases in India meant that the film had to be pushed yet again.
The Hindu reports that Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray had a meeting with Sooryavanshi director Rohit Shetty.
The CM was appreciative of Rohit for deciding to postpone the film once again:
“In the meeting, Mr Uddhav Thackeray appreciated Rohit Shetty as he took the brave and difficult decision of postponing Sooryavanshi.”
Laal Singh Chaddha has also been delayed. It was originally set for a Christmas 2020 release.
Additionally, Brahmastra was due to release on December 4, 2020.
However, there is still no official confirmation as to when the movie will come out.
In December 2020, Rajeev Masand conducted an interview with Brahmastra star Ranbir Kapoor.
In reply to a question about whether an actor feels insecure when he does not have a film release for over two years, Ranbir said:
“Well, it’s not in my hands.”
This shows the industry is helpless as a result of Covid-19.
At one point, Bollywood’s annual output of releases came to 800. That seems like a lifetime ago.
It is majorly unclear as to when the audience will be able to enjoy these films.
Closing and Reopening of Cinemas
With new films showing no immediate signs of finishing production, cinema house will, unfortunately, face losses too.
The compact setting of a cinema auditorium means that the popular venues have turned into breeding grounds for Covid-19.
Cinemas in India shut down in the early stages of lockdown in March 2020.
In September 2020, the BBC interviewed Alok Tandon. He is the CEO of Inox, one of India’s multiplex chains.
He talks about the devastating impact on film theatres:
“Cinemas have got the brunt. We were the first to shut down and we will be the last to reopen.”
Dkoding.in report that 441 films found their way to the big screen in 2020. This was an enormous drop in comparison to 1,833 in 2019.
In February 2021, superstar Salman Khan also discussed the closing down of cinemas in India:
“It is not a good thing that theatres are closing down. This is our business. Our work is to act and make movies.
“They are incomplete without us, and we are incomplete without them.”
Earlier in November 2020, Yash Raj Films announced that they were re-releasing their classic films in cinemas.
These included Daag: A Poem of Love (1973), Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and Silsila (1981).
This decision was made to give the audience something to watch on big screens.
It was also to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the long-running production company.
However, film critic Saibal Chatterjee was critical of this idea:
“People aren’t dying to go back and watch old films – why would we spend our money and take a risk?”
Are people really looking forward to cinemas reopening? Saibal does have a point, especially with Covid-19 hitting India hard.
2021 audiences will not go out of their way to see films from the 1970s.
They would rather see new films, which unfortunately are not releasing. Film buffs, especially do miss the big screen experience.
Cinemas present the biggest form of entertainment in India. Bollywood sells 1 billion tickets every year.
When cinemas eventually reopen in India, there is no reason why pent-up anticipation cannot make the tills thunder again.
Due to the closure of cinemas, producers are struggling financially.
Hence, some are releasing their films online. Sadak 2 (2020) released online. Producer Mukesh Bhatt regrets the decision:
“There are certain things that you do, not out of choice but out of compulsion.
“This is the only option left. It is a no-brainer.”
The prequel Sadak (1991) achieved cult status. Sadak 2 marks blue-chip producer Mahesh Bhatt’s return to direction after a two-decade gap.
It is disappointing that, with so much potential euphoria, the film had to release on a smaller screen.
Some people actually enjoy going to cinemas. Before quitting social media in 2021, Aamir Khan tweeted in November 2020:
“On my way to see Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari in a cinema hall. Really looking forward to the big screen experience after so long!”
This proves that a cinema can present a different, more satisfying viewing experience to a laptop.
During a 2017 conversation with Faridoon Sharyar from Bollywood Hungama, Aamir also spoke negatively about watching films on smaller screens.
“We want as many people to watch our films on the big screen.”
“There’s no fun watching on a small phone or a computer.”
Other films that have released on OTT platforms include The Big Bull (2021). Unfortunately, the film has fared poorly.
The Ajay Devgn starrer Bhuj: The Pride of India is also slated for a digital release.
It marks the final digital release Bollywood announced in 2020.
What does the future look like for this film?
With Ajay’s star stature, it would not be incorrect to assume that the film would do well.
The film also stars several other famous faces including Sanjay Dutt and Parineeti Chopra.
So, is it all bad? Well, it is not all doom and gloom.
Salman Khan, the star of Radhe (2021), cautiously and maturely talked about his film releasing digitally:
“I know people are disappointed that they will not be able to watch Radhe on the big screen.”
“I don’t want people to say: ‘We went to watch Salman’s movie and contracted coronavirus.'”
Despite not showcasing in cinema, the film has done exceptionally well.
Radhe has had over 4 million views across all platforms.
Shiv, a pharmaceutical businessman in Mumbai, shares his thoughts about digital releases due to Covid-19:
“Producers, who are desperate, are releasing movies on OTT platforms. And what could be better than watching a new movie with homely comfort?”
The thoughts of Shiv show that not all people miss the big screen experience.
Let’s be honest, watching a film online can be cheaper than purchasing a movie ticket.
Going to the theatres can be a significant expense for some people.
But one wonders if any of these films would have fared better if they had a theatrical release?
Thappad (2020) only had a limited big-screen release.
But a successful film like that could have perhaps minted millions if it stayed longer in cinemas.
A key point is here is that not everyone has the freedom of computers and WiFi.
Some cannot afford the subscriptions for these digital platforms. For them, a one-off cinema watch is more feasible.
In September 2020, The Times of India revealed that Bollywood had made a loss of over Rs. 5000 Crore (£4,843,601) due to Covid-19.
Trade analyst Taran Adarsh points out that performers will have to be flexible, especially during these unprecedented times :
“Actors will have to reduce their fee for the films under production.
“If the producer or studio bleeds, how will they release the film?”
Taran also calls April the “peak period” of Bollywood which was, unfortunately “all washed away.”
Ramesh Sippy, who helmed the classic Sholay (1975), is also a distributor. He has a more generic stance on the matter.
Not wanting to estimate a loss figure, he says:
“Let’s assess the loss only after things get back to normal because we are still in the counting stage.
“Only then, we will have the final figure.”
Nitin Dattar owns a theatre in Karad, Maharashtra.
He is also the President of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors’ Association of India.
In April 2021, Nitin opened up about the industry’s loss from a cinemas perspective:
“One single screen cinema employs at least 100 employees, how do we pay their salaries?
“What about the owner, who has no income but continues to pay electricity bills, and other taxes?”
“It all looks hopeless, it is like we are not back to square one, but minus one.”
Dkoding.in reveals that the decrease of big-screen releases between 2019 and 2020 big-resulted in a huge industry loss.
The loss for film sector revenues amounts up to $997 million (£7,045,687,34).
It is concerning that the industry’s finances are so low.
The 100 million club of Bollywood seems non-existent as the pandemic continues.
Shibasish Sarkar, CEO of Reliance Entertainment, had earlier questioned why shopping malls were opening but no multiplexes:
“We should open the theatres, at least selectively. Shopping malls have opened but plexes haven’t.
“Does this imply that the virus is in the auditoriums and not in the shops in the malls?”
Hopefully, the loss will turn to gain soon. A positive break-even point could be exactly what Bollywood needs.
Some actors have also stopped taking upfront fees for their work. A preference for becoming partners in profit is emerging as a new trend.
That will also be a huge help fur the losses Bollywood is incurring as a result of Covid-19.
In July 2020, Amitabh Bachchan tested positive for Covid-19, along with his son Abhishek Bachchan. Both were admitted to the hospital.
At the time, Big B went on Twitter to share the news, whilst trying to alert others:
T 3590 -I have tested CoviD positive .. shifted to Hospital .. hospital informing authorities .. family and staff undergone tests , results awaited ..
All that have been in close proximity to me in the last 10 days are requested to please get themselves tested !
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) July 11, 2020
The number of Bollywood celebrities testing positive for Covid-19 keeps getting longer.
Akshay Kumar, Ranbir Kapoor, Aamir Khan and Kangana Ranaut are among the Indian actors who have contracted the virus.
In 2021, during India’s deadliest surge, Bollywood stars have been offering their support and providing numbers for helplines.
On May 2, 2021, Akshay posted the number for an organisation that supports pregnant women.
Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan has donated Rs. 2 Crore (£193715) in the fight against the disease.
Actor Sonu Sood has provided oxygen plants for patients from France.
In 2021, the Jodhaa Akbar star saved the lives of 22 million coronavirus patients in Bengal.
He provided more than 16 million oxygen cylinders for ill patients.
The work he is doing to combat Covid-19 is simply extraordinary.
However, some actors have been slammed for ‘escaping’ the crisis and going to the Maldives. This is what has paved the way for more noticeable actions of support.
Stars have a responsibility as millions of movie-goers idolise and admire them.
It is refreshing to see some Bollywood stars commending those at the forefront of the pandemic.
On May 12, 2021, Akshay went on Twitter to praise the millions of nurses on the frontline. This is in celebration of International Nurses’ Day.
The Good Newwz (2019) star has also experienced a hospital stay during his recovery.
Audiences are contributing to support stars in relief endeavours. On May 12, 2021, Anushka Sharma tweeted her thanks.
This was for the donations she has received for her oxygen fundraisers.
Variety explores ways Bollywood plans to bounce back from Covid-19.
They cite producer Siddharth Roy Kapur. He explains plans for when production resumes on upcoming films:
“If the restrictions are lifted, then I definitely see people getting back to certain types of shoots.
“The more contained ones that don’t involve large crowd sequences, fights or dances.”
Siddharth mentions the importance of “rigorous testing”. He also describes the industry as “resourceful’ and “adaptive.”
The same piece also talks to producer Vikram Malhotra of Shakuntala Devi (2020) fame.
He reveals the financial aspects of creating such ‘COVID-proof’ environments:
“It is a significant cost. Vaccines are going to be on top of that.”
“If that enables us to keep our crew and our team healthy and safe and protected, that takes top priority.”
Vikram is hopeful that the extra cost “pays back in a bigger way.”
BBC Culture also delves into a “new era of filmmaking” as a result of the pandemic.
Referring to Bollywood, they announce that some Indian film sets have “banned love scenes altogether.”
These ideas and production styles are safer. But they might have an adverse impact in the long run.
The audience will want to see films with the right dosage of action, romance and comedy.
Seeing movies, which have been adapted to suit Covid-19 may be alienating.
Other forms of genes, such as UK dramas, have also been adapting their filming environments to suit Covid-19 restrictions.
Therefore, it may be unsurprising if Bollywood does the same.
One has to consider the safety of stars and production units. They are the key people who bring the films to the audience.
Like all other countries, India has seen millions of lives that have been engulfed by the pandemic.
Over 260,000 people have unfortunately passed away.
Within India, Bollywood too has lost several legends.
Music composer Wajid Khan died on June 1, 2020.
He had composed music for several Salman Khan films including Partner (2007) and Dabangg (2010).
Bollywood’s iconic figure Dilip Kumar lost two of his brothers due to the virus.
The actor, whose real name is Yusuf Khan, said farewell to Aslam Khan on August 21, 2020.
Another brother, Ehsan Khan passed away on September 3, 2020.
The singer SP Balasubrahmanyam died on September 25, 2020. He is famous for his work in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994).
Lata Mangeshkar paid tribute to Balasubrahmanyam Ji after his death. The legendary singer laments:
“I was given to understand SP Bala Ji was recovering from Covid-19. All of a sudden I heard he is no more.
“I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was another of those fake-death rumours that keep surfacing about everyone including me.
“Unfortunately this rumour was true. I am still in a state of disbelief.”
On April 23, 2021, Shravan Rathod of Nadeem-Shravan, also expired due to the virus.
The musical duo were known for their work in the 90s.
They have decorated several films with their music. These include Aashiqui (1990), Saajan (1991) and Raja Hindustani (1996).
Social media has been glowing with tributes for these legends and others who have tragically left the world.
Covid-19 has undoubtedly broken the back of Bollywood. The industry has suffered drastically amid India’s coronavirus surge.
It has faced multiple problems. What should Bollywood take away from the disease?
Actress Parineeti Chopra explains her thoughts on the same:
“The landscape has changed forever and we will have to offer breathtaking cinema.
“The pandemic has changed the taste of audiences and we have to respect what they are seeking.”
Parineeti is due to appear in Animal with Ranbir Kapoor, Bobby Deol and Anil Kapoor.
Producer Boney Kapoor has gone on record to discuss insurance claim policies due to Covid-19:
“Post COVID, claims have been filed. There is some ambiguity on whether pandemics are covered.
“We are also seeking legal opinion.”
The industry must save as much money as possible to generate profit after the pandemic.
Bollywood stars have been urging the audience to keep safe.
It’s likely that given their tremendous following, some may listen.
Actress Alaya F encourages people to “get tested at the very first symptom.”
Alaya debuted in Jawaani Jaaneman (2020) with Saif Ali Khan, just before the pandemic disrupted the industry.
The fresh face does not know what her future holds. But that clearly has not stopped her from being positive.
Bollywood faces an uncertain future. Sets are being sanitised like never before and laptops have become temporary cinemas.
However, there is every reason to believe that Bollywood will come back stronger.
There is a possibility that hotly anticipated films may continue to release online.
But the thrill of the big screen experience will never fade.
Salman Khan confirmed this during an interview with film critic Komal Nahta.
Bollywood has been entertaining millions for over 105 years. That will not stop due to Covid-19.