Film shootings: Finding alternatives (Column: B-Town)

Movie shoots have either been stalled for long enough or, in some cases, completed in a patchwork manner. Take for example, the recently-released Salman Khan movie, "Radhe". The villain has been established as having come from Malaysia and the climax was to be shot in Bangkok were it not for the pandemic enforced restrictions. As a result, the film, slated for release on Eid 2020, could finally be released only this year on the occasion of Eid. Especially during 2020 lockdown, there seemed to be no way out for the filmmakers as Covid-19, as well as the strictly-enforced lockdown that followed, brought the entertainment industry -- as in filmmaking, television serial as well as the cinema exhibition -- to a total halt.

Things were getting back to normal stage by stage. Shooting was allowed to start with certain conditions and cinema halls allowed to start operating, when the second wave of a Covid-19 variant struck and, again, filmmaking activities as well as that of other mediums came to a stop. The lockdown was imposed again.

The film industry, which cannot work with 25 per cent or 30 per cent regulation like other manufacturing industries, found itself in a helpless position. Filmmaking is a teamwork where all work together to come up with the same output unlike other units where proximity may not be required. Some film units comprise as many as 300 people on the set.

The first time over, one had no clue what Covid-19 was all about and how long lockdown would continue but kept hoping for the best. During the first lockdown in 2020, producers followed the norms. Cinemas were closed down and with no alternative to take a film to the viewer. Meanwhile, some filmmakers decided to opt for the growing medium of the OTT streaming platforms to reach the audience. The makers of big-bill films, who may have thought OTT platforms to be below their standards, may now be having second thoughts after "Radhe" released exclusively on Zee5.

With the second lockdown now, the film and serial makers seem to have had enough and have decided to find solutions. The question was about immunity to all concerned, with making a film at a time and that would make things easier for them with the government restrictions.

For the big banners that have more than one film in the making and hundreds on the payroll, sitting idle would cause great losses. The term 'protection' now has a new meaning for them! Hence, they have planned to vaccinate their staff and unit members, as also the family members of the people working with them. This has become possible since the Covid vaccines, which were so far under government control, is now been made available to corporate houses and other such institutions. Doing so will make getting clearances for shootings from authorities become easier, wherever they plan to shoot.

These include production houses like Yash Raj Films, Excel Entertainment, Nadiadwala Grandson, T-Series, as well as three trade bodies of the film producers besides the film directors' body.

The other alternative was to take the action away from the film capital of the Hindi film industry, Mumbai. The idea was to work in places away from crowds. Besides the Covid-19 effect, the entertainment industry has also become wary of incidents last year related to Sushant Singh Rajput, Kangana Ranaut, drugs and such. That love and affinity to the film capital seemed to have waned to an extent. After all, it was the matter of business and livelihood of many.

Talking of wherever, a line-up of filmmakers are headed to Madhya Pradesh for shooting. Not that there are no Covid-19 restrictions in MP. It is just that the things are a bit easier there. Shooting will be so planned that the films would be shot with available resources, since there are no studios or other infrastructure required for films in the state. Although, like many other state governments, MP, too, plans to set up a film city, as does Uttar Pradesh.

What attracts filmmakers more to MP is the convenience of clearances and the subsidies offered for the films shot there, in full or in parts, besides the fact that there is no red tape in MP. It is all online from application to the final remittance of the subsidy to the producer.

Subsidy payments to producers are not subject to the censor of a film or its release in cinemas, but released within 45 days of completing the shooting in the state and submitting the relevant papers of the producer qualifying for the same. Also, the subsidy packages are varied and quite attractive. They vary from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 2.5 crore for usual films and, in some cases, go as high as five crore.

Besides the cash, the package also offers concessional hotels (40 per cent discount), locations, transportation and all that comes under the government ownership.

What is more, the packages are available to all including television serials, documentary films, OTT series and whatever promotes the state of MP and its tourism. And, to say the least, the state does have many tourist spots, religions places and scenic locations.

To top it all, the MP government will also provide a police posse for film shooting, to control crowds that tend to gather at such locations! While, some filmmakers have already been shooting in MP, about a dozen more films and OTT projects are lined up for shooting in the state.

As for Uttar Pradesh, it planned to attract filmmakers decades back when it set up a film city in Noida by offering producers plots of land to set up film-related work including studios. The state has been offering subsidies for long but neither the process nor the proceeds are good enough. The makers knew it was not the place to set up a film industry, what attracted the filmmakers was the price at which the plots were offered and they were quick to grab them.

The Noida plan did not succeed the way UP hoped for. Though there is no film industry there, Noida can now boast of some television productions. Now, under the Yogi Adityanath Government, big plans are underway to set up a film city and attract major film productions activities.

For the television industry, it was easier to move out of Mumbai though they would have to desert their huge sets while also planning the scripts, which needed just a few artistes and could be shot in places away from Mumbai with the protocols followed but not strictly imposed. But they also couldn't afford to go far from Mumbai and many serial makers have chosen locations in Gujarat, a few hours' drive from Mumbai.

MP has set up a Film Facilitation Cell with members from the state tourism department, archaeological department and the finance department, mainly. The idea is to promote tourism in the state and, what better medium than the films and television entertainment to take the message right home.

The industry can't ask for more, especially considering the present circumstances. No state has ever been so hospitable to the filmmakers.

(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)

--IANS

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