Bollywood stares at new financial woes amid COVID surge

There is a sense of anxiousness and cautiousness seeping into Bollywood with actors , such as Aamir Khan and Kartik Aaryan, testing Covid positive, and shoots getting disrupted. That brings along a new set of financial woes because in Covid era, a big budget directly translates into a bigger scope for loss when a shooting schedule gets hampered.

Just after Aaryan shared the news of his positive diagnosis, the shooting for his film Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 was put on hold. While director Anees Bazmee and Kiara Advani have tested negative for COVID, Tabu’s report is still awaited. There is a health scare for designer Manish Malhotra as Aaryan along with Advani walked the ramp with him just a day before getting Covid positive.

Director Amit Ravindernath Sharma has also tested positive for the virus, halting the shoot of Maidaan, while Aamir, who is self quarantining at home, will resume work for Laal Singh Chaddha after recovering completely. In fact, producer Ramesh Taurani is also recovering from Covid.

According to the industry experts, not much can be done to do away with the financial implications in the current scenario, but just tread the path cautiously.

“It is very unfortunate that Aaryan has tested positive. We were taking all the precautions. Bahut kharab waqt chal raha hai,” shares Bazmee, who informs that he will plan his next step once everyone’s report comes in.

“Following all the guidelines, itself brings a huge financial cost, and it is very important to follow them at present. And when shooting gets suspended all of a sudden because of a COVID positive case, it leads to huge loss, and we can’t do anything about it,” he says, adding that “yeh pura saal loss ka hai. But I feel yeh time nafa, nuksan dekhne ka nahi hai”.

A similar thing happened when director Sanjay Leela Bhansali had tested positive, putting hold on his ambitious project, Gangubai Kathiawadi, starring Alia Bhatt. In fact, the shoot of Jug Jugg Jeeyo was also halted after Varun Dhawan, Neetu Kapoor and director Raj Mehta tested positive for coronavirus.

Such instances take a toll on the producer and add onto the budget, says Girish Johar, film producer and trade business analyst.

“Every day of shooting comes with some amount of expenditure. There are so many departments at work, from location charges to lighting to the technical team to the crew involved to the labour at work. So, when the shooting gets halted, it does affect the budget,” opines Johar, who notes that the amount depends on the film’s budget and actors involved, saying “the bigger the budget, the bigger is the number”.

Sharing an insight into the adding numbers in the whole cost, industry expert Jehil Thakkar says, “After the lockdown, when certain SOPs were imposed for shooting, the cost went up by 20-25 per cent, because of various SOPs requirements, the ability of limited crew on the set, and elongated shooting timelines. However, this time, it doesn’t take the number up much as compared to the time when they were restarting.”

There might be big bucks at stake, but people in the industry are understanding the uncertainties of the time. “Everyone understands that if there is a COVID situation, then they have to halt the shoot, unless the person is not required on the set for some days. There are financial implications but health is more important,” trade expert Taran Adarsh tells us.

The surge in cases in Mumbai has made things even more difficult for the makers. “Every few days we hear of films getting delayed due to talent and technicians testing positive. These delays have huge financial implications for a project … Already in the last 12 months, the lockdown has had a cascading effect on shoots and releases, several films continue to struggle to reach the finishing line.. delays of this magnitude raise the cost of production considerably, in a time when the uncertainty of theatrical business still looms large,” says producer Amar Butala, who is being “extremely careful” with the shoot of Mission Majnu in Lucknow.

It was around this time last year when the pandemic brought on a tide of uncertainties and ambiguity, leading to standstill of the whole entertainment industry. A recap of it is what some people dread, but trade expert Joginder Tuteja says that will not happen again as “we are much better prepared as an industry than we were last year”.

However, Bollywood is not ready to take up any risk. “Activities are not on in full blown mode. People want to watch and watch,” Johar says.

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