Anirban Roy Choudhury

Corona scare: No filming till March 31; TV to suffer the most

In a meeting held yesterday, it was decided to put a ban on shooting films, TV serials, web series, among other forms of entertainment.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) scare has hit the media and entertainment ecosystem, with several independent industry bodies unanimously deciding to call off shooting from March 19 till March 31, 2020. Coronavirus cases in India currently stand at 108, with two fatalities so far. Maharashtra is the worst hit, with 32 people already testing positive for the virus. currently stand at 108, with two fatalities so far. Maharashtra is the worst hit, with 32 people already testing positive for the virus.

A press statement issued by Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association (IMPPA) stated, "In view of the epidemic spread of Corona COVID-19 throughout the world, including India, an urgent joint meeting of IMPPA, WIFPA (Western India Film Producers' Association), IFTPC (Indian Film and Television Producers Council), IFTDA (Indian Film and Television Directors' Association), and FWICE (Federation of Western India Cine Employees) was held. The meeting held on March 15 decided to stop shootings of films, TV serials, web series and all other entertainment, including digital video formats, from March 19 till March 31, 2020."

The statement added that the decision was taken considering the Government of India's health advisory. It mandates cinema halls, all sporting, and education institutions to remain shut to restrict public gathering, which can spread the infection. "The decision about restarting shootings shall be taken on March 30 after considering the prevailing situation," said the statement.

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Many Indian and international films, including Akshay Kumar's 'Sooryavanshi', YRF's 'Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar', 'Mulan' and 'A Quiet Place Part II', have already delayed their theatrical release dates. "While you have that luxury when it comes to films, the television, on the other hand, functions differently. You have daily soaps and unscripted reality shows, which are shot on a daily and weekly basis, respectively. If all units remain shut from March 19-31, many channels will have to telecast re-runs," said a television producer, who wished to remain anonymous.

For general entertainment channels (GECs) in India, the prime time is between 7.00 and 10.30 p.m. This is when various channels air fresh episodes of drama series, commonly known as daily soaps. Over weekends, the broadcasters target the entire family, instead of only females, who otherwise dominate the GEC viewership. In order to garner more inclusive eyeballs, unscripted content, known as reality shows, constitutes most of the programming line-up.

"Normally, when it comes to regular fiction, there is a bank of episodes, which can vary from three to 10, depending on the stage the show is in. However, there are cases when the channel decides to take a leap, or introduce a new character suddenly. In such a scenario, it is a fresh start and you have to rebuild the bank. For reality shows, it is a completely different ball game altogether, where the shoot happens on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and the episode goes on air the same weekend," informs a producer, who has three shows on air on different GECs.

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He adds, "Now the broadcasters have their video-on-demand streaming platforms, and as a part of the premium offering, they provide shows for viewing before they air on television. This helped broadcasters build a bank. Considering there are three days available (now), most of the fiction shows can cover it up, however, the non-fiction formats are likely to suffer."

Most TV series are filmed inside walled environments. The producer of a supernatural show, which is currently on air, believes this decision will harm the daily wagers working on the sets the most. She goes on to say that since production houses were already taking necessary preventive measures, this 'dictate' was unnecessary. "At some stage, we need to realise that not earning any money a day is a luxury that not all can afford. Instead of putting a blanket ban on shooting, the unions could have mandated regular scans, which would have instead helped detect the virus. As far as the show is concerned, we will see how much we can squeeze in the next couple of days that we have," she asserts.

The organisations, which mandated the ban on shooting, discussed the possible exhaustion of fresh content and, thus, decided to make it effective from March 19. JD Majethia, chairman, TV wing - IFTPC, and the maker of shows like 'Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai' and 'Khichdi', was among those present at the meeting. He believes that we are at a juncture where there is "scare and fear" all around the universe. "We know the situation is not like a lockdown. But, still, when the question was raised to the producers about the safety and lives of many, we agreed to take a break from the shoot for few days," says Majethia.

He agrees there will be repercussions of this break. "Many will suffer losses, but no one wants to suffer (see) the loss of life. For now, the decision is to take a break and we will monitor the situation every day to curtail or extend the break period," he concludes.

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