New Delhi: Cinema halls are closed, new releases have been postponed, all shooting schedules cancelled and promotional events called off — the film industry in India has been severely affected by the 21-day nationwide lockdown implemented to arrest the coronavirus outbreak.
India has one of the largest movie industries in the world, producing around 1,500 to 2,000 movies in a year, and Bollywood makes up almost half of that. But with all production and activity coming to a virtual halt, the industry is now staring at losses to the tune of hundreds of crores.
Up to Rs 1,000-crore losses with a 21-day lockdown
A 2019 report by Ernst and Young revealed that in 2018, India’s total theatrical revenue stood at $1.4 billion, up from the previous year’s $1.38 billion. But by the second week of March, theatres began closing down in Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Karnataka even before the nation-wide lockdown was announced.
Irrfan Khan-starrer Angrezi Medium barely got a chance to get off the ground, while Tiger Shroff’s Baaghi 3 had already seen a 10 per cent loss when people started to self-isolate earlier in March. The release of films such as Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi, Ranveer Singh-starrer ’83 and Tilottama Shome’s Sir, as well as Hollywood movies A Quiet Place 2 and Disney’s Mulan and The New Mutants, has been postponed.
“At the moment, we are looking at a Rs 800-1000 crore loss. It would be disastrous if it [the lockdown] lasts longer than 21 days,” well-known trade analyst Taran Adarsh tells ThePrint.
PVR Pictures CEO Kamal Gianchandani, however, sounds hopeful. “While releases have been deferred, those assets have not lost value and they will reflect in the next financial year,” he said in an interview to The Hollywood Reporter.
But this doesn’t take away the problem of a ripple effect. While movies can recover their cost, it will still depend on what the state of the economy is at the time. And India’s state of economy doesn’t look too bright in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis. ThePrint reached out to Gianchandani for a comment on PVR Pictures employees and their fate, but did not receive a response.
There is also the danger of the postponed movies piling up at theatres and cannibalising on the new releases. “The first half of 2020 will evaporate and perhaps you will have about 26 weekends left this year in which maybe films can open,” says Adarsh.
Taking into account the NRI audience across the globe, he adds, “Indian films will also be affected in their international rollouts, considering markets like the UK, Australia and the US have large diaspora audiences where titles are simultaneously released along with their India dates.”
And even when normalcy returns, many might hesitate to go to public places immediately. “The cinema-going culture will have to be rediscovered,” the analyst says.
Bollywood’s daily wagers
With production and shoots coming to a halt and projects being postponed indefinitely, actors and directors have no work to do. Since many of them shoot and earn on an erratic basis, they will require financial support at some point in the future.
Actor Sushant Singh, who is the honorary secretary of CINTAA (Cine and Television Artists Association), tells ThePrint that all shoots were halted on 18 March. “We are thinking of financially supporting our actors. We are looking to approach some of our A-listers for help,” he says.
But the reality is that each film generates employment for several hundreds of people, from actors to assistant directors to hair and makeup artists and stylists to lights personnel and set designers and their teams of craftspeople.
Priyanka Mishra, a stylist who has been part of movies such as Kartik Aryan’s Luka Chhupi and Pati, Patni aur Woh, Ayushman Khurana’s Dreamgirl and the first schedule of Alia Bhatt-Sanjay Dutt starrer Sadak, was working on two feature films and the personal styling of celebrities when the lockdown was announced.
She tells ThePrint, “If you are an in-house stylist, it is perhaps a little easier because you still get a base-salary so your rent and essentials are covered.” But freelancers like her are facing an unprecedented setback.
While she is based out of Mumbai, her parents are in Gujarat. Managing rent in a city like Mumbai is a mammoth task, and the struggle becomes harder when no money is coming in. A stylist’s pay can roughly be divided into three segments — the juniors earn Rs 30,000-90,000, the mid-level professionals Rs 1.5-3 lakh a month, and the top level can earn Rs 30 lakh a month. But given the erratic nature of this profession, these numbers are not set in stone.
Recounting previous projects that she has been a part of, like television commercials and styling productions, Mishra says she gets paid once the job is done. But given the lockdown, many producers “are taking advantage of the scenario saying everything is closed so we’ll pay you later”. But, she argues, “Banks are still essential services that are functioning under a lockdown.”
In a bid to be as productive as possible, casting director Tess Joseph, who has worked on Life of Pi, The Namesake and most recently, Extraction, and her team are using this time to learn. Acting exercises are being conducted online and professionals are being approached to give insights into various devices and processes they use. But work has been hit. Talking about auditioning, Joseph says, “Self-taping is not a practice in India. And doing so if you’re living on your own is even tougher.”
Plus, given that casting directors work a lot with children, it poses another set of hurdles. “Toddlers and adolescents change very fast. At one point they may be right for the role, and in a couple of months, not so much,” Joseph tells ThePrint.
The uncertainty of the future is plaguing many. “I’m not worried about paying my team this month or the next. But if this lasts till May, things will start getting difficult,” Joseph tells ThePrint.
As India deals with the consequences of not giving daily wagers time or transport to go home in the wake of unemployment, Bollywood’s daily wagers are fighting their own battles.
Daily wagers in the film industry include junior artistes who earn anything between Rs 800 and 1,500 per day, spot boys who earn Rs 800 a day, lights personnel who take home up to Rs 1,200 per day and set hands who get Rs 1,100 per day. Make-up, hair, costume, camera and sound assistants generally get between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000 per day. Dancers and fighters are paid a little better, as they earn anywhere between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 per day depending upon their category.
While the Producers Guild has announced “a relief fund for daily-wage earners most affected by the shutdown of film, television and over-the-top productions”, it hardly delves into the details of a long term plan.
“We would encourage the entire film fraternity to contribute to the fund to ensure that we can do all we can to minimise disruption in the lives of our valued colleagues and associates in this difficult time,” said Siddharth Roy Kapoor, president of the guild.
Guild CEO Kulmeet Makkar said the aim is “to generate money from within and outside the industry and build a substantial fund, though, at this stage, we can’t estimate what would be the quantum of the fund”.
ThePrint reached out to Makkar for a comment but did not receive a response till the time of publishing.
Ashwini Choudhary, for general secretary of the Indian Film and Television Director’s Association, says he personally knows some directors who are “taking care of their units with whom they have worked in the past”.
Anubhav Sinha, for instance, has instructed his team to get in touch with the daily wage labourers on his last three films — Thappad, Article 15 and Mulk.
Choudhary details how daily wage labourers are essential to both films and television, but the latter employs a much larger workforce. While they are daily wagers, those working in television mostly get paid on a monthly basis. As for those working in the film industry, the pay varies from one production house to another.
“A coordinated effort from the film industry is still missing,” Choudhary maintains.
Writers are still busy, for now
With the lockdown, otherwise bustling metropolitan cities are increasingly looking like ghost towns. Ironically, it is a sound recorder’s dream to shoot in these kinds of places. But the film industry and all of its crafts (barring perhaps one) have come to a screeching halt.
Most of the work that goes on behind the scenes and behind the cameras is extremely people-centric and a collaborative process. The sole possible exception is writing. “Writers are so used to being quarantined. My deadlines remain as is. Perhaps there’s a little less pressure, but most writers I know are still working from their desks and FaceTiming their sessions,” says screenwriter Atika Chohan, who has worked on projects including Chhapaak, Margarita With A Straw and the recent Netflix original, Guilty.
Scriptwriters are almost always freelancers, except if one is an assistant writer working under a senior writer. Regardless, they are paid on a project-wise basis. While the Screenwriters Association proposes a minimum wage model — where writers get paid anywhere between Rs 9 lakh and Rs 27 lakh based on the production budget — the ground reality is very different.
Ishita Moitra, who has worked on Amazon Prime’s TV series Four More Shots Please and is a member of the Screenwriters Association, tells ThePrint that while the association hasn’t announced any measures to protect its members yet, an announcement is expected soon. “The sector is disorganised, there are writers who get paid far less than this. Some even write up entire scripts for free in the hope that they will get paid when the film is made.”
And while they still have work for now, they don’t know when that work might fructify. “If this lockdown continues,” says Moitra, “we don’t know when what we write will get made. We don’t know when we might get paid next, and we don’t know when producers might commission work next.”