Sanjay Leela Bhansali, unarguably the biggest most successful filmmaker in contemporary Bollywood with highly-acclaimed blockbusters like Devdas, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat to his credit, is currently caught in a curious Corona-induced crisis.
Bhansali’s underproduction film Gangubai Kathiawadi a real-life story of notorious brothel ‘Madame’ turned dreaded gansgter featuring the eminently popular Alia Bhatt in the title role, was 80 percent complete when the pandemic halted all shooting. His Rs 6 crore set representing Mumbai in the 1960s lies abandoned at Mumbai’s Film City, a sprawling but unkempt landscape in the suburb of Mumbai city, devoted to film shooting.
Now that the monsoon has set in Mumbai, the lavish set is likely to be washed away even if Bhansali is allowed to shoot…And shoot what, how??
The elaborate guidelines stating the dos and don’ts of film shooting released by the Maharashtra government which accentuates absurd preconditions for returning to shooting, like precluding actors above 65 and making it mandatory to have an ambulance and medical staff present at every shooting, has scared off many Bollywood filmmakers who are now looking at shooting outside Mumbai, mainly in Hyderabad at the well-appointed Ramoji Film City, the largest film city in the world.
Another epic in the making Thalaivi, a Hindi-Tamil bio-pic on former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha with Kangana Ranaut in the eponymous role is stuck indefinitely as the film’s climax requires a crowd of thousands.
“How can we shot mob sequences or battle scenes under the guidelines that the Maharashtra government has laid down? Hyderabad has always been a favourite shooting spot for Bollywood. If you remember, a large number of Bollywood films in the 1970s and 1980s were shot at the Ramoji film city in Hyderabad. Rohit Shetty has shot his entire forthcoming new film Sooryavanshi(featuring Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Ranveer Singh) at the Ramoji film city,” says filmmaker, and one of the film industry’s most vocal spokespersons, Ashoke Pandit.
Pandit feels it’s not just about the Maharashtra government’s strict guidelines. “It’s also about the amenities provided at Ramoji film city in Hyderabad. A filmmaker can shoot anything there in a contained space. Whereas in Mumbai our Film City in Goregaon is in a deplorable condition. No renovations or upgrading have happened in the past 20 years although we have repeatedly pleaded with the Maharashtra government,” laments Pandit.
Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri whose last film The Tashkent Files on the mysterious death of former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, is currently working on a film on the plight of Kashmiri pundits. Agnihotri admits he is considering a shift in his shooting location. “Yes, I’m considering going to Hyderabad. The problem is an inflow and outflow of migrants into large cities be it Mumbai or Hyderabad. Until that is controlled the pandemic cannot be contained. We had to stop our shooting in Kashmir. We need a similar landscape. But Indian states with a Kashmir-like landscape like Himachal Pradesh are not welcoming shootings at the moment.”
Given the grim situation in the entertainment business the worldover, Bollywood, one of the most prolific film producers in the world, with an average of nearly 1000 films per year in a finds itself caught in a curious cul de sac.
Mumbai just doesn’t seem like a shooting-friendly location at the moment.
Filmmaker Milap Jhaveri thinks Hyderabad is a good option. “There are various plans and discussions amongst various producers regarding shooting. Everyone will shoot wherever most feasible for them, be it Ramoji Rao, Film city in Mumbai or some other state. Right now Telengana has less cases of Coronova as compared with Mumbai, so producers are planning to go and shoot there as it works safety-wise and convenience-wise.”
Sameer Nair, the enterprising CEO of Applause Entertainment admits Hyderabad is a tenable option. “But it depends on the type of film or series and whether a relocation of this kind makes economic and creative sense to do. Not every project can or should do this. Not just Hyderabad, various options are being considered. In any case, the same precautions and social distancing norms will have to be followed wherever and whenever filming resumes in earnest.”
Producer-director Goldie Behl agrees with Nair. “I think it’s a good idea to relocate to Hyderabad for now as the shooting will be contained in one place while working and remain cut off from the world outside.”
Producer Shailesh Singh whose Jayalalitha bio-pic Thalaivi is stuck in the Coronova crisis feels the venue cannot accommodate all the Bollywood filmmakers who are desirous of relocating. “I don’t know how many films can be shot simultaneously there, obviously in terms of keeping entire cast and crew one place it works but still it’s too early to get a clear picture.”
Producer Sunil Khertrapal feels shooting post the lockdown would be more about management than the city chosen as the location. “I don’t think it matters if it is Film City or Ramoji Rao City. What matters is the conditions under which shoot will be allowed and if actors and major crew will agree to shoot under such conditions.”
Shibasish Sarkar, the CEO of Reliance Entertainment who is recovering from a Corona attack welcomes the move. “It’s a good idea to shoot in Hyderabad. But it may be expensive for small producers. But for big films it’s good. They should go along with cast and crew,quarantine for 10 days and then shoot and come back to Mumbai.”
Producer Ajai Rai feels the idea may be more workable for television crews from Mumbai. “Since TV serials are located mostly indoors Ramoji film city would be ideal. I fear it may not be the perfect location for film shooting.”
Filmmaker Suneel Darshan is not in favor of shifting to Hyderabad. “The pandemic is in Hyderabad albeit with less casualties, also… the systems prevailing there may be under an umbrella but that doesn’t reduce the susceptibility factor. Mumbai and more so the film industry patterns will need to reorganize and make it safe to revive the production and post facilities soon.”
Filmmaker Shekhar Kapur has the last word. “We need to make films. And filmmakers have always gone where its possible to shoot. I’ve even shot in the inaccessible mountains of Ladakh! The show must go on. We are all itching to get creative again !”