Will viewers return to theatres after lockdown? asks Bengal’s film industry

Published on Apr 23, 2020 11:15 PM IST

Stakeholders in the film industry say that even after the lockdown is lifted, people may take months to overcome their fears and enter crowded theatres in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The lockdown has sent Bengal’s film industry into a tailspin.(Representative Photo/Getty Images/)
The lockdown has sent Bengal’s film industry into a tailspin.(Representative Photo/Getty Images/)
Hindustan Times, Kolkata | By

2020 was supposed to be a good year for Bengal’s film industry. From highly paid stars to popcorn hawkers, millions supported by the industry were looking forward to a good run.

But the lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus has put paid to all that. While the business has taken its worst hit in recent history, stakeholders say that even after the lockdown, people may take months to overcome their fears and enter crowded theatres in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic .

Till it was hit by the curfew to contain the coronavirus, Tollywood, named after Tollygunge, its nerve centre in south Kolkata, was hoping to retain its Rs 200 crore annual turnover from movies and more than Rs 100-odd crore from television series and reality shows.

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) 400 million people have lost jobs in India already. Now Tollywood stalwarts fear that their industry, too, may take more than six months, to be back to anywhere near normal.

“I have around 15 films in the pipeline. When they had to be stalled, post-production work was on. Scenes for which I thought of foreign locations, like most of my projects, will have to now be shot in Kolkata. The crisis affects crew members, vendors, people who rent out cameras, studios, spot boys, et al” said Nispal Singh, director of Surinder Films, a top production house.

“With zero returns, no producer can invest in new films till the pending ones are released. The Rs 200 crore industry will take a long time to recover. Satellite television and YouTube channels only return a fraction of the investment. But on the other hand, television entertainment will be back on track once the lockdown is over, because producers can start shooting and their viewers have not gone anywhere,” Singh added.

Eminent director and producer Arindam Sil said, “Shooting for two of my films was on. Locations were arranged and hotels had been booked. Even if I manage to wrap up the projects, will you feel safe going to a theatre to watch them? One of the big multiplex chains in USA has declared itself bankrupt. I don’t see an easy way out.”

A prominent exhibitor who linked food business to his enterprises, Arijit Dutta of Priya Cinema said, “How long can I pay my staff and how long can the big multiplex operators pay rent to mall owners? Moreover, if there are no new movies to exhibit, for whom will I open the theatres if lockdown orders are lifted tomorrow? The cascading effect of this outbreak will be felt for a long period.”

“I am jobless right now. However, we are pulling our resources to help artists and technicians,” said prominent actor Saswata Chatterjee who has acted in several Hindi hits including Jagga Jasoos and Kahani.

“To help actors with limited and irregular income as have raised around Rs 17 lakh with donation from fellow actors and production houses such as Shree Venkatesh Films. Even cricket star Saurav Ganguly helped us. Corporate houses have not come forward yet, but we plan to raise as much as Rs 40 lakh as a contingency plan for three months. The crisis won’t end with the lockdown. We have also given some funds to production assistants and technicians,” said Arindam Ganguly, general secretary, West Bengal Motion Picture Artists’ Forum, which has 3600 members.

Popular actor Jeet has helped 15 people who serve tea in the sets, Ganguly added.

“The earnings of my company have shrunk by more than 65 per cent. Shooting for eight Bengali serials has been held up. That involves around 250 people, including actors, who used to be paid according to their shifts,” said Eshita Surana, director of Aakash Aath, a television channel that produces its own serials and reality shows. “The focus has now shifted to news channels, and so have the advertisers.

Surana, however, feels that this trend will change after the lockdown.

On May 3, producer Atanu Roychaudhury’s company Bengal Talkies, a new entrant in the industry, was all set to release Tonic, starring popular actor Dev and septuagenarian Paran Bandopadhyay, who plays the protagonist. “The teaser was released and publicity materials were all ready. Now we are planning to release it on December 25. Hopefully, the crisis will be over by then and people will have found the courage to enter theatres.”

“One of my productions, Rakta Rahashya, would have released on April 10. I don’t know when it will hit the theatres now. Another film, Barunabur Bandhu (starring Dadasaheb Phalke award winner Soumitra Chatterjee), was doing very well when the shows stopped,” Singh added.

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    Tanmay Chatterjee has spent more than three decades covering regional and national politics, internal security, intelligence, defence and corruption. He also plans and edits special features on subjects ranging from elections to festivals.

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