No wedding or fight scenes: How Bollywood adjusts to a pandemic


Actors wear face masks and use umbrellas for social distancing, as they rehearse a scene for TV series "Bhakharwadi". — PFA/dpa

Filmmakers worldwide are trying to figure out how to make a movie these days: How can they gather lots of people on a set while making sure the coronavirus isn’t spread?

Indian film producer Jamnadas Majethia came up with a plan.


He gave one to each and every actor and crew member on his Bollywood set – and called on them to carry it pretty much all the time; they were only allowed to put them down when shooting a scene and being filmed.

“Whenever people talk or work together, we forget to keep a distance. We are social beings, ” he explains. The umbrellas prevent that from happening.

He came up with the idea as India’s coronavirus caseload was growing at a breakneck speed, at one point adding some 80,000 new infections each day in the country of 1.38 billion people.

The pandemic has changed a lot – at least for now – in the Bollywood film industry, which in normal times is usually a riot of colour, drama, romance, dancing and crowd scenes.

Film studios were closed for several months before being permitted to make movies again, although the process has changed due to a lengthy set of rules issued by authorities.

The regulations, designed to prevent the spread of the virus, ban the ever-popular wedding scenes and fighting scenes. For a while, anyone over the age of 65 was also not allowed on set – even though Bollywood loves a story that span generations.

Now, wherever possible, if a family is called for in a film, then ideally, they should be played by real family members.

Filmmakers must also provide accommodation for their employees on or close to the studio premises, as on Indian film sets, divas come into contact with people who live in slums, where social distancing is impossible.

Film producer Majethia says these rules – and his umbrellas – are helping prevent the virus from being spread on set.

So far, there’s only been one infection, after a tailor visited his family in a slum during a shoot, probably caught the virus there and then passed it to his roommate during production.

There haven’t been any other transmissions, he says – adding that everyone’s temperature is taken daily.

There’s no more kissing or hugging scenes, says Majethia, meaning films now resemble more conservative periods in the past. He tries to create a sense of closeness through camera angles, while keeping the actors physically apart.

For costumes, Bollywood make-up artist Clint Fernandes says he uses disposable brushes and asks actresses to apply their own mascara to avoid touching their faces as much as possible.

Other filmmakers are taking additional precautions.

Producer Atul Kasbekar is considering whether to buy special coronavirus insurance for a film shoot, to cover any additional costs due to delays during production if actors become unwell.

He’s planning to remake the 1998 German hit Run, Lola, Run and had originally intended to start shooting in spring. Then came the lockdown. He’s now busy trying to cut costs wherever he can. So far, he’s found a big location where he can shoot many of the scenes and he’s changed the protagonist’s job, he says.

Despite all these precautions, many people in the Bollywood industry have caught the coronavirus, such as the former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai, and her family, also Bollywood stars.

There was also Bollywood star Arjun Kapoor, who tested positive for the virus.

However, those worst affected are the employees whose wages are low, the people working behind the scenes or on the set.

Hundreds of people usually work on Bollywood films, and many hope that the industry will return to normal as soon as possible – as do producers Majethia and Kasbekar.

The first step is when cinemas are due to be able to open again – with half the usual number of guests. Until then, viewers have to get their Bollywood fix only on streaming platforms. – dpa/Anne-Sophie Galli

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