Bollywood To Move To Hyderabad Until Corona Blows Over?

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  Cornova-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 pandemaic 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 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.

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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.

Flmmaker  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 e 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.

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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 Munbai,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 location. “I  dont 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.”

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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 favour  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 !”

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