Light, camera, action & precaution: Is TV industry ready for another halt?

Producers request government to treat the industry as an essential service and allow them to shoot for TV shows if a complete lockdown is implemented in Mumbai

e4m by Sonam Saini
Updated: Apr 13, 2021 9:28 AM
Tv shos

As Covid cases began to surge last year in March, government imposed a complete nationwide lockdown, bringing TV, web shows, and film production to a halt. A year later, the country is experiencing a similar condition with the pandemic resurging yet again. The TV industry in Mumbai has been hit hard with several actors, reality show contestants and crew members testing positive.

With Covid protocol restricting shoots to just five days a week in the presence of lesser crew members, TV producers are already struggling to keep the shows running. Now, talks of there being another lockdown in Mumbai soon has left them worried. So is the TV industry ready for another halt?

Producers say that despite the challenges, they have been putting in all possible efforts to keep the shows running. But a complete lockdown at this stage may cause havoc for the industry. Cancellation of shoots not just impacts the producers but also stops the income of daily wage earners associated with the shows.

According to JD Majethia, Chairman- TV & Web wing, IFTPC, and the producer of Sab TV show Wagle Ki Duniya, the industry is not ready for another lockdown as they are already struggling to maintain a bank of episodes due to the shooting restrictions. Also, the shoot automatically gets disrupted for two-three days if an actor or a crew member tests positive.

“We have requested the government to include us in the essential service category and exempt us from the lockdown and let our industry work. The industry has not even recovered from last year’s losses, and if shoots are stopped again, it will impact us a lot. The industry is already facing losses as almost all the shows are going over budget,” shares Majethia.

Ten members, including the lead actors, of Wagle Ki Duniya team have tested positive for Covid, after which the shoot of the show has been stopped. Similarly, makers of shows like BhabhiJi Ghar Par Hai on &TV, Anupamaa and Ghum Hai Kisi Ke Pyar Me on Star Plus had to tweak the storylines when some actors of the shows were found positive. 

Majethia feels that it is important for the TV shows to keep running as not everyone can afford OTT subscriptions. “Let’s not doubt anyone’s intention. The government is trying to break the chain of Covid spread and we respect their decision. The government said that any business loss is state loss. Having said that we will honour whatever decision government takes. But entertainment is also important for the people and not everyone can afford an OTT subscription.”

“We want to stand by the government and continue to entertain people. Despite challenges, we are running shows and we will continue to do so by following all the guidelines and protocols,” he adds.

Production houses, meanwhile, claim that they are following all guidelines to stop the spread of the infection on the sets. Some producers have even created a bio-bubble on the sets. 

Asit Kumarr Modi, Founder and Managing Director of Neela Film Productions, says, “We have been facing challenges since July when the shoots restarted. We have been following all the guidelines very strictly on the sets like testing crew members or the cast. We don’t allow people on sets with symptoms. We have to learn to shoot in the new normal as we don’t know for how long the Covid spread will continue. Both TV producers and the channels have to understand that we need to create a bank of episodes to run the shows.”

Modi produces one of the most popular shows on television, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma (TMKOC). According to him, that they have a bank of episodes that can run the show for some days. “We try to create a bank of episodes but since TMKOC is a daily show sometimes it becomes difficult to maintain the bank. Currently there is no clarity whether the government will impose a complete lockdown or not, but if it happens, I think some producers will manage for a week with the bank of episodes. However, if it is extended for a longer period, we will have to re-run the old episodes.”

Sharing similar thoughts, Ranjit Thakur, Co-founder of Frames Production, shares, “Banking of shows is definitely going to be affected. We are doing everything possible, including regular RT-PCR test, to keep a check on Covid spread. We are taking extra precautions. But if lockdown happens, banking of episodes will definitely be a problem. We are still recovering from the last lockdown. Now another lockdown will disrupt the entire industry. We hope that the government allows us to shoot in lockdown as well, and with all the protocols in place, we will be able to sustain this.”

On April 11, the Indian Films & TV Producers Council asked producers of all ongoing projects to conduct RT-PCR/Antigen tests on the entire crew. Accordingly, more than 9000 tests have been conducted covering 90 shows. The tests will be repeated after 15 days as per the ‘Break the Chain’ guidelines. IFTPC insists that antigen tests shall be done every week for additional safety.

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