The show goes on for Hindi GECs as shoots move outside Maharashtra
While broadcasters are determined to serve fresh content and avoid relying on re-runs, they are also navigating the increased production costs and other challenges of shooting outside Mumbai
The Hindi GECs have survived the negative impact of the Maharashtra government's decision to extend lockdown by moving the shoots to other locations outside the state. The broadcasters as well as TV production houses were anticipating an extension in lockdown due to the coronavirus cases.
As a preemptive move, the broadcasters and their producers started moving to other locations like Gujarat, Goa, Hyderabad (Telangana), Rajasthan, and Punjab among others. This was done to ensure that there is no disruption in prime-time programming. During the national lockdown last year, the GECs were forced to air re-runs due to the dearth of fresh content.
Moving shootings outside Mumbai, which is a production hub, has not been an easy task considering the logistics involved. The production costs have also gone up significantly depending on the location of the shoot. The TV producers are yearning to return to Mumbai as the city has a solid shooting infrastructure in place.
According to senior executives from leading broadcast networks, the Hindi GECs are rolling out new episodes without any hiccups. "There was a certain level of preparedness that this is going to happen so Hindi GECs started working on a backup plan to avoid a repeat of 2020 when all of them had to rely on re-runs to keep the channels running," one of the executives said.
The other executive said that the fresh content is being aired since shootings have not halted completely. "The fresh programming has not stopped since the shooting has shifted outside," the executive added.
Despite facing multiple challenges, TV producers are ensuring that the show goes on every evening during prime time.
"Maharashtra government's decision to extend lockdown by 15 days is bound to increase the problems for TV producers. We have created an infrastructure where we have all kinds of facilities for actors, crew members, and workers. We can shift to other locations but those facilities are not available in those locations. Right now, it is not about profitability because most TV producers are making losses," said Hats Off Production Founder JD Majethia, who is also the chairman of the Indian Film and TV Producers Council (IFTPC).
Majethia said that the costs of producing TV content have gone up by 20-25%. "Our existing infrastructure is lying vacant and we have to create new infrastructure outside Maharashtra. Our costs have gone up to manage the logistics and to ensure the safety of the cast and crew, and changing the storyline. There are lots of challenges," he noted.
As the chairman of IFTPC, he has requested the Maharashtra government to allow shootings of TV shows by considering it as an essential service. IFTPC has written another letter to the Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray urging him to allow shootings of TV shows.
"We have a request to the state government that just as we are creating bio bubbles on our sets in the new locations we can do the same thing on our existing infrastructure in Mumbai. We should be given permission to shoot in Mumbai and Maharashtra because things are under our control over there. We will follow the guidelines. The government should treat us an essential service," he averred.
He cited the example of Goa which has allowed shootings despite enforcing lockdown. "Goa is a great example. They have a lockdown but they have allowed shoots that are happening indoors under a bio-bubble," he stated.
Swastik Productions MD Rahul Kumar Tewary said that the biggest challenge faced by the producers is to ensure safety of the crew. "We have created a Covid action team which ensures the safety of all our staff through regular oxygen/temperature/
The production house has created an environment where only ones who test negative for Covid gain entry to the sets. "We are trying to ensure a safe and secure environment that can only be accessed by people who test negative for Covid-19. Periodic tests are carried out for the unit. I think that’s the bubble which every business in India would be actively executing today," Tewary added.
Swastik Productions owns a shooting facility called Swastik Bhoomi in Umbergaon, Gujarat which is 2.5 hours away from Mumbai. Its show Radha Krishna, which airs on Star Bharat, is being shot there. "Since Maharashtra’s shut down of shoot producers have actively moved their show to Umbergaon (Gujarat), Goa, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and many other cities. Of course, the cost must have gone up for most of the shows but I am sure the broadcasters would be paying for all such increase in the cost of production," he stated.
Bodhi Tree Multimedia CEO Mautik Tolia said most of the shoots are happening in bio-bubble only. "Most of the people have taken locations where they can stay and shoot at the same place so that people don't have to go out. So they are all contained in that place. That is how most of the shoots are happening. This ensures that no outside party is coming in or going out. There is not much travel involved. So it works like a bio bubble."
He also said that the production costs have gone up more than 10% at the very minimum level. "Over and above that, it can double also depending on the location, staying facility, post-production setups, and the manner in which changes are made to the storyline," Tolia said.
The channels are not facing any issue on the fresh programming front. "With shoots moving out that is not a problem. Most of the shoots that are going on outside Maharashtra are television shows since web series and films are very difficult to shoot in one location," he noted.
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