COVID-19 deals crippling blow to Bollywood

A hairdresser gets to ply his trade again in Chennai after the government eased the nationwide lockdown on Monday. (AFP)
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Updated 02 June 2020

COVID-19 deals crippling blow to Bollywood

  • Content creators turn to digital platforms with cinemas closed due to outbreak

PATNA: With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) taking its toll on most Bollywood releases this year, the Indian film industry, which was anticipating revenues worth INR183 billion ($2.5 billion) in 2019, is now staring at losses of INR24 billion ($330 million), experts told Arab News on Monday.

If the nationwide lockdown, which was imposed two months ago, continues, it would have an even more devastating impact on the bottom line.

“The overall revenue loss … for the industry will translate to significantly lower profits for companies despite cost-cutting measures,” excerpts from a report released by Credit Rating Information Services of India Limited showed.

With such gloomy predictions in place, experts are mixed in their opinions as to whether releasing movies on a digital platform is a viable — or perhaps the only — antidote to the blow dealt to the Indian entertainment industry.

Internationally acclaimed film director Shekhar Kapur poses a pertinent question to the debate: Would the average moviegoer be willing to brave a visit to cinema halls under the current circumstances?

“Let’s say movie theaters were to reopen now,” he said. “You would first have to go through a COVID-19 testing screen, followed by security. Then only every fourth seat could be occupied, as we need three empty seats to make for a 6-foot distance. Imagine someone were to start coughing in the middle of an emotional scene. Would you stay? Now tell me whether you would rather or not stay home and watch Netflix.”

Kapur, whose claim to fame includes films such as “The Bandit Queen” and “Elizabeth,” told Arab News that drive-in theaters “could soon make a comeback.” Moviegoers agree.

Sudhir Patwari is an entrepreneur and movie buff from Patna, capital of the northeastern state of Bihar, who said that although he loved the experience, he would not risk going to a movie theater anytime soon.

“I love watching movies on the big screen only. In fact, before the lockdown, I never watched movies at home. But now, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go to theaters until the end of the year at least. I can’t risk it,” he said.

In response to the pervasive sense of anxiety among the movie-loving public, several filmmakers are switching to over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, to release films.

India is currently home to more than 30 streaming platforms, including American players like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and home-grown ones such as ZEE5, ALTBalaji, VOOT, Disney+ Hotstar and others.

Revenues from digital platforms, however, are hard to estimate because they depend on how many movies OOT platforms purchase — and this is just the tip of the iceberg of potential obstacles facing the industry.

“I’m afraid the film industry, like other industries, is facing huge losses. We don’t know yet how many film and theater workers were part of the unorganized labor sector, so even completing films may be an issue,” Kapur said.

Akshaye Rathi, a prominent movie exhibitor in Mumbai, India’s financial capital and home to the Indian film industry, feels that it is too early to throw in the towel.

“Watching movies in cinemas is not a luxury for a majority of Indians; it’s a necessity. And honestly, for most Indians, a movie theater is the only place they can go out to have a good time with their families. There aren’t parks or beaches everywhere in India,” Rathi said, adding that he has taken measures to ensure “audiences feel safe.”

“Everyone’s temperatures will be checked. There will be staggered seating, and movie halls will be disinfected after every show. We will have to win moviegoers’ trust, initially. But eventually, I’m certain that it will be business as usual,” he added.

Taran Adarsh, Bollywood’s most respected trade analyst, feels there is no need for the movie-theater business to feel threatened by OTT platforms.

“We keep hearing of several films going straight to digital, but there hasn’t been any official communication to that effect. We should wait and watch before speculating,” Adarsh said.

Trade analyst Girish Johar agrees, reasoning that the “anxious leap” into the digital domain is a “short-term phenomenon.”

“OTT platforms are only for films that are almost ready to be released. Furthermore, going digital is a step being actively considered by individual producers, who have financial constraints.”

In contrast, producer Ashoke Pandit views digital platforms as the future of the movie business.

“As a producer, I have a right to release the film wherever I want to. Things change as per the situation and time. Producers’ investments have to be fulfilled. Digital platforms are the future,” Pandit said.

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta, who has dabbled into both feature-filmmaking and directing digital content, feels there is ample space for both platforms.

“OTT is a welcome addition. It cannot replace cinema halls, but it can bring some excellent cinema to audiences. I welcome the trend without ever writing off cinema halls. The magic of the big screen will always be there,” Mehta said.


Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

Updated 39 min 44 sec ago

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

  • Antony Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden
  • Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.
In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.
Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.
Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.