PATNA: To move or not to move, that is the question.
The issue has triggered intense debate in Bollywood as leading producers and directors search for safer, more practical filming locations following the coronavirus lockdown in Mumbai, India’s financial capital and the center of its entertainment industry .
At the forefront of discussions is Sanjay Leela Bhansali, one of Bollywood’s most successful film directors and producers, with acclaimed blockbusters such as “Devdas,” “Bajirao Mastani” and “Padmaavat” to his credit.
“How do we shoot intimate sequences, action sequences or war sequences (with the actors masked and gloved as part of the anti-virus measures)? Isn’t it a better option to relocate the shooting?” Bhansali said in an exclusive interview with Arab News. An indefinite halt in production means the $8 million set for “Gangubai Kathiawadi,” his latest film, lies abandoned at Mumbai Film City (MFC).
Set in 1960s Mumbai, the film is based on the real-life story of a notorious gangster named Madame and features Bollywood star Alia Bhatt in the title role. The film was 80 percent complete when Mumbai went into lockdown on March 23, halting production work and shooting schedules.
Coronavirus curbs have added to the woes of the sprawling, unkempt city suburb where thousands of films are churned out every year. Elaborate return-to-work conditions set by Maharashtra’s state government on May 30 include barring all actors aged 65 and above from working during and after the lockdown.
As a result several filmmakers said they were forced to consider shooting elsewhere, mainly in Hyderabad, which is home to the equally acclaimed Ramoji Film City (RFC). Built in 1996 and named after renowned South Indian producer Ramoji Rao, the RFC is a major tourism draw, with thousands visiting Hyderabad city, capital of Telangana state, every year.
The RFC has 47 studio sets — more than double the number at rival MFC — and has record-breaking blockbusters, such as S.S. Rajamouli’s “Baahubali,” to its credit.
Another film that has been hit by the lockdown is “Thalaivi,” a Hindi-Tamil biopic on the life of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha, with Kangana Ranaut in the leading role.
Production work has been shelved indefinitely as the film’s climax requires the scene to be shot with a crowd of thousands — an impossible option under current social distancing rules.
Speaking to Arab News, director Ashoke Pandit said: “How can we shoot crowd sequences or battle scenes under the guidelines that the Maharashtra government has laid down? Hyderabad has always been a favorite shooting spot for Bollywood. We might consider moving there.”
He said that shift to the RFC “wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary” with several films having been shot there in the past.
“If you remember, Rohit Shetty shot his entire ‘Golmaal’ series there and is working on the forthcoming film ‘Sooryavanshi,’ featuring Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Ranveer Singh,” Pandit said.
Besides being a relatively safer option compared with Mumbai, there are other pluses to working at the RFC, he added.
“It’s also about the amenities. A filmmaker can shoot anything there in a contained space. The film city in Mumbai is in a deplorable condition. No renovations or upgrades have been done in the past 20 years, although we have repeatedly pleaded with the Maharashtra government,” he said.
Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, who directed the 2019 hit “Tashkent Files,” agrees, adding that a move to Hyderabad is “definitely on the cards” for him.
As of Tuesday, India had reported 9,987 cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 266,598 infections.
Maharashtra remains one of the worst-affected states in the country, with 88,528 cases and 3,169 deaths.
With that in mind, it is unlikely that restrictions will be lifted soon, filmmaker Milap Jhaveri said.
Hyderabad was the “next best option,” he said.
“There are discussions among producers regarding shooting. Telangana has fewer cases of coronavirus than Mumbai, so producers are planning to shoot there because of safety and convenience,” he said.