Bollywood grinds to a halt as coronavirus takes its toll on industry

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting countless businesses and lives around the world, and the creative industry is certainly not immune. Arguably the most prolific film production area in the world, India’s Bollywood, has ground to a virtual standstill this month.

In most parts of the world, cinemas are locked down as this article is written. The effect that this has had on the consumption of filmed media is clear. With audiences unable to attend cinemas, they are remaining at home and engaging in their love of film and TV by watching movies at home. Several movies that were already in theatrical release have been fast-tracked to streaming services or digital download platforms, Netflix, Hulu and Stan are experiencing bumper traffic, and films that were due for release in the first half of 2020 have had their release dates pushed back indefinitely. While it’s a loss for the movie-going public to miss out on the theatrical experience for a while, that’s a small price to pay for health and safety. The impacts on the industries that create this media, however, are being deeply felt.

In my homeland of Australia, film industry professionals are currently petitioning the government for financial assistance, since many have found themselves out of work and ineligible for employer-backed support, as a result of the industry trend to engage specialists as contractors or casuals. In the United States, some companies and teams are shifting their focus to pre-production and post-production tasks, to remain active while operating from home or on skeleton-staffed studio lots. Bollywood has been similarly impacted, with a number of studios, productions and imminent releases brought to a standstill.

Rohit Shetty’s big budget, action extravaganza Sooryavanshi should have been released in March. That film, part of the popular Cop Universe franchise, was expected to top the box office upon release, but it has now been shelved. Similarly, Kabir Khan’s long-awaited cricket biopic, 83, was slated for release on April 10, but now has an uncertain future.

“The whole planet today is on standstill so I think watching a film becomes a much lower priority.”

Indian director Kabir Khan

In the video below, Kabir Khan and other industry figures give their thoughts about what this industry slow-down means for Bollywood; both in terms of audience impacts, and how key figures from the industry are likely to be affected.

It’s clear that COVID-19 is creating challenges beyond its immediate health risks, in the way the pandemic response is placing strain on workers and creative professionals the world over.

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