'We may have to find a different job': How COVID-19 has left Kolkata's film industry reeling

As theatre owners place their bets on the reopening of halls between July-August, the larger question still remains - when will the audience shrug off the fear of virus and return to watch cinema.

Published: 01st June 2020 09:03 PM  |   Last Updated: 02nd June 2020 11:48 AM   |  A+A-

Cinema, film, kolkata

A person walks past a cinema hall in Kolkata. (Photo| PTI)

Online Desk

It has been the year of the coronavirus with social distancing now becoming the norm.

The studio para in Tollygunge, where once actors, directors and technicians alike would throng from daybreak till nightfall, has been no exception and now wears an eerie silence.

Shooting is about people coming together to produce a work of art.  However, for many, the sets are their bread and butter, and the ongoing two-month long unprecedented lockdown has hit them hard. 

The Bengali film industry with an annual turnover of Rs 200 crore from movies and Rs 100 crore from television series' is staring at an unprecedented economic crisis. Although West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee eased the lockdown restrictions, allowing shooting in green zones to resume, all isn't quite right.

"The virus has had a huge impact on the economy and in the future, it is going to get worse. Shootings had to be suspended as any kind of gatherings were prohibited. Shooting is but a gathering of people.  A film shoot requires at least 80-100 people on the floor. Even if the lockdown gets lifted, there won't be any changes," said director Debarati Gupta.

Kolkata, where arguably single screens didn't even pull down their shutters during the Second World War (except for periodical blackouts during Japanese bombings), has for the first time locked all cinema halls.
As theatre owners place their bets on the reopening of halls between July-August, the larger question still remains - when will the audience shrug off the fear of virus and return to watch cinema.

"Bengali audiences are already not much into Bengali theatres, they watch mostly only on OTT or TV. They definitely visit theatres for Hindi movies. So, the Bengali film industry already suffers from a lack of audience. Even if the lockdown gets lifted, people are afraid of gatherings. I don't think they are ready to go to crowded cinema halls," Debarati added.

This lockdown has in many ways changed the regular audiences' viewing habit. Those who were not familiar with OTT platforms are now getting used to enjoying films on a 5-inch mobile screen. 

During the lockdown, people have made their peace with watching movies and serials on their phone or laptop screens. To recover the production cost, selling the film on OTT or TV is the only way for many producers.

According to sources, the big production houses such as SVF, which used to aim for Durga Puja and Diwali releases to draw in audiences in Bengal, won't be releasing any new film prior to December.

Meanwhile, the people behind the sets -- the worst-hit in this mess -- are scrambling to make ends meet.

"Some members of the industry came forward to help those who work behind the scenes. We are a much smaller industry than Bombay, but even if they are providing Rs 2000 for each artistes, that is still enough. They are doing to the best of their capacity. But I don't know if they will take responsibility post lockdown," said Kartikey Tripathi, Kolkata-based actor.

Bereft of work, Kartikey who recently starred in Star Jalsha's Aloukik na Loukik and  Mahalaya is among several artistes facing the brunt of lockdown. 

"Everything has stopped. On the day of the janata curfew, my last film Debigarh e gorbor was telecast. Since then there has been no work. Payments are stuck. There has been a payment issue irrespective of lockdown, but it has gotten worse. In Bombay it doesn't, it's only in Kolkata that this happens on a large scale," he added.

"We actors are now contemplating our futures. Maybe we'll have to work for a meagre salary or find a different job. Maybe I'll go back to advertising. I am waiting for the lockdown to get over," he added

"A top production company that I am working with has said that there won't be any shooting till the end of October. People think actors earn a lot of money, but in reality I need to pay my bills as well. I don't know how long I can sustain like this," said a senior actor who didn’t want to be named.


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