Films have often reflected society and the psyche of the common man – whether it is through realism or as a mode of escapism. So naturally, when the COVID pandemic hit, filmmaking changed. Not only did the rise of OTT change the way we viewed content but filmmakers started including the pandemic in their stories.
For many, the pandemic meant being stuck inside their homes – the idea of home was then dissected in cinema. For years, the primary narrative about ‘home’ in film was that of safety and sanctuary.
However, the pandemic reignited conversations about how home doesn’t equate to safety for many.
The Changing Idea of ‘Home'
Don Palathara explored toxic masculinity and voyeurism in his film Everything is Cinema. In the film, a filmmaker Chris (voiced by Don) and his wife, an actor, Anita (Sherin Catherine) are trapped inside because of a lockdown.
Chris, who had first set out to make a documentary about Kolkata, now turns the lens on his wife and his surroundings and the audience watches as Chris becomes more and more caustic towards his wife and how the proximity only drives the couple apart.
When the lockdown began, several people (especially women and queer people) opened up about how they would be trapped in or returning to toxic environments. Everything Is Cinema is a well-thought-out and chilling look into an aspect of that sentiment.
On the other hand, the Modern Love Hyderabad short My Unlikely Pandemic Partner starring Revathy and Nithya Menen, explored how the lockdown brought a daughter and her estranged mother closer as they were forced to confront their conflict and the distance it put between them.
How Multiple Genres Dabbled With the Pandemic
Horror and thriller films often tap into society’s most obvious fears and the pandemic was no different.
Films like Rob Savage’s Host and Nayanthara-starrer Connect took the isolation that came with lockdowns and created a suffocating environment with little to no avenues for escape.
The added supernatural elements played in tandem to these feelings.
In several horror movies, a saviour of sorts bursts into a house or setting to help the protagonist fight off or send away a supernatural antagonist. But films adding the pandemic to their storylines changed this idea and adapted it to a post-lockdown world – a situation where help is practically inaccessible.
One Zoom Call After Another
In cinema, the pandemic also inspired innovation. Michael Sheen and David Tennant’s show Staged is the story of two actors trying to rehearse a performance of the Luigi Pirandello play Six Characters in Search of an Author, over video call.
Furthermore, Japanese filmmaker Shinichiro Ueda released his comedic horror flick One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote which was shot on Zoom and had shots of actors filming themselves on their phones.
Another show, Wakaalat From Home, starring Sumeet Vyas, Nidhi Singh, Gopal Datt, and Kubbra Sait, told the story of a couple going through a divorce as their lawyers and the judge fought the case online, through video calls.
Everyone being stuck inside their house, in work-from-home situations, leads to hilarious segues and even a (alleged) murder mystery.
Comedy and Satire: From 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' to 'Glass Onion'
Sitcoms like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Superstore integrated the COVID-19 pandemic into their storylines, in different ways. The creators of B99 made the decision to not only include the pandemic in their story but also question whether the tone the show held for all its previous season would be sensitive in 2021.
Dan Goor and Michael Schur’s B99 was an office-comedy about NYPD (New York City Police Department) detectives.
However, the Black Lives Matter protests rekindled conversations around policing in marginalised communities and police brutality as a whole.
The sitcom, thus, used the pandemic only as a setting and focused instead on how the detectives, many of them people of colour, participated in the aforementioned conversations. Rosa Diaz, a bisexual woman of colour, elected to exit the force entirely.
Superstore, on the other hand, used the pandemic to explore how it affected service industry workers – from corporate greed to insensitive customers.
Videos of people hoarding supplies like toilet paper and water, and refusing to follow mask mandates went viral throughout the pandemic and the sitcom featured these instances and more.
The show also contained satire about anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers (explored in detail in the mockumentary Death to 2021).
Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion includes several similar scenes too. Kate Hudson’s character Birdie Jay is a self-indulgent and politically incorrect entrepreneur who sports a bejeweled net mask and hosts parties with multiple guests.
When questioned about the latter, she responds by saying that the party is safe because all the people are inside her “pod”. Kathryn Hahn’s character Claire Debella, who plays the governor of Connecticut, can be seen giving a campaign interview on a news channel through Zoom.
The pandemic was a difficult time for everybody and arguably might be the health crisis that defines this decade.
And while the world continues to grapple with this new reality, hopefully filmmakers and films will continue to adapt, evolve, and tell stories that matter.