Is the TV Industry Putting Lives At Risk By Shooting Till 19 Mar?

TV channels and producers scramble to get content on the table as shoots shut down from 19 March.  

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The shoots of film, TV and webs shows have been shut down from 19 March to 31 March.
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Owing to the rapid spread of coronavirus in India, on 15 March, the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPA) released a collective directive to stop all film and television shoots from 19 March to 31 March, at the end of which the situation would be reassessed.

However, the four extra days of shoot till 19 March puts the cast and crew at high risk of contracting and spreading the virus. Question is, why was the suspension of shoots to be implemented from 19 March onwards and not immediately?

Speaking to The Quint, honorary General Secretary of CINTAA (Cine and Television Artists Association), Sushant Singh, said that even though he feels the shutdown should have been immediate, but the decision to continue shooting till 19 March could be because the production companies of daily soaps wanted to “create some sort of a bank of episodes”.

“In my personal opinion, it should have been immediate, but I am guessing because of the pressure under which all the daily soaps operate, I guess they decided to give a 3-day leeway to create some sort of a bank of episodes, that’s the only explanation.”
Sushant Singh, General Secretary, CINTAA

President of IFTDA (Indian Film and Television Director's Association), Ashoke Pandit, has confirmed the same. “We have given a gap till Thursday (19 March) so that people get ready accordingly, pack up and return from outstation. Our TV industry is an important one and even they will get time to organise things,” he told reporters after a meeting with other artiste associations on 15 March.

What’s not being reported is that the production houses are facing the heat from channels to create a bank of episodes.

A source from the creative team of an ongoing show told us that their TV channel is expecting producers to give as many episodes in the bank as they can in this short period of time of four days since the announcement came in. They want to have a bank till mid April.

“We are all going crazy finishing screenplays, giving filler scenes etc, but I don’t think anybody is looking at the problems. My producers also felt it was the right decision that the shooting was shut down,” the source said. “Who cares about new episodes at times likes these. Channels should just air repeat episodes,” he added.

JD Majethia, producer and chairman, TV wing, of the IFTPC, said they are in talks with broadcasters and all have been sensitive in dealing with the pandemic.

"Precautions were duly taken and more precautions will be out in place till Wednesday. We have put up posters to spread awareness, have provided masks and even given the option of paid leaves for anyone who feels sick. All measures are in place,” he said to Business Today in an interview.

But just shooting for long hours as it happens in television puts the artists, employees and daily wage workers at a huge risk.

Channels meanwhile are struggling to come to terms with the overwhelming situation that they have never faced till date. While there is no estimate on the exact amount of losses the TV industry is going to face at this point, channels are scrambling to minimise them.

Star Plus for example cancelled the premiere of their new show Anupamaa, and instead started airing extended one-hour episodes of their hit show Yeh Rishta Kya Kehalata Hai. This meant that the cast and crew of YRKKH had to shoot a lot more in these four days.

Zee TV issued a statement on Monday, which said that “talks are still on to arrive at a strategy that ensures viewers have the best content”.

“Keeping in mind the health and safety of all concerned, Zee will stop all shoots in the timelines stipulated in the directive. In times where social distancing is the need of the hour to curb the outbreak of COVID-19 and people are spending more time indoors, the idea is to provide audiences with the most engaging entertainment for the entire family. Talks are still on to arrive at a strategy that ensures viewers have the best content to look forward to in the said period.”

A source from Star Plus told The Quint that “the channel is still trying to work things out”.

But is it wise to put TV shows over people’s lives?

Producer Sandeep Sikcand, whose SOL Productions recently produced the show Kahaan Hum Kahaan Tum, said that this was the time to put business aside and look at things from a human perspective. He also added that safety of the crew and junior artistes should be top priority.

“At this point of time we all need to keep business and TRPs aside and look at it from a more human perspective. God forbid if any of us fall ill, we will be able to get and afford treatment. But what if your spot boy, make-up artists, light men and others fall ill then? We should all just forget being money-makers and content creators for once and just look at it as a more humanitarian point of view.”
Sandiip Sikcand, TV Producer

“This should have happened much earlier,” he added.

Sandiip also believes that the daily wages of the crew should be paid during this period as these are unforeseen circumstances.

“Every producer on their own should still pay daily wages, saying that whatever number of days you are at home we will still pay you, that you will get your money if you are not working. I think this is the time when we need to pull out a lot more humanity and do that,” he said.

Producer and creative director Vikas Gupta told The Quint that “everything boils down to money”.

“The coronavirus fear will impact the producers’ community the most because everything boils down to money. If technicians and actors fall sick, the shoots get cancelled, resulting in the loss of our money. For producers like us, the people who work on a show are like family, so any one of us getting unwell causes a lot of stress. On top of that is the added hysteria and fear that the outbreak has caused. Events being cancelled, shoots called off cannot be taken lightly at all,” he said.

The letter issued by the various associations on 15 March, said, “In view of the epidemic spread of Corona COVID19 virus throughout the world including India, an urgent joint meeting of IMPPA-WIPFA-IFTPC-IFTDA-FWICE held on 15-3-2020 unanimously decided to stop shootings of films, TV serials, web series and all other entertainment including digital formats from 19-3-2020 till 31-3-2020 as a result of health advisory, closure of all cinema halls, all sporting, educational institutes and entertainment events by the Government of India which has declared a medical emergency over the corona virus. All units shooting till the stoppage comes into force have been strictly advised to follow all precautionary measures and preventive measures without fail.”

The letter also stated that the decision to begin re-shooting the films, web series and TV serials will be taken after 30 March once the situation is re-examined.

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