Bollywood movies have always been about excess, with even serious scripts often managing to squeeze in lavish musical numbers and frenetic routines featuring scores of dancers. No more. The pandemic is turning Bollywood downright minimalistic. Shooting scenes of crowded wedding songs—a staple of the genre—has been temporarily ruled out by Covid-wary officials. And a chase scene scripted for a dusty, crowded Indian street was recently rewritten to take place in an empty warehouse, confides one director at a major studio.
These are just some of the changes the globe’s most prolific movie industry is making to awaken from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. The coronavirus, which has sickened more than a million Indians—including superstar Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter-in-law, Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World who is one of the nation’s best-loved actresses—is forcing filmmakers to radically rethink how they do their job. “We’ve looked at all the scripts on our table to make them more production-friendly,” says Atul Kasbekar, producer of the award-winning thriller Neerja, who’s now preparing to shoot a Hindi remake of the 1998 hit German experimental film Run Lola Run. “The only thing you can do is figure out what is the path of least risk, financially.”
Kasbekar and other filmmakers in India are competing for attention from streaming sites such as Netflix and its homegrown rivals; these are the only showcases available as Indians continue to shelter in place while grappling with increased oversight from a government that’s struggling to contain a worsening viral outbreak, now the third-largest in the world. The resulting clash between creativity and caution has poised India’s almost $34 billion entertainment industry at an inflection point that some say could change it forever.
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