How India’s COVID-19 Crisis Is Devastating the Local Entertainment Sector

How India’s COVID-19 crisis is devastating the local entertainment sector

5/11/2021 2:44:00 PM

How India’s COVID-19 crisis is devastating the local entertainment sector

The devastating second wave of the COVID-19 crisis in India has turned many sectors of the local economy upside down, including the country’s storied entertainment industry, which was still r…

In recent months a host of Indian celebrities have also tested positive, including Aamir Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor, Vicky Kaushal, Bhumi Pednekar and Deepika Padukone, who underwent treatment. Tragically, there have also been some fatalities among the esteemed elder corps of Bollywood, such as actor Bikramjeet Kanwarpal (whose credits include the spy drama

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Special Opson Disney+ Hotstar), veteran composer Shravan Rathod and classical music icon Pandit Rajan Mishra.Bollywood stars such as Aamir Khan, Alia Bhatt and Deepika Padukone have all recently tested positive for COVID-19.Lintao Zhang/Getty Images; Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images; Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

While cinemas gradually began to open in October with limited seating and film shoots resumed, the devastation caused by the ongoing second wave since March has now brought everything to a halt. The wildly popular cricket event Indian Premier League, which has been a massive streaming success for Disney+ Hotstar, had to be suspended mid-season due to the pandemic. Brief attempts to keep India’s most beloved game going amid the carnage of the new wave was met with widespread criticism over the resources used to protect wealthy and healthy players, prompting organizers to agree to a full, ongoing shutdown.

“Everyone is making plans and contingencies based on an assessment of when things will open up, but there is no way of knowing that,” Producers Guild of India president Siddharth Roy Kapur tellsThe Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a bit like drawing up plans on the beach and then the waves come and wash them away before you know it.”

Kapur says nearly every major Indian film production is on hold following the implementation of lockdowns in April in the western state of Maharashtra, home to the country’s entertainment epicenter, Mumbai. While some shoots, mostly for television shows utilizing indoor sets, temporarily shifted base to other states such as Goa, the severity of the second wave has brought things to a standstill across regions. Many major cities also are imposing curfews and lockdowns, including the national capital Delhi, a popular shooting location but currently the pandemic’s worst-hit major population center.

Kapur, who was earlier head of the Walt Disney Co. in India, now runs his own banner, Roy Kapur Films, which has seen a number of its projects suspended. The disruption to the company’s films and series is “being mirrored all over the industry,” he says.

Similarly, Amazon Prime Video’s debut Indian feature co-production,Ram Setu, starring superstar Akshay Kumar, is currently on hold. In early April, Kumar tested positive and was briefly hospitalized but recovered soon after.With shoots stalled, daily wage workers employed in various capacities in film and TV crews have been hit especially hard. Last year, the Producers Guild launched a relief fund for workers which also saw Netflix contributing $1 million. Kapur says the Guild is again reaching out to its members to raise funds. While the Guild has yet to release figures, it is estimated that over last year and this year, the relief fund has raised about $2 million.

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Meanwhile, as the country embarks on a massive vaccination drive — over 170 million doses have been administered so far — some corporate entities in the industry are stepping in to assist the government’s lagging public health efforts. Leading production banner Yash Raj Films announced that it would pay for the vaccination of 30,000 members of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees. The company has sent a letter to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to  allow it to purchase vaccines.

In addition, YRF’s Yash Chopra Foundation will initiate a direct benefit transfer of $68 (5,000 rupees) to women and senior citizens of the industry and distribute ration kits to workers for a family of four for an entire month through non-profit organization Youth Feed India.

The Walt Disney Company India and its Star network announced it would contribute $6.8 million for local Covid-19 relief efforts, building upon the $3.8 million it contributed last year.When it comes to the financial impact of the pandemic, analysts estimate that 2021 could be even more dismal than 2020. According to an annual report by consultants Ernst and Young, total revenue for India’s media and entertainment industry — covering all sectors including film, digital, TV, music, print, animation and gaming, among others — fell by 24 percent in 2020 to $18.7 billion (1.38 trillion rupees) compared to $24.7 billion (1.82 trillion rupees) in 2019 — “in effect taking revenues back to 2017 levels.”

The television industry saw its total revenues falling moderately to $9.3 billion (685 billion rupees) from $10 billion (787 billion rupees) in 2019. However, digital saw a boom with video subscriptions jumping to $575 million (42.2 billion rupees) from $384 million (28.2 billion rupees) and EY predicts this figure could reach $763 million (56 billion rupees) in 2021.

People refill medical oxygen cylinders for Covid-19 coronavirus patients at an oxygen refile station in Allahabad on April 20.SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP via Getty ImagesBut the film business was the worst hit with 2020 revenue crashing by more than half to $1 billion (76 billion rupees), compared to $2.6 billion (191 billion rupees) in 2019.

“The current crisis, from a cash flow and bottom line point of view, is worse than last year for the industry,” Reliance Entertainment CEO Shibashish Sarkar tellsTHR. “A substantial amount of cash which got invested in new projects is stalled. In terms of working capital locked and lack of monetization, the situation is worse than last year.”

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With cinemas shut for six months in 2020 starting with a two-month long national lockdown imposed last March, a slew of releases skipped theatrical release and went straight to digital as producers scrambled to supplement revenue. As restrictions for public spaces were gradually eased and cinemas began reopening from October, the box office seemed to slowly recover, thanks largely to some South Indian language hits such as Tamil title

Master, which collected an estimated $33 million (2.5 billion rupees) and Telugu releaseKrack, which grossed an estimated $8.15 million (600 million rupees). Hollywood also pulled in audiences withGodzilla vs Kongcollecting $8.7 million in its two week run when it opened in late March, making India amongst the top-ten foreign territories for the Warner title.

The theatrical industry saw a ray of hope from October until early April this year when the second wave hit and cinemas shut down again until further notice. The successes seen in these months “reinforced our faith in the Indian theatrical business,” Inox Leisure CEO Alok Tandon tells

THR. As India’s second-largest multiplex chain after PVR Cinemas, Inox runs 648 screens in 69 cities. Tandon is confident that when cinemas re-open, Hollywood titles like Read more: Hollywood Reporter »

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Jesus Christ...if we didn’t have Biden and the vaccines here in the US, we could have been in the same boat. You never know how lucky you are, it seems. This is absolutely horrific, and I hope the US is able to help not just India, but everyone. Entertainment should be the last thing on people's minds.

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