The COVID 19 plot thickens, in filmmakers' minds

Considering how the likes of Contagion and other virus-related content saw a spike in views, it's safe to say there is interest among the audience to feed off narratives around a global crisis such as coronavirus.
Discussion,Coronavirus,Coronavirus BollywoodPeople wear protective masks as they watch a movie in 3D at a theatre on the first day they were permitted to open on July 24, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Sometimes, a crisis gives birth to new opportunities. It's a done-to-death cliche, but see it from the creative eye and mind, and you'll find that the number of new stories (read opportunities) will be plenty, and diverse.

Take a dekko: Covid 19, Around Corona, Corona 2020, Corona Ka Ronaa, Dharavi v/s Corona 2020, Corona Lockdown, Go Corona Go, Haye Corona, Pyar Korona, Coronachya Aaicha Gho. These are just some of the film titles already registered in Maharashtra amid the ongoing pandemic, according to Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association (IMPPA) President T.P. Aggarwal.

A batch of television shows, which have come up with new episodes, have already interspersed the Covid-19 narrative using masks, shields, sanitisers and more, in efforts to underline how precaution is the best cure in these times.

Filmmaker Anubhav Sinha, whose films Article 15 -- about discrimination in the country's social fabric -- and Thappad -- about a woman who stands up to the often unspoken patriarchal mindset -- raised a dormant social conscience among the audience, recently announced an anthology based on stories around Covid-19. With Sudhir Mishra, Hansal Mehta, Ketan Mehta and Subhash Kapoor on board, Sinha hopes the yet untitled project will encapsulate various moods that the pandemic has elicited: tragicomedy, fear, political upheaval, and more.

There's also Anand Gandhi, the filmmaker behind Ship of Theseus and Tummbad, who has been working on Emergence, a pandemic story since the past five years. His film is about four scientists who race against time to fight a pandemic -- a perceived eventuality in the mind of Gandhi, who experienced a bout of paranoia when he saw it become a reality during these Covid-19 times.

Currently working to adapt the story to the current circumstances, Gandhi however, sees no reason to address coronavirus directly in his film. His reason? "It will already be playing on our subconscious minds, whenever we absorb a piece of literature or culture henceforth," he told PTI.

Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, in his own words, didn't let a "chungoo mungoo virus" lock down his creativity, and produced a film Coronavirus, about a family in the lockdown, and shot during the lockdown. Its trailer was launched online by Amitabh Bachchan, who called the filmmaker "irrepressible". Perhaps just the right term for a man who was among the few who toured the ravaged Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai just days after the dastardly terror attack of 2008, and later made docu-drama The Attacks of 26/11.

There are others who have used the lockdown period to shoot content about the lockdown. For one, there's a thriller web series titled The Gone Game, with the pandemic in the backdrop, for which Sanjay Kapoor, Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Arjun Mathur, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Rushkar Rehman, Lubna Salim and a few more actors, shot remotely from home.

Sukesh Motwani of Bodhitree Multimedia which has backed the project, explains, "The pandemic serves as a context and a character, while the rest of the characters in The Gone Game have a life of their own. The pandemic acts as a trigger for the story to start." In Motwani's opinion, at least for the next decade or two, 2020 will be discussed -- on and off screen -- as a year which divided time into AC and BC: After Corona and Before Corona.

Considering how the likes of Contagion, Outbreak, Virus, The Andromeda Strain, Pandemic and other virus-related content saw a spike in views in the wake of the worldwide mayhem that the novel coronavirus caused, it's safe to say there is interest among the audience to feed off narratives around a global crisis such as this.

That, in fact, can be safely also corroborated by the fact that be it economic, political, social, environmental or health, a global or national crisis, has always made for compelling representation, with stories of strength, resilience, humanity, unity, challenges, et al, in popular culture.

A random Google search indicates that 9/11 -- the coordinated terrorist attacks against the US in September 11, 2001 -- has inspired at least 50 odd films and shows since the unfortunate event, which left a profound and long-lasting impact on geopolitical, societal, religious and cultural affairs.

Even the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, which led to the unfolding of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, resulted in a raft of content in popular culture.

There's also the Holocaust, one of the ugliest realities of World War II, which has found multitude representations across fiction and non-fiction formats in the film and television space, over the years. Anne Frank: Parallel Stories, a poignant documentary, is the most recent I saw, where Anne Frank's story is retold alongside Holocaust survivors, by Oscar winner Helen Mirren.

In India, we have seen the freedom struggle, Partition, India-Pakistan wars, and more recently, the brutal 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the 2016 surgical strike and demonetisation, feature as recurring themes, backdrops and characters in the world of entertainment. And all of it continues.

And so, it comes or shouldn't come as no surprise that the coming months and years, we could see a flurry of films and series around the Covid-19 pandemic and its explicit and implicit impact on life, as the human race knew, not so long ago.

According to US media reports, at least 20 coronavirus-related movies are underway from the likes of popular filmmakers Ron Howard and Matt Heinaman, in Hollywood. A recent report by Deadline indicated that Adam McKay, who won an Oscar for his financial meltdown drama The Big Short, is set to produce a COVID-19 vaccine drama in the works at HBO.

Indian filmmaker Anurag Basu feels stories about the pandemic will be told and retold "till we have our next global crisis". He points out, "Even after almost two decades, September 11 continues to be the backdrop of many movies and shows."

Motwani also cites 9/11 to explain, "The current situation isn’t like an event that happened on a single day like 9/11. But even that changed history and the narrative to a large extent in terms of how countries look at each other, policies, politics, religions. Covid-19 too will have deep and long-term implications because it is a global crisis and deals with humanity as a whole. Hence, storytelling will carry the shadow of this pandemic, directly or indirectly."

The direct or indirect point, is valid.

Back in May, I spoke to journalist-turned-filmmaker Vinod Kapri, who was busy sifting through around nine hours of footage from a journey that he undertook with a group of 30 migrant workers, who cycled their way from Delhi to Saharsa, Bihar -- a few among the many who undertook 'ghar waapsi' in the midst of the pandemic. He was trying to put together 1,232 Kilometres, a visual documentation of their strife amid the Covid-19 lockdown in India.

This was just one among the many documentaries in the making on coronavirus and its wide-ranging impact, across various platforms and countries. Kapri says he wanted to make people understand “the workers’ pain, suffering and trauma”, and because stories of ground reality need to be told.

Discovery Channel, Discovery Plus and Animal Planet, in an attempt to look at “events that define the world and humanity”, have so far touched upon the Covid-19 issue with different works. There has been Invisible Killers, which takes viewers through through the impact of deadly viruses in the past; The Zoo: Covid-19 & Animals, which looks at the effects of coronavirus on animals; Coronavirus: The Silent Killer; and Pandemic: Covid-19, a one-hour special which had experts talk about the treatment and transmission of the virus, which spread rapidly across the world, and more.

Discovery also produced Covid-19: India’s War Against The Virus, which follows both the global and the Indian timeline, of how the virus spread and shines light on key developments that have taken place ever since India’s first coronavirus victim was detected in Kerala. Capturing India’s battle against the pandemic specifically also was National Geographic’s made-at-home film Lockdown: India Fights Coronavirus, with self-shot sequences and archival footage from government leaders, police officers, medical personnel and other heroes born out of the crisis.

Anuradha Aggarwal, Head - Infotainment, English and Kids, Star India, described it as a project which "brings alive the unique and inspiring stories of some incredible Indians that we all will owe our future to".

Bollywood filmmaker Kabir Khan, who started his career with documentaries, is sure that since the genre “always reflects the world we are living in”, a lot of them in the near future will speak about Covid-19, “a phenomenon that has changed the world’.

If filmmaker Aditya Dhar, who helmed the widely talked about Uri: The Surgical Strike -- a dramatised account of the surgical strike on terror hubs in Pakistan conducted after the 2016 terror attack at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, had to make a film around Covid-19, he says it would delve upon the uninhibited sacrifice of doctors and health workers who have emerged as the true blue heroes in the fight against the spread of the virus.

"Somebody needs to tell their story -- what all they have gone through and what has been their point of view. With Uri... the idea was to show the Indian Army soldier's sacrifice and motivate youngsters to opt for Defence Services, and I hope if there is a film made on Covid-19, it is made with the intent to inspire the younger generation to become doctors. It is times like these when you realise that being a doctor or health worker is one of the most difficult jobs -- saving human life day in and day out, by sacrificing the reality of your own life," Dhar says.

For Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan director RS Prasanna, if there's something worth capturing about the Covid-19 zeitgeist in a film or series, it is the emotional churning that humans have experienced in the past few months. In a world where people were "heading into a life of entitlement and disconnectedness", Prasanna feels an event like this has hit everyone in the gut, making them question their fundamental approach to life. 

He says, "I am sure corona will feature in pop culture. How, in what manner, and how it will be packaged, will be interesting to screen. Or may be, people will not want to see any movie on corona."

Will we, won't we?

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