Stars will have to reduce their price: Mani Ratnam on films and filmmaking in a post-COVID world

In a webinar session, the veteran filmmaker spoke about the various challenges posed by the pandemic with regard to the craft of filmmaking

The film industry was one of the first to be hit in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, which has crippled operations and brought production to a halt. Theatres were shut. Digital streaming services became a messiah for filmmakers, waging war between industry stakeholders and theatre owners. Film promotions and press conferences were held virtually, on Zoom calls. Some of the filmmakers dabbled in virtual filmmaking, which, at the moment, appears to be the plausible solution for content creation.

How will the film industry recuperate when the dust settles? How would filmmakers shoot intimacy or sequences that require a swarm of crowd, in a post-COVID world?

Is this the ‘new normal’, as pundits observe, or just a passing cloud? The latter, is what veteran filmmaker Mani Ratnam believes. In a webinar session organised by SICCI, Mani Ratnam was in conversation with Shibashish Sarkar, CEO, Reliance Entertainment, along with industry experts and exhibitors, about the future of films and filmmaking.

Mani Ratnam brought in a Wimbledon analogy to our current situation, addressing the many ‘why’s and ‘hows’ around the craft of filmmaking post-COVID. “When you watch a Wimbledon final and it suddenly starts to rain, the stadium gets shut and the match gets interrupted. We don’t know when the game will resume; the rhythm and atmosphere change, but the game goes on,” said Ratnam, spelling out the various transitions the film industry has seen over the years — from the silent era and the talkies, to shooting in films and digital filmmaking.

But what the filmmaker foresees happening in the future is a change in production. “Pre and post production won’t get hit but production will. For example, I’m in the middle of shooting a movie set in the 10th Century that has war sequences and demands crowds. I don’t know how I’m going to shoot it but I will do it somehow,” he said, adding, “Filmmakers need to ensure that they are protected and maintain hygiene and should take one step at a time.”

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Boon or curse?

Film exhibition is the most affected sector, for, it has practically come to a standstill. Mani Ratnam observed that the film distribution and release market would get affected and explained the need to bring down the production cost. “Stars and technicians will have to reduce their price, to make sure that the industry remains afloat,” he said, “We will also require help from the Government so that we can get back on our feet soon.”

There has been a surge of content on OTT platforms ever since the lockdown. These streaming services, though perceived to be a threat for theatres, are widely considered a blessing for small budget movies — something Mani Ratnam also concurs with. He feels there has been a “tremendous growth” in terms of style and presentation, in the digital window. “There is nothing like watching a movie in theatres. But the number of audience coming to the theatres has reduced, especially among the middle class and women. Digital platforms are yet another avenue which is very good,” he added.

Damage control

How has he kept himself occupied, given that a filmmaker like Ram Gopal Varma has shot a movie during this period? “He [RGV] is capable of doing anything,” he laughed, adding, “I’ve worked on a few short films for digital platforms and have been thinking about future scripts.”

Mani Ratnam was filming the ambitious Ponniyin Selvan, a film adaptation of Kalki’s historic novel, when the lockdown was announced. About the status of the project, he said that he is looking at a date to resume shooting. When asked how he would shoot scenes featuring crowds, the filmmaker had a tongue-in-cheek response: “I’m a professional and I get paid for this. So, I’ll shoot and show how it is done.”

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 11:07:15 AM |

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