After a catastrophic year, can Bollywood make a comeback in 2021?

After a catastrophic year, can Bollywood make a comeback in 2021?

Virus restrictions meanwhile forced producers to hit pause on shootings, putting thousands of livelihoods at risk.
Updated 25 Dec, 2020

The dancers stopped strutting on Bollywood film sets this year as the Indian film industry struggled to find any spring in its step during a disastrous 2020.

The annus horribilis for the world's most prolific movie industry began with the heartbreaking deaths in April within 36 hours of luminaries Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor.

Others to pass away included composer Wajid Khan, who died from the coronavirus at 42, director Basu Chatterjee, Bollywood's first female choreographer Saroj Khan, and S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, singer of an estimated 40,000 film songs.

But it was the suicide in June of 34-year-old star Sushant Singh Rajput that had the widest repercussions.

India's sensationalist TV news channels -- eager to cast the film industry as a den of iniquity -- accused Rajput's former girlfriend, actress Rhea Chakraborty, of driving him to his death with black magic and cannabis.

The 28-year-old, who denies any wrongdoing, spent months in custody for allegedly buying drugs for Rajput, while stars such as Deepika Padukone were hauled in for questioning as the investigation escalated.

“It has been a terrible year,” actress Swara Bhasker told AFP.

“The slander campaign by some sections of the media against the film industry has been horrendous.”

Reel problems

Virus restrictions meanwhile forced producers to hit pause on shootings, putting thousands of livelihoods at risk in Hindi-language Bollywood as well as India's other regional film industries.

From “spot boys” running errands on set to “junior artistes” eking out a living as extras, the sector relies on a huge army of low-paid workers.

Film crews have been hit hard with the loss of unemployment devastating many and their families
Film crews have been hit hard with the loss of unemployment devastating many and their families

“The loss of employment and income has been devastating for so many,” Bhasker said.

Productions have tentatively resumed, but pandemic restrictions forbid them from shooting the elaborate musical sequences that are a hallmark of Hindi movies.

This point was brought home in a social media post in August by superstar Amitabh Bachchan -- who this year spent weeks in hospital with the coronavirus -- describing a film set as “a sea of blue PPE”, or personal protective equipment.

At the crossroads

Cinemas were shut for months and although they re-opened in October, virus-wary viewers are staying away, and some theatres are wondering if the crowds will ever return.

A trip to the cinema has traditionally been hugely popular in India, ranging from $1 tickets at single-screen theatres to air-conditioned multiplexes offering seat-side biryani and hot fudge sundaes.

New releases have ground to a halt, with many producers preferring to screen their films directly on streaming platforms that boomed as the pandemic forced millions into lockdown.

But Bachchan's actor son Abhishek, whose crime caper Ludo went straight to Netflix last month, told AFP that the silver screen experience “cannot be duplicated”.

Ludo, starring Bachchan was released directly on Netflix
Ludo, starring Bachchan was released directly on Netflix

“We love our outings to the theatre; we love watching our films on the screen while eating a nice tub of popcorn, our samosas and cold drinks and going with our friends and family,” he said.

“I absolutely see theatres making a comeback and I really hope they do.” But he acknowledged that the immediate outlook appeared hazy.

“I think we are at the crossroads right now... What is that new normal going to be?”

Big bang

Although Hollywood has mooted the idea of showing films simultaneously in cinemas and on digital platforms, with Warner Bros planning to do so with all its 2021 releases, its Indian counterparts have no such plans.

Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, who is starring in AK vs AK, a black comedy out on Netflix this week, told AFP: “There are certain films that must be seen projected onto the big screen.”

“Filmmakers create content based on where their work will be seen... You have to know what size of screen your film is going to be seen on, and studios and distributors must fulfil that promise,” he said.

![ Kashyap and Kapoor in a still from AK vs AK —Photo courtesy: Film Press Journal 1

The casualties are already piling up.

A string of beloved single-screen cinemas have downed their shutters and many others are contemplating closure, film trade analyst Komal Nahta told AFP.

“It is going to be catastrophic,” he said.

And although shoots have resumed, every week throws up new cases of stars testing positive for coronavirus, forcing productions to shut down.

But as vaccine efforts pick up pace, and with eagerly-awaited films like 83 and Sooryavanshi tipped for release in cinemas next year, observers are betting on a boisterous, Bollywood-style comeback.

“How long it will take, I don't know. But it will strike back with a big, big bang,” said Nahta.

Hari Prasad Jayanna, a film director in Bangalore, agreed: “The cinema industry will be forever.”


P K Thakur Dec 24, 2020 02:21pm
The losses are irreversible in near future. Not only Bollywood but Lollywood too will take long to recover.
Anonymouseee Dec 24, 2020 02:26pm
Atleast the Indians will come out of their fake filmi world.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Dec 24, 2020 04:12pm
Bollywood needs to reinvent itself.
SATT Dec 24, 2020 04:47pm
Bollywood is ban in Pakistan.
Mishayl Paries Dec 24, 2020 05:30pm
Bollywood movies are cliches for poor writing and recycling Hollywood Needs to die before serious innovation of the genre
Chrís Dăn Dec 24, 2020 05:37pm
I wish there would be another Satya Jeet Roy on this planet. Another Dilip Kumar,another Raj Kappor and again there could be ever living movies like,Aan,Andaz,Mera Naam Jokar,Guide . Except Hollywood and Norwegian serious movie wave,all over the world art quality is deteriorated even before Covid 19.
Ali da Malanga Dec 24, 2020 05:52pm
The name "Bollywood" was coined by combining Bombay + Hollywood. The hight-wing Hindu nationalist parties had changed the name of Bombay to Mumbai in 1995. Why not call it Mollywood now? BTW, where is the originality?
Sam Dec 24, 2020 06:15pm
With zero sales in April now from cars to electronics things are flying away shelves with retailers short of stick and scoffing at Corona. For e.g. all the top-end models of Mercedes Benz cars are sold-off and the CEO of Merc apologised for having go keep its other customers waiting for more than six months as there is no stock of cars to sell right now. So if movie producers complete and release the movies people will definitely watch them as halls are opened now albeit at half-capacity with SOPs.
Deva Dec 24, 2020 07:33pm
Bollywood will be back with full swing as people are getting bored and I can guarantee once things will be clear people will spend more and change their outlook towards life
Jawwad Dec 24, 2020 08:12pm
After banning Pakistani singers and no more content to steal or copy from other countries, Bollywood is out of work of all of sudden.
Omveer Singh Dec 24, 2020 08:35pm
@Anonymouseee Why only Indians, the entire cinema business is make believe dream world world over.
RationalBabu Dec 24, 2020 09:39pm
@Jawwad just wait and watch!
T-man Dec 24, 2020 09:55pm
Who cares?
Vijay Dec 24, 2020 10:14pm
The answer is NO!
Factsmatter Dec 25, 2020 07:21am
@Ali da Malanga I understand for Pakistan every thing ends with Bollywood, quality of Indian regional language movies are much higher and relatable to daily life.
Chrís Dăn Dec 25, 2020 02:27pm
@Factsmatter there were times when definitely indian film industry was unsurpassable even for west. Mumbai industry had stya jeet Roy on one side to bring forth serious topics in human life ,on the other hand there were actors like Dilip,Raj,DevAnand,Madhu Bala,Meena jeeetc &then there was poetry of Sahir,Gulzar,Javed-with singers like Lata jee,Ashajee,Rafi,Kishore etc. They faded away. After angry young man,Amitabh who represented street man in sub continent,we lost the plot. All greatness is in past. Culture is in melting pot &we have to await now.