June Diaries: Entertainment in Covid Times

11 Jun,2021

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorGoing by official numbers at least, the worst of the second Covid wave in India is now behind us. The wave has scarred many families forever, and with a vaccination programme that is struggling to gather momentum, a third wave is not ruled out by experts. But for now, life goes on, and different states are cautiously opening up in phases.

 

The April-May period has impacted the Indian entertainment business considerably. Those dependent on advertising revenues suffered more, with even digital advertising showing a sharp drop, judging by industry estimates. But it’s the content side that has been impacted across the board.

 

With Maharashtra announcing a stringent lockdown, Hindi GEC content production was impacted. Unlike last year, channels could travel to states that have less stringent lockdowns and record there, which they indeed did. At one point in early May, about six Hindi GEC shows had their stories set in a resort. This includes the two big hit shows in the category currently: Anupamaa and Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah. Many others played out of hotels and resorts, but passed them off as homes and kept the story running as normally as they could. Not an easy task, given that almost all shows had a part of their cast unavailable because of a Covid infection.

 

In the entire months of April and May, there was only one show launch in the Hindi GEC category (Sasural Simar Ka 2 on Colors), an unprecedented low by a wide margin. Regional languages had about four to eight show launches per language over the two months, but that’s lower than their running average too. Under normal circumstances, the IPL cancellation would have been a great opportunity to launch new shows, especially those on the weekend. But then, there would have been no IPL cancellation to begin with, if there was no second wave.

 

The theatrical business has bled the most over the last 14 months. Theatres will re-open in the coming weeks, though it remains to be seen how many single screens have permanently shut down. The first quarter of this calendar year had seen huge footfalls for the marquee films in Telugu and Tamil languages, and one hopes that sentiment is reflected in the Hindi markets too this summer.

 

It may seem that all’s well with the streaming category, with more audience locked down at home. But if you notice carefully, the number of launches on the top platforms have reduced. This impact of the constricted content pipeline will continue to be felt over the next six months in both streaming and theatrical sectors.

 

June has got off to a good start, with a smasher of a show in The Family Man S2. One hopes that it’s a sign of things to come in the coming weeks. The other big event this June is the final of the World Test Championship, where India plays New Zealand from June 18. The event has not been hyped up by the media so far, but wait for another week and you will see it becoming the big distraction from the pandemic, especially if India wins the title.

 

But keeping nationalism aside, World Test Championship is a great idea, and though the first edition has been curtailed because of the pandemic, it’s great to see it find a logical conclusion, and to see India featuring in the final. One would have liked to see the game being played at a full house at Lord’s, but in these difficult times, an empty stadium at Southampton will do just fine.

 

 

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