With multiple OTT platforms and a mimimalist approach to filmmaking, the entertainment industry kept creating content despite 2020’s challenges
Imagine a filmmaker sitting in one part of Chennai, and directing actors performing sequences in another neighbourhood. In any other year, we would have laughed about this, but 2020 made it a reality.
Imagine a family gathered in front of their smart TV on a Friday to watch its matinee idol’s latest film, barely minutes after its release. In another year, we would have scoffed at this scenario, but again, 2020 made it a reality.
Filmmaking has radically changed post the pandemic, with writers conceptualising lighter subjects that involve a minimum number of actors and production crew. While several industries have faced the repercussions of the pandemic, the film industry has managed to hold its own despite the numerous challenges posed. MetroPlus tracks down the movers and shakers of South Indian cinema who have been up and about working on films even as we sat at home watching them:
This year got us back to survival mode and made us realise that we do not need many things in life. Buying expensive cars and grand dinner outings became meaningless. For me, the most exciting part of this year was making a short film for Putham Pudhu Kalaai. It was an anthology, which meant that I was making a short film not knowing what other filmmakers were doing. All I knew was it would be about half hour, and I wrote something and tried to execute it despite COVID-19 restrictions.
I worked with an ultra-slim crew, and that sort of took me back to my film institute days where I worked Alpine-style… basically telling a story with a very limited crew. Just like how we went back to basics in life, we went back to basics in filmmaking as well. With 2020 affecting many industries like hospitality and airlines, I consider myself fortunate to be in the entertainment industry and engage in some sort of creative work. I continued teaching filmmaking at Mindscreen Film Institute too this year.
None of us will forget 2020 because of the pandemic. I’m someone who tries to find something good when the going gets tough. This year was huge for me because I got married. Professionally, two of my films are complete — Haathi Mere Saathi and Virata Parvam — and a new project has gone on floors.
The pandemic made us gaze into the future and make shorter format content and facilitate alternative music with the launch of digital platform South Bay (southbay.live and on YouTube). We had the idea of South Bay for years and the pandemic accelerated it.
Though content took front seat in 2020, we found a gap. There was very little subculture-based content. So we decided to use mainstream talent to create alternative content — animation, chat shows, music, news (Under 25 News) and a quiz show (The Nation Wants to Know). The ‘Why are You?’ series is our attempt to curate something alternative like the Mad comics.
It has been a watershed year for me as a filmmaker because I had three releases that were starkly different from each other. From January to March, I was overloaded with work, shooting and working on post-production of Tamil short film Thangam (part of Paava Kadhaigal on Netflix) and Soorarai Pottru. My delivery dates for both was end of March, and I was very tired. But then COVID-19 and lockdown arrived. I was initially relieved that it gave me extra time, but the following months of uncertainty was depressing. It was then that I was approached for a lockdown short film (Putham Pudhu Kaalai). It was a huge challenge pulling it off, because we had strict safety regulations and restrictions. It was a rough blueprint of what is going to happen going forward. I remember shooting Thangam, with a 180-member crew earlier this year, and now we are talking about shooting full-fledged feature films with a 40-member crew! As filmmakers, we have started thinking of more contained, smaller, location-safe films or getting a big crew into a bio bubble sort of arrangement.
After the huge success of Kumbalangi Nights (2019), I had some interesting offers and was working on them when the lockdown was announced. I assumed it would be for a short period, but when it was extended, I was worried but subsequently, decided to look ahead.
I completed a short film, K-nowledge, that I scripted and directed. Soon afterwards, Halal Love Story, which was completed before the lockdown came in as an OTT release. Suhara, my character, became a hit and so did the film.
Once shooting began with restrictions, I started working on Kanakam, Kamini, Kalaham with Nivin Pauly in the lead. Working on this film, directed by Ratheesh Balakrishnan Pothuval, was a completely new experience because all of us had to take tests for COVID-19 before and after shoot.
Make-up for the actors was done by professionals in PPE kits and we had our masks on till the minute it was time to face the camera. Once our shot was over, we would rush to sanitise our hands. After the day’s shoot, the unit would ensure everything was sanitised and ready for the next day. I guess it is going to be like this for some time… we will have to get used to it.
Pre-pandemic, I thought I would have two theatrical releases in 2020. When the pandemic set in, everything looked grim. However, the bright side was getting to spend time with family from March to May. It was as though Vijay (Deverakonda) and I were home for summer holidays after boarding school. It was good to slow down from the rat race. But eventually I was anxious to know what would become of my film Middle Class Melodies. We were confident of the output and after the digital release, got overwhelming response from both Telugu speaking and non-Telugu viewers from other States. It reinforced the belief that people will appreciate stories that are close to reality.
(With inputs from Saraswathy Nagarajan and Sangeetha Devi Dundoo)