Monday, June 21, 2021

Covid-19 second wave: Bollywood production houses try for mass vaccines, no luck

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After the second round of lockdown due to the second wave of Covid crisis, getting back to work in Bollywood might require more than just a negative report, with the industry looking at widespread vaccination drive as a step towards restarting activities. In fact, the game of vaccine scramble has already begun.

Though the Maharashtra government has temporarily suspended vaccination for 18-44 group, there are many production houses that are looking at procuring vaccines in bulk for their staff. This comes after several actors, including Madhuri Dixit Nene, Anil Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar, Radhika Madan and Riteish Deshmukh, get their vaccine shot.

Actor Tamannaah Bhatia feels it’ll not only enable the industry to churn out more content to keep viewers entertained as they stay indoors, but also support daily wagers.

“There are many daily wage workers who’re badly affected right now, and they’re the ones who actually need the livelihood more than anyone else. From an industry perspective, it’ll help them get back on their feet and keep economic activity going,” says the actor, calling it a win-win for all, and hopeful that “the government, in due course of time, will address this”.

According to Shibasish Sarkar, CEO, Reliance Entertainment, it is “impossible” to think about getting back to work without vaccination.

“One thing is clear… there’s no permanent solution to it, unless you can get your team vaccinated and come back to work. Because this time, we learnt that unlike last year, the virus is also affecting the young population,” shares Sarkar, revealing that they’re also looking at procuring vaccines for the whole crew of their productions.

As vaccination drive picks up for all above 18 in India amid the rising uncertainties owing to the pandemic, some players of the industry have started to put out appeals to the Maharashtra government, urging them to let them get industry members and workers inoculated.

While the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA) has written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to set up a vaccination centre for its members, Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) also has requested the state government to provide vaccines for its artists, workers and technicians.

Yash Raj Films (YRF) head honcho Aditya Chopra has requested the chief minister to allow the company to purchase 30,000 vaccines for daily workers, while filmmaker Anubhav Sinha sometime back tweeted about his desire to get his team vaccinated.

And that’s being projected as the need of the hour. Breaking it down, Sarkar explains, “Without vaccination, it’ll be extremely difficult to restart the activity. Last year, when the productions were allowed, everyone got to work without thinking about the impact of the second wave and how deadly it can be. But, now, with these memories of the second wave, it’ll be irresponsible and risky to think that things are normal and get 200-400 people under one studio unless they’re all vaccinated.”

Along with mass vaccination, one stop vaccine centre is also important, points out JD Majethia, Chairman, TV division of IFTPC.

“We’ve written to the government to make a centre in Film City, so it becomes easy for people to get access to vaccines, and they know where to come. We’re hoping to hear back from them soon,” he asserts.

Nitin Tej Ahuja, CEO of Producers Guild of India, is also working on creating camps for film industry members.

“We’ve been in talks with various government departments and private bodies to facilitate dedicated mass vaccination camps for film fraternity. Besides, we’re building a database of film personnel who’re eligible and willing to take their shots,” Ahuja shares.

No ‘shortage’ of roadblocks

Though vaccination might seem as a potential way out, many point that the scarcity of the life saving drug is making it a tough path.

“Today, availability of vaccines is the biggest challenge. We’ve been talking directly with the manufacturers, hospitals and even laboratories, to get access to it. We haven’t been able to get it, but we’re trying to see if we can get a certain level of quantum, which can cover our staff,” Sarkar says.

To this, BN Tiwari, President of Federation of Western Indian Cine Employees, adds, “The shortage is the biggest problem abhi. Ussi wajah se kafi aur log bhi ruke hue hain. We hope to get clarity on getting stock till May end. In fact, I might ask Salman Khan to also pitch for vaccination.”

That said, lyricist Javed Akhtar stresses that vaccination doesn’t mean letting go of other safety precautions.

“It can become safer to work when everybody is vaccinated. But even after the jab, theres no guarantee that nothing will happen to you, so one has to be careful,” he cautions.

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