Bollywood filmmakers rush to register coronavirus-related titles

This isn't the first time the Indian film industry has been seen as opportunistic

epa08292085 An Indian worker sanitizes an auditorium of Delite Diamond cinema hall after it is temporarily shut down as the precautionary measure for Coronavirus COVID19 in New Delhi, India, 13 March 2020. To stringent measures in regard to international travel, all existing visas issued to nationals of any country except those issued to diplomats, officials, UN/International organizations, employment, project visas stand suspended until 15 April 2020 and all incoming travelers including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15 February 2020 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days in view of 81 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India and the advisory will come into effect at 12:00 hours GMT on 13 March, at the port of departure.  EPA/RAJAT GUPTA
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Bollywood filmmakers have scrambled to get their hands on film titles related to the coronavirus pandemic, as India takes preventative measures to slow the pandemic's spread.

Long before the country went into a drastic 21-day lockdown, which started yesterday, Bollywood had pre-emptively ceased operations.

On Saturday, March 15, the film industry’s five top bodies — Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA) and four others —made a joint announcement that all films and TV and web shows would stop production until Tuesday, March 31, and film units all around the world were to return home within three days.

However, in the days leading up to the shutdown, the IMPPA offices saw a flurry of activity, with production houses and filmmakers rushing to register movie titles that referenced the coronavirus in some way — all in the hopes that it would pique the audience’s interest enough to bring them flocking to the theatre when things are back to normal.

An IMPPA source told The National on condition of anonymity that several had already been registered and they had received inquiries about at least a half-dozen more, and the number would likely go up once work resumes.

Two names that are already floating around are Corona Pyaar Hai (a play on the Amisha Patel and Hrithik Roshan 2000 blockbuster hit Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai) and Deadly Corona. While it is currently not known who owns the rights to Deadly Corona, Eros International has confirmed that it has registered Corona Pyaar Hai, and that the film — a love story set in the time of the pandemic — is currently being scripted, with production to begin soon after the situation stabilises.

Corona Pyaar Hai and Deadly Corona might be in the early stages of production, but they're not the only ones.

“Anything that emotionally affects the common man is an opportunity in Bollywood. Producers are always looking for ways to make the audience curious about a film,” said the IMPPA source.

Not a first for Bollywood

If that seems — at least somewhat — like emotionally exploitative behaviour, this wouldn't be the first time Bollywood has been accused of it. Just last year, after the abrogation of Article 370 stripped the state of Jammu and Kashmir of the autonomy to frame its own laws, film associations reported requests for registration of titles such as Article 370, Article 370 Abolished, Kashmir Mein Tiranga, Kashmir Hamara Hai and more.

Vicky Kaushal in Uri: The Surgical Strike. Courtesy RSVPMovies
Vicky Kaushal in 'Uri: The Surgical Strike', which is based on the 2016 attacks on the Indian Army’s headquarters in Uri. Courtesy RSVPMovies

Earlier that year, the Pulwama terror attacks saw the same pattern, with producers clamouring to register names with Pulwama, Balakot, ‘attack’ and ‘surgical strike’ in them. The most widely criticised case was in 2008, when mere days after the deadly Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed almost 200 people, the then-Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was photographed visiting one of the hostage sites — the ravaged Taj hotel — with filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma and his actor son Riteish Deshmukh, sparking rumours the duo were researching an upcoming film on the subject.

With the tremendous success of films like 2019 hit Uri: The Surgical Strike, based on the 2016 attacks on the Indian Army's headquarters in Uri, it's unlikely that Bollywood will abandon this "formula" any time soon.