The man behind the bustle is television producer Sumeet Mittal, promoter of Shashi Sumeet Productions, who has resumed shooting his drama series Barrister Babu aired on Hindi general entertainment channel Colors. The daily show that revolves around a child bride fighting societal norms to educate herself aided by her progressive husband, returned to the small screen on 6 July, after a three-month break forced by covid-19 induced lockdown.
For Mittal, who is also backing Shubharambh, another female-driven narrative, on the same channel, the last two weeks have been a manic phase of ensuring his cast and crew’s safety, winning their confidence and delivering fresh episodes to audiences starved of television content.
“We’ve got our basic technical unit to stay on and around the set for them to avoid commute and contact with outsiders,” Mittal said, speaking to Mint over the phone. However, the director and actors are still arriving on sets daily from their own homes. Barrister Babu features an ensemble cast including Aurra Bhatnagar, Pravisht Mishra, Arina Dey, Chandan K Anand and others.
Even though there are 40 people on the set at a time, Mittal’s team is following protocols mandated by the government to resume shooting. For the lightmen and spotboys, all arrangements have been made on premises, including food, bedding, laundry and fans.
Further, team members are encouraged to carry out body temperature checks on a daily basis and post them on a common WhatsApp group. While the actors themselves are shooting round the clock and were unavailable to speak for this report, in several cases, they are sent their make-up kits in advance and asked to do their own faces before coming on sets. Footwear is available outside the main studio and slippers are used to walk around the set. Interactions between actors are discouraged, readings and rehearsals minimized and masks are worn immediately after every shot.
“Each artiste is given a separate room where they wait between shots, get dressed and have meals that they get from home. These, along with the main set, are sanitized four to five times a day,” said Hari Kishan Das, a spot boy working on Mittal’s sets adding that the actors work in 12-hour shifts from 7 am to 7 pm. The main set currently is of a home and the entire crew strength ranges between 35-40.
Production heads for Mittal’s company said the workers hadn’t anticipated they would be away from sets for so long. When the government disallowed film, TV and web shoots in the middle of March, most employees, including daily wage earners like spotboys, dressmen and make-up personnel, thought they would be home until the end of March, at best. The past few months have been a tumultuous time riddled with uncertainty about their employment and future with most just longing to resume work.
“Initially, there was this basic fear,” Mittal admitted about getting back to work but once the team was on set and realised there were adequate arrangements in place, things have gone smoothly. Apart from safety and hygiene protocols, the Maharashtra government had also placed a restriction on the number of people allowed on sets as part of the extensive guidelines it had laid out in June. Only 30% of Mittal’s erstwhile crew has returned for now. However, the producer said he is not pushing the team to shoot more than they ordinarily would.
“We are sticking to the timelines, creating a pressure-free environment, keeping a tab on the daily influx of people on the sets, and ensuring the same set of people are working together to keep risks at bay,” Manisha Sharma, chief content officer, Hindi mass entertainment, Viacom18 that owns the Colors channel said. “Regular fumigation of sets, access to medical services, placement of sanitizers, usage of N95 masks, regular temperature checks, and other necessary protocols are being followed by everyone.”
Sharma admitted the pace of production is slower than pre-covid times across shows such as Barrister Babu, Choti Sarrdaarni, Shubharambh and Pavitra Bhagya that Colors has brought back as they are working keeping in mind strict safety protocols. The current week is a flashpoint for the Indian TV industry in general with popular shows restarting across channels. Sony Pictures Networks India says it will be back with weekday fiction offerings like Mere Dad Ki Dulhan and Crime Patrol and India’s Best Dancer and The Kapil Sharma Show on the weekends on SET. Sony SAB will telecast new episodes of Maddam Sir, Bhakharwadi and Tera Kya Hoga Alia. Zee TV brings Kumkum Bhagya, Kundali Bhagya and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil Champs while Star Plus returns with Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Kasautii Zindagii Kay, Yeh Rishtey Hain Pyaar Ke and Yeh Hai Chahatein.
“As people are getting accustomed to the new norms, things are getting better and we are able to work with fewer hiccups. But we have factored in the lag and production pace before putting fresh episodes on air,” Sharma said.