The opening of one of this year's most awaited Bollywood flicks, Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey, had everything going for it -- lurid headlines of an off-screen romance between the two lead actors, a chart-topping soundtrack, and a release on Independence Day weekend (August 14). The anticipation was palpable. But now, three days before release, the anticipation has been infected -- by the H1N1 virus. As swine flu cases in India multiply, the government is warning people against visiting public spaces like movie theatres. Whether the year's most awaited film, slotted for the year's most coveted weekend will suffer a setback or not, is a consideration that Bollywood can't brush off.
Even as some trade analysts say that the buzz around Kaminey will trump the epidemic scare, the government has already shut down multiplexes in Pune, the eighth largest city in India, where the first swine flu fatality was recorded. A spokesperson for one of the multiplexes told a daily, "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on potential losses. Public health comes first and we must support attempts to safeguard it." While film company executives diplomatically skirt weekend collection comments, they aren't afraid to acknowledge that if the condition in Indian metros worsen, and multiplexes in Pune continue to remain shut, it could potentially affect the film's opening. Big Pictures' Sourabh Verma said in an interview, "Pune is a rare market where the 9 am shows work as well as the 9 pm shows, all thanks to the huge student population you have there." The cast and crew however, remain positive, saying in various dialogues with the media that the virus will not affect the movie's fate.
But the Hindi film industry isn't just anxious about this weekend's releases. Bollywood's been tested and the results are in -- it's showing sure-shot signs of swine flu fear. Celebrities are blogging about their worries, film shoots are being cancelled and trade analysts are speculating about how Bollywood's numbers will be affected.
Just a few days ago, Indian filmmaker/producer Karan Johar cancelled a two-day shoot for his upcoming film Kurbaan, which was to take place in Pune. Even though he'd flown in a 180-member crew for the shoot, the producer decided to postpone plans after the news told of fresh swine flu cases in the city. Also being cautious is superstar Salman Khan, who was scheduled to shoot for a period drama Veer, at Pune's agricultural college. Reports now say that the scenes will be shot in a Mumbai studio, despite the additional costs for the producer.
Others, who aren't affected financially, are invested emotionally. Superstar Amitabh Bachchan, known to be one of Bollywood's most prolific bloggers wrote online, "This has been causing extreme alarm throughout not just Delhi but the entire country. Panic is worse than the cause at times and I would like to believe that that is what needs to be addressed first."
Trade expert Taran Adarsh stated that even during floods people went out to watch movies in movie theatres. Sure. Natural disasters may not have been able to come between fans and their flicks in the past, but Bollywood is realising that the current swine flu outbreak is nothing to sneeze at.
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