The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdowns have taken the light out of everyone’s life and film folks are no exception, finds Mayukh Majumdar.
The deadly COVID-19 pandemic has brought regular life to a standstill and while its physical effects are quite well known, not much is spoken about the adverse emotional and mental issues it has caused so far. With movie theatres shutting down due to the lockdowns, the film industry has taken a massive blow and so have the members of the film fraternity. Many have tested positive for the novel coronavirus during the second wave and others have lost projects and money. They say you don’t understand the value of something till you’ve lost it and our stars agree. We reached out to a few about the changes that COVID-19 has brought in their life and how it has affected them. Excerpts…
The lockdown helped Parineeti Chopra introspect about her life and career and the roles she wants to take up in the future. While she states that she has been “very bad” at keeping up with her fitness regime, she has learnt to cook. “I genuinely didn’t even know how to boil water and I had to learn from the basics. I surprise myself now when after a hectic day I call over a friend for dinner even if I’m not having it myself. I like to spend that half an hour in the kitchen preparing something silly for my friends. I never imagined that cooking would be de-stressing for me,” she says.
Swara Bhasker was working on her project, Jahaan Chaar Yaar in Goa when her co-star, Meher Vij, tested positive for COVID-19. A day before the news broke, Swara told us that it was a crazy time to be working because of the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. “Everyone’s masked up except the actors. You’re so cautious and sanitising constantly. On the sets, we have temperature regulators and people keep sanitising everyone’s hands. We’re hearing about so many cases so everyone on the sets is on edge and on high alert. That carefree and fun nature of shoots is gone,” she enumerated. She also spoke about simple things that COVID-19 has taken away like the hug you give someone after meeting them after a year or so. She said that during her conversations with members of the film fraternity, COVID-19 is a recurring topic and everyone is trying to figure things out. Said she, “My earnings for the last financial year were less than the previous years but I’ve been fortunate because I’ve been working.”
Jacqueline Fernandes’s Ram Setu co-star, Akshay Kumar tested positive as did a few other cast members. In an interview with ETimes, the actress says that her parents constantly worry for her. “I think in 2020, the outbreak of the virus shocked everyone. This time around, while we were under-prepared for the second wave, people came out in large numbers to actively help those in distress,” she points out adding, “My friends from Sri Lanka and my parents, who live in Bahrain, watch the news and panic when they see the situation in India. My parents desperately want me to live with them in Bahrain… even my uncles and cousins in Sri Lanka are asking me to come and stay with them. However, I am pretty intent on staying put here and continuing the work I am doing.”
Raveena Tandon is concerned about her kids, Ranbir and Rasha. She feels they’re losing out on traditional schooling and a normal childhood. The actress is also not happy with the way the online classes are being conducted. “Unfortunately, they are spending a lot of time online which I really don’t like. School gets over at 4 PM but they’re making them do extracurricular activities online which, I think, is such a waste because children should take a break and do something in their own home. They’re making them do stuff like cooking classes online, no practical stuff. They’re sitting in front of a laptop and watching everything. Instead, they should tell them that this is an extracurricular activity. Take a break and shut your computer, read a book and tell us what you read in that book or play a game and describe the game or go and plant a tree. I would have done that,” she says. Because of this, Raveena has initiated some lifestyle changes to ensure that her children are happy and occupied. “For example, once their schooling and tuition are over, we play pictionary. This past one year has been a complete pleasure where we’ve been at home with each other and it’s brought so many families closer. I’m getting them to do things around the house like gardening and getting them to be with our pets. Everyone is pitching in, washing and cleaning. I’m also teaching them to cook.”
The actor has taken this time off to work on his physique. “Last year, I really reached rock bottom with my fitness. Once Made In Heaven Season 2 was starting, I put in work because my character, Karan Mehra, is fit. Now, I think I’m using the excuse of Made In Heaven to reach my personal fitness peak. You feel good and you feel confident and it plays into your general psychology. It’s important for my mental health to stay fit. With the lockdown now, one of the ways for me to not spiral mentally is to keep myself physically fit,” he says. The actor had bought a new home last year and all his savings have been spent on it. “Just before lockdown, I’d just finished breaking down the walls of the home. It was under renovation when the lockdown happened and then, I was broke. I do not know how but through small projects during the lockdown, as of today, I’m in a comfortable space again.”
Sanjana Sanghi says that it was definitely difficult to re-orient herself with the current scenario. “As actors, our schedules are super hectic, thrown in with tons of travel and no set routine. The biggest change that COVID’s brought with both the lockdowns is the ability to experience the stillness, to be in one place. No one saw the ferocity of the second wave. I’m sure it’s challenging to re-orient all of us. But as artistes, the importance of spending time recuperating creatively needs to be emphasised more. The chance to revisit all of one’s learnings, reading (both scripts and books), engaging with content from all over the world is important to our process and now we’re getting ample time to do that,” she reflects.
Shweta Tripathi Sharma
Shweta Tripathi Sharma tested positive for COVID-19 during the second wave. “I love being on set and my Madhya Pradesh schedule for Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein was just about to begin and my team and I were excited. When I tested positive, I was supposed to be in MP and I felt really bad. My first call was to my director. I told him that I was so sorry because what happens is that there is so much money at stake and there are dates that need to be reshuffled and all the plans go for a toss. Thankfully, we managed the shoot later. During my quarantine period, I thought I’ll watch a lot of shows and read a lot of books but when you’re doing it out of choice, it’s different and when you’re doing it because all you have on your hands is time, it’s not fun anymore. The isolation period was tough. My husband also tested positive and we were together so that was special. However, I lost my sense of taste and smell and I had fever. My appetite had also increased so I was eating a lot,” she reveals.
Rasika Dugal is still holding onto the hope that the “old normal” is not a thing of the past yet. “Life has changed completely in the last year and a half. There is a new normal which we are all trying to come to terms with. One that is defined by uncertainty and fear. And one in which real-life is lived virtually. After all, who would have thought that one could shoot a short film on a Google Meet call, perform a play on Zoom, promote shows and films online. I have done all that in the last year. While I am amazed by how quickly people can adapt and pivot to accommodate a new way of being, I do hope the ‘ old normal’ is not a thing of nostalgia yet,” she muses. The pandemic has caused Rasika severe mental stress, especially because of all the pain and suffering around. “The pain of witnessing helplessness, suffering and loss is not easy for anyone. With the collapse of most systems, I constantly worry about whether I will be able to take care of myself and of people around me. The nagging questions never end: Am I being responsible? How responsible is responsible enough? How can I help in a meaningful way? Am I doing enough? Life around us has changed pretty quickly and the mind may or may not always be upto that speed. I am being patient with mine and taking a day at a time,” she points out.
In October last year, Gurmeet Choudhary and his wife, Debina Bonnerjee tested positive for COVID-19. Says the actor, “The quarantine phase was quite a life-changing experience for me. I discovered a lot about myself and started valuing my surroundings, my family, all those around me, pretty much my life in general. There are so many things that we humans take for granted, for example something as simple as the sensation of taste or smell. It was a very tough phase that we all went through, and I tried to divert my mind by reading books and watching varied types of movies and web shows. I started practising meditation which was so refreshing mentally and physically. Due to our busy schedules, I never got enough time to spend with my wife Debina and given the lockdown I finally could undo that. I had ample time to discover my partner and spend quality time with her. We started doing activities together like reading books, watching movies, working out and motivating others on our social media platforms towards positivity and awareness to combat the tough times.” He also has been actively helping people with resources and information. “It’s my duty, we have to help each other. Sonu Sood has really inspired me. Whenever I help someone, they ask me what they can do for me in return. I just tell them that they should go ahead and help five other people,” he adds.
“That time seems a thing of the past when you could meet everyone freely and work in a free atmosphere. It seems like another time and another place. Now, there is uncertainty in the air. There’s a lot of anxiety knowing how the migrant population was suffering last time and how people were suffering for oxygen cylinders, beds and health issues this time. Most of my friends and family have gone through it and it’s been a traumatic time. The sense of planning has completely gone. We’ve started adjusting everything according to COVID-19,” says the Criminal Justice actress.
Instead of stressing about work, Daisy Shah has taken to other media formats to keep herself occupied like her YouTube channel and her social media accounts. “When it comes to affecting my lifestyle, it has impacted me in a way I never imagined. It has made me realise that it’s okay to slow down in life and take it easy. It’s okay to take some time out for yourself and your family. You don’t have to be on the run always. Slowing down is something I have learnt during this lockdown and it was a valuable lesson.”
When Amyra Dastur tested positive for COVID-19 last year, she was extremely frightened. “It was really hard initially, especially when the period of lockdown kept getting extended. It felt like normal was going further and further away. I’m not the most tech-savvy person so this shooting from home and auditioning on zoom calls was very hard for me mentally. I just felt grateful that these silly things were my problems. I saw how the lockdown affected so many people devastatingly because of the charities I worked with through this time. I made a promise to always give back something whenever I get a pay cheque.” She was most worried about her father who is the medical director at Mumbai’s Bhatia Hospital. “He was going to work everyday from the beginning of the pandemic. I moved back to my parents house in April 2020 to just be there for him and for my mom who was also getting stressed because Dad is 67 years old. I’m really proud of my dad for sticking it through and really managing things in such scary times,” she adds.
When asked how he has coped with the pandemic financially, the actor says that it is indeed been difficult to adjust to this situation. “We’re all in this boat together and we will overcome such situations united, that’s what was going through my mind. The main priority during this time is everyone’s health and how people are coping with it. The suffering that people endured, the health issues, the situation that daily wage workers and frontline workers are in… I really couldn’t think of anything else at that moment. The times are tough given that it’s risky to even step out of the house right now.”
“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our lifestyle and it’s a 180-degree turnaround in that sense. It’s really changed the way we look at life right now. It’s scary because the scare is not just about yourself but also about giving it to the ones you love. That, I think, is the main mental stress that one faces at the moment,” he says. The actor also feels grateful that he has a big enough space wherein he can separate his office and his home. So that he can work from home and also spend time with his wife without both of them feeling claustrophobic.
Chandan Roy Sanyal
Chandan faced considerable financial stress last year. “Just before the lockdown, I spent a lot of money renovating my house. I almost spent everything considering there is work and I thought that money would come, but my cash dried up in a week. I got into a little bit of a mess, financially. If I had known, I wouldn’t have spent so much money on my house. I’m somehow surviving on my savings that I had forgotten about. The Rs 2000 or 3000 that I‘d saved every month came handy.”
Akshay Oberoi says that COVID-19 has affected his lifestyle the same way it has affected pretty much everyone else which is the social aspect of it – being unable to meet people and having to wear masks. He’s currently not working due to the lockdown and hence, he’s gone to the US to spend some time with his in-laws in New Jersey. “I love acting and here I am, months on end, not being able to act. It’s starting to feel like I’ve lost an arm or a piece of myself. It’s definitely not easy to cope with that. Just the fact that I’m not able to act is frustrating,” he says, adding, “Luckily, I’ve been working long enough and I had some savings and my wife works so we were all good. I can’t sit here and complain because we are able to ride the wave just fine. So far we’re okay and my heart really goes out to people who aren’t able to do so.”