Heritage Indian production house Pooja Entertainment has claimed that it is the first studio globally and across any film industry to complete a feature film shoot from start to finish during the coronavirus pandemic. Starring Bollywood actor , the espionage thriller ‘Bellbottom’ claims to have successfully wrapped its Covid-proof filming schedule and released a new poster and a teaser to pique audience interest ahead of its release scheduled for April 2021.
Pooja Entertainment Founder Vashu Bhagnani has now handed the stewardship to next-generation producers Jackky Bhagnani and Deepshikha Deshmukh, who the studio says pushed the creative envelope by completing the retro-themed whodunit ‘Bellbottom’ with two proof schedules in Scotland and England. The film is directed by Ranjit M Tewari and written by Aseem Arrora and Parveez Shaikh stars Akshay Kumar, Vaani Kapoor, Huma Qureshi and Lara Dutta Bhupathi.
Jackky Bhagnani says: "The ‘Bellbottom’ shoot was a challenge, but it makes the film even more special for all of us because what we saw unfolding was pure, cinematic magic. There is a significant number of people dependent on the film industry so it was important that we restart the industry engines during the pandemic.
“Completing this film without a single case of ill-health reported on set was a big relief and it was important for us to show the world that it is possible to do what seems impossible with proper preparation and meticulous planning. I hope our example boosts industry morale and lifts spirits. And yes, I hope, it encourages more makers across the global film industry to start rolling the cameras with confidence."
The safety protocols observed by the team included a chartered plane for over 200 members of the cast and production crew, a mandatory two-week quarantine in Scotland, on-set sanitisation precautions for everyone, including foreign junior artists on assorted locations. Social distancing, medical-grade masks and face shields, hand sanitisation stations, painstaking cleaning of all touch-sensitive surfaces, a mandatory wristwatch for all cast and crew members to constantly monitor their oxygen levels, body temperature, blood pressure, stress levels and pulse were part of the daily shoot. There was also a centralised dashboard constantly recording the parameters of the entire unit.
Akshay Kumar notes: "The new normal has made us realise a different way of working that none of us could have imagined. As much as I’ve been happy to be back on the sets, it's also important for us to take care of everything around us. Pooja Entertainment laid down a water-tight safety plan for our shooting schedule in Scotland and England. These measures helped us accomplish a smooth and safe shoot.
“We were extremely glad to be able to start shooting for ‘Bellbottom’ after the long lockdown. I hope this encourages film industries globally to do what they do best and start entertaining audiences again. I hope our shoot during the pandemic reassures others that it’s time to get things moving again.”
Co-star Vaani Kapoor said: "This was easily among the smoothest productions that I have been a part of. I was concerned about how it was going to play out, given the fear and health concerns but I must thank and congratulate Pooja Entertainment for the fantastic planning and the attention to detail. I hope this gives encouragement and confidence to other people back home to shoot."
During the shoot, the film found itself in the company of a handful of international, mega-budget films that got back on the floors during the pandemic such as 's ‘Mission: Impossible 7’ and ‘Jurassic Park: Dominion’, but was the first to race to the finishing line.
Producer Deepshikha Deshmukh adds: "It feels wonderful to have completed the shoot and releasing the is a celebration of what we achieved collectively. We were eager to share it with everyone more as a means of motivation and as a reassurance to audiences that the industry is back in business.
“What was heartening was not just that we got the artists back on the sets but also industry professionals involved in the process of filmmaking."
The result was a seamless completion of the film within 60 days, even with a two-week quarantine thrown in. This was done with full compliance with the standard operating procedures issued by the Scotland Film Commission, the studio stressed.
Pooja Entertainment had a good start to 2020 with ‘Jawaani Jaaneman’ and as a production house, it claims to always be drawn to content-driven films with interesting storylines. Their next ready for release is Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan's ‘Coolie No.1’ and it has also announced the remake of the iconic ‘Burning Train’, which is yet to go on floors.