Art & culture on pause: Snowball effect of coronavirus brings world of entertainment to a standstill

The snowball effect across the worlds of fashion, cinema, tourism, entertainment — and sports — has brought the global attention and concern over the coronavirus outbreak to our doorsteps.
Coronavirus hits Tokyo (AP Photo/Jae C Hong)
Coronavirus hits Tokyo (AP Photo/Jae C Hong)

It was at the Paris Fashion Week, in the first week of March, that things literally got out of hand, when it came to the aspect of human interaction and physical contact. 

By then, the French government had banned indoor public gatherings of more than a few thousand people, and even recommended that people no longer greet each other with the conventional air kisses and pecks on the cheek. 

The Paris Fashion Week, of course, wasn’t about to cancel its ramp walks, and luxury brands like Chanel said it would simply go ahead and live stream their shows. And the guests came up with an innovative way to greet each other — they called it the ‘elbow touch’. Talk about taking matters into your own hands.

Closer home, Bollywood superstar Salman Khan had an even better suggestion — one that served a nationalistic ideal too. The star actor spoke to his fans and endorsed the idea of greeting people in ‘the Indian way’ — with a namaste or salaam, rather than shaking hands or hugging.

In far-off Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed his support to the idea of greeting people with folded hands.

On the cricket field, meanwhile, England captain Joe Root announced that his teammates would not shake hands during their upcoming tour of Sri Lanka, and would instead greet each other with fist bumps. 

All of this led to the rise of two paralysing emotions over the outbreak: fear and panic. Two emotions that have gripped people across the globe like a noose being tightened every day, every minute. 

At the start of 2020, the terms ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’ were as-yet unfamiliar to most of us. But in just over three months, the virus outbreak seems likely to set all of humankind on fire. 

While the virus had surely affected the primary need for human touch and exchange at the most basic level, it seemed to be only the beginning of a long and frightful nightmare.

<em>A Roberto Cavalli store in Milan, Italy (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) </em>
A Roberto Cavalli store in Milan, Italy (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) 

High-profile attention
A few days before, at the Milan Fashion Week, the fashion crowds had put on a defiant face — with many of them seen seated along the ramps with snugly fitted masks, not that they did much to add to the crowd’s overall style quotient. 

But then, Giorgio Armani made a last-minute decision to stream his new collection from an empty theatre, out of concern for the health of his guests. By then, the alarm bells had begun to ring.

Later that day, officials in Lombardy, Italy shut down theatres, cinemas and other venues like discos and pubs, as confirmed cases in the country jumped to at least 152.

And officials in Venice took the unprecedented step of cancelling the famed carnival celebrations — a drastic measure that left all of the season’s tourism effectively crippled.

The fact of the matter is also this — the attention and concerns surrounding the coronavirus might not have turned as many heads if it weren’t for such a turn of events at as high-profile events as the Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks.

Giorgio Armani went on to express a deep sense of long-term uncertainty. “We don’t know when we will be able to breathe a sigh of relief,” said the designer.

<em>A fashion store in Milan, Italy (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)</em>
A fashion store in Milan, Italy (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Ferruccio Ferragamo, son of the late Salvatore Ferragamo, added: “I think we have to live day by day, because it is beyond our control. We try to do our best with heart and head, everything in order to get over this. I think that if we are very ‘foot on the ground,’ we will benefit later.”

The snowball effect was directly felt in the worlds of entertainment, tourism and sports — with movies and concerts postponed, and a string of international tournaments being called off.

In Japan, officials said that the traditional spring celebrations and cherry blossom festivals in Tokyo and Osaka will not go ahead as planned — an unexpected big blow to millions of tourists.

In the art world, France’s Louvre Museum was forced to shut down amidst fears of possible contamination from its flow of tourists from around the world.

And the major art exhibition, Raffaello 1520-1483, opened on a subdued note at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome, with speculation rife that even the collective insurance of 4 billion Euro ($4.4 billion) for the master painter Raphael’s works was not sufficient to contain the virus scare.

<em>Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Dharamshala (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)</em>
Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Dharamshala (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

The impact in India
Back in India, the biggest victim was the International Indian Film Academy Award ceremony, which was initially scheduled to be held in Bhopal on March 21, and in Indore on March 27-29.

Preparations had been on for many weeks, as the Madhya Pradesh government sought to place the state on the international tourist map with the gala event, which was to be hosted by Salman Khan. Fresh dates for the event were still awaited, by the second week of March.

A string of developments followed: pop artist Khalid, who was scheduled to perform in India for the first time in April, said he wasn’t going to come after all, and he went on to postpone his entire Asia tour.

<em>Travel advisory issued by the Indian Government</em>
Travel advisory issued by the Indian Government

Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth said he won’t be coming to India to promote his upcoming film Extraction, formerly titled Dhaka. The Thor star was scheduled to visit Mumbai along with director Sam Hargrave on March 16. For Chris, this was a personal blow, given his stated fascination with all things Indian, also noting that his daughter is named India.

In the fashion world, the Lotus Make-up India Fashion Week Autumn-Winter 2020 event, originally scheduled from March 11-15 in New Delhi, was postponed by the Fashion Design Council of India.

In Chennai, the makers of Tamil superstar Vijay planned a subdued audio launch for his new release, Master. The decision, according to a statement, was to avoid a big-crowd event, adding that the audio launch would be held at a hotel in the city, while fans could watch the live telecast of the event on television.

<em>Residents go grocery shopping in Beijing (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)</em>
Residents go grocery shopping in Beijing (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu shared a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ to raise awareness among his fans (see Box), while actors like Ranbir Kapoor and Sunny Leone were spotted with their faces covered in masks. 

Director Rohit Shetty reposted nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar’s Insta post that urged for ‘Common sense to deal with uncommon threats’. The post offers tips like having amla (gooseberry) daily, consumption of turmeric milk at night, hot water baths with neem leaves, washing hands before eating and refraining from shaking hands. 

Veteran actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha also played his part, while filmmakers Ram Gopal Varma and Anubhav Sinha advised against spreading panic.

Sinha advised people to drink hot water: 'The Wuhan virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed at a temperature of 26-27 degrees. Therefore, drink more hot water. You can tell your friends and relatives to drink more hot water to prevent it. Go under the Sun.'

'It has been cold recently, and drinking hot water is also very comfortable. It is not a cure and is good for the body. Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses. Try not to drink ice, remember!'

<em>A man in Marikina, east of Manila, Philippines (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)</em>
A man in Marikina, east of Manila, Philippines (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Taking a big hit
The alerts had already reached a national pitch, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that this year, he will not be taking part in any ‘Holi Milan’ event. The PM did, of course, extend his greetings to the country’s citizens on the occasion of the festival.

The celebrations were put on hold in the holy cities of Mathura and Vrindavan as well, which have been known to be memorable events over the years.

Almost in reaction, Hindu temples across Dubai cancelled all Holi celebrations and advised people against playing with colours. The Middle East Film & Comic Con event in Dubai too began on a subdued note, as fears spread like wildfire across the region.

Almost instantly, the impact was directly felt in Indian tourism. In the capital city of New Delhi, the Mughal Gardens at Rashtrapati Bhavan were closed for the public, to avoid gatherings.

In Jammu and Kashmir, after two locals were declared as ‘high viral dose cases’, the threat had become quite real. The risk is said to be that much more in the Valley given its climate, as maximum temperatures rarely rise above 27° Celsius, which is said to be the survival limit for the dreaded virus.

And, days after the much-publicised official visit of American President Donald Trump and the first family to Agra, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) set up a thermal screening facility for visitors, especially foreigners, at the Taj Mahal.

As the city of Agra went on high-alert mode, the annual 10-day cultural extravaganza, the Taj Mahotsava, turned out to be a relative no-show, with hardly any visitors landing up at the fair.

<em>Cosplayers at Comic Con, Dubai (AP Photos/Jon Gambrell)</em>
Cosplayers at Comic Con, Dubai (AP Photos/Jon Gambrell)

A question of faith
The Wuhan virus certainly appears to be having its way, and there doesn’t seem to be any stopping its rampage. With the aspects of physical presence and touch being compromised, soon the fear and panic reached the highest altars of religion and faith.

Even as political leaders across the world began exercising caution in greeting people, Pope Francis cancelled his regular appearances in public and streamed his address on the internet from inside the Vatican. This was unheard-of in Papal history.

By this time, on the first weekend of March, the death toll in Italy had risen to 233, with more than 5,800 cases reported, making Italy Europe’s worst-hit country. 

Never before has something as forceful and extreme been known to happen in modern history; for something as seemingly innocuous as a virus to have leapt out of a city named Wuhan in China, and a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Yokohama, Japan - to shake up the lives of people around the world.

In Saudi Arabia, at the same time, citizens and other residents of the kingdom were banned from performing the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. The country also reportedly suspended Umrah travel, but not the mandatory Hajj, which would take place in late July this year.

Scenes from the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca and Al-Masjid al Nabawy in Medina, the two holiest sites in the Islam faith, and central locations to the pilgrimage were shockingly empty.

Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, also announced that he had postponed all of his engagements, as a precautionary measure. The Karmapa’s Gyuto Tantric Monastic University at Sidhbari, near Dharamsala, was closed for the public for a month.

<em>At Maschio Angioino museum in Naples, Italy (Alessandro Pone/LaPresse via AP)</em>
At Maschio Angioino museum in Naples, Italy (Alessandro Pone/LaPresse via AP)

Shaking up celebs
When it comes to unshakeable idol worship and blind faith, the ripples were certainly being felt in the world of cinema and especially, Hollywood.

As MGM, Universal announced that they would push the release of the much-awaited James Bond film No Time To Die from its April release, all the way back to November 2020, talk about a shake-up in the global theatrical marketplace had really hit the roof.

Paramount Pictures earlier halted production on the seventh Mission: Impossible film even as cinemas in China were shuttered, closing down the world’s second-largest box-office market.

However, not everybody was giving in that easily, as North American box office numbers from the first weekend of March revealed that audiences are not staying away from theatres. 

Films such as Disney and Pixar’s Onward and Ben Affleck’s basketball drama The Way Back reported normal openings, even as Disney released a statement downplaying fears, saying that the virus had not really had much of an impact on earnings - outside of the Asia-Pacific regions.

However, the fear had clearly made an impact in the celebrity world. Sylvester Stallone, for instance, was spotted wearing latex gloves while shopping at a supermarket in Los Angeles.

And musician Summer Walker took things to an extreme, showing up at an airport while being completely covered up - wearing a hoodie, hair net, face mask, oversized sunglasses, gloves as well as a garbage bag as an outer coat. 

Among other updates, singer Katy Perry and actor Orlando Bloom postponed their wedding, saying it was the wrong time to visit Japan. The couple now plans to exchange vows in 2021.

And while Grammy-winning singer Ciara postponed her concert Texas, rock band Pearl Jam also called off its upcoming North American tour.

<em>A couple in Seoul, South Korea (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)</em>
A couple in Seoul, South Korea (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Mulling things over
In just the matter of a few weeks, it would appear that the reasons to celebrate have dwindled to almost nothing. 

As questions loom over the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, a number of sporting tournaments are being cancelled, one after another. 

The ATP and WTA tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California was cancelled days before it was due to begin, whereas the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, scheduled for March 22, will now be held behind closed doors as a ‘participants-only event’, and the Chinese Grand Prix, slated for 17-19 April, has also been postponed.

Among sports celebrities, it didn’t help that basketball superstar LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers said that he won’t play if his team had to host games behind closed doors. “If I show up to the arena and there ain’t no fans in the crowd, then I ain’t playing,” he said.

The NBA, in an earlier memo sent out to all teams, had recommended that players use fist-bumps instead of high-fives with fans, and also urged players to avoid taking items such as pens, balls and jerseys from fans to autograph.

As of the second week of March, the alerts and reports continue to flood in, with no signs of relenting. The message is loud and clear: it is the time for everyone to stay utmostly alert. And that we promise to do.

Read all the updates and follow the coverage on the coronavirus outbreak online at

<em>CDC's list of places unsafe from travel</em>
CDC's list of places unsafe from travel

- Jaideep Sen

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