(Above are victims at the sets)
VOICES FROM THE DARK UNDERBELLY OF BOLLYWOOD-The Untold Stories
No media, print or television has ever cared to lend their space to the UNTOLD STORIES of millions of VOICELESS WORKERS & CRAFTSMEN OF BOLLYWOOD who continue to work in abysmal working conditions and denied any benefit of SOCIAL SECURITY that is made available to workers of organized sector. I have, been their most consistent voice .
My award winning documentary LIVING ON THE EDGE- BOLLYWOOD which has awakened the world and my regular column in ‘The Global-Talk Media’ has lent me a space to focus on their plight & unending struggle to lead life with dignity and reclaim their legitimate rights.—-Opender Chanana
Here below are a few of thought provoking ‘Untold Stories & Voices’ by some BENEVOLENT BOLD SOULS
RAJU YADAV ––Art Director
He came to Bollywood to chase a dream of having an identity. He aspired to earn name and fame. He was inspired by stars and celebrities and dreamt of becoming one. He wanted to work with stalwarts like Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh khan. He was also overwhelmed by the space and adulation they enjoyed in magazines and Press. However, his acquaintance with the world of workers and technicians, especially their struggle for survival and sustenance changed his perception.
He wondered if they were slogging day and night to keep their home fires burning. Was it all about survival and livelihood?His friend Vidya used to perform many daring stunts. He was courageous and was duplicate for many stars. He used to often put his life to risk. I used to wonder and ask him if he was not afraid of life-threatening stunts. “If I refuse to perform such stunts, someone else would do. I am here only for this reason. I wouldn’t be a stuntman if I allowed fear and danger to stalk me “, he would often confide .
One day he was rehearsing for a stunt that required him to jump from a helicopter. There was no ambulance or safety measures in place in case of any accident. What if something went wrong with his landing? His landing was not on spot when he jumped from the helicopter during rehearsal. He broke his spinal cord. He got no compensation or aid from the Producer as the incident took place during rehearsal and not shooting. He was told the stunt director helped him by giving a nominal amount. But how can money compensate human life? Had there been an ambulance or a doctor was present on the location the accident could have been avoided. He went back to his native place and was bed ridden. He could no more chase his dreams. “Sometimes I feel like asking these people why do they play with human lives…why? Films generate millions of rupees but its cruel and inhuman that they can’t provide an ambulance for a stuntman?”
RAJENDRA UPADHYAY —Still Photographer
“Nowadays humans are no better off than animals here. There was a time when they had 8 hours shift and there was two hours given for rest. Pack up was on time. Now it all depends on what time the actor would reach the sets.”
According to her as Ideally earlier they had an 8-hr shift which now lasts for 12 hrs. But we must report at 8 am for the 9am shift and invariably the 9 m deadline is extended and by the time we are ready to leave for home its already 11 pm. And there is no remuneration for overtime.
KRISHNA SINGH-–Asst. Sound Recordist
He works for 24 hours at a stretch. There is no fixed timing.
SURINDER MALHOTRA-–Production Executive
“We work for over 16 or 18 hours or even 20 hours a day on the sets of television serials. The workers must report again at 7am in the morning. We have no access to any insurance or medical aid nor any retirement fund.”In case of any accident or sickness, barring few benevolent Producers who may pay nominal amount towards hospitalization, normally even that seems improbable.
“All stars whether Sharukh Khan or Salman Khan are dependent on workers and their contribution in making them reach great heights of stardom.” If the light men, background painters and setting workers are taken out of scheme of making of content, where would the celebrities be? They do their job and go back to their vanity vans.
“The main issue is about uninterrupted telecast from Monday to Saturday. There is tremendous pressure from Channels to deliver and the show must go on. The crew invariably works under great stress. They don’t even get a day off. “
He feels there should be an 8-hour shift. And the days of telecast should be reduced so that workers don’t become victims of stress. They can then afford to look after their health and social life.
NITA BAJPAI-—Voice Artist
“Nowadays studios have mushroomed in every nook and corner, without following the basic parameters. The toilets are filthy and not sanitized. We, especially females are not able to use them during the time we are in such studios which may extend to 8 hours at a stretch. Only when we reach a studio with better amenities or return home, we can use cleaner toilets. It is proving pernicious for us. “
GANESH ACHARYA-–Choreographer & Director
He started as a background dancer and then worked my way up to become a choreographer. They all know that they now reach out to a global audience. Their work is back breaking
ZAYED SHAIKH-–Background dancer
Responsibility is shrugged off. Even though they face health hazards every day, there are no health and safety measures in place.“Our work involves sheer hard work, and it is not uncommon to find dancers with broken feet, hands and backbone. Sometimes we must dance with oil lit lamps, and it spills over and burns our hands. There is total apathy towards health and safety issues.”
He highlights the plight of Dancers who are expected to maintain their figure, but they are not even able to earn enough to have access to nourishing diet. As it is they don’t get regular work and have families to maintain. The food provided on the sets full of soda bio carbonate, thus resulting acidity and bloated stomachs and other health issues.
“No ambulances and proper and clean toilets are provided for on the sets. A tent is used as a dressing room, storage, etc. for the dancers. Artists are provided comfortable rooms. Why this discrimination when they can’t do without each other?”
ABHIRAM PARIDA —Asst. Art Director
He talks about the much-ignored subject of caste system in our industry.
Quality of food provided is subject to status of crew members. Especially on outdoor shoots in jungles, crew members have their food while standing and in filthy and fetid surroundings. “No tables or seating. “Arrangements are provided for. This leads to gastric disorders. “
KUMAR SHARMA —Caterer
“Let me tell you the bitter truth behind the façade of Bollywood. The basic amenities are food, water, and shelter. Each department needs clean and good food. For that as well, monetary compensations are required. The clearances of bills are done once every 90 days. The staff employed by caterers and the suppliers of all ingredients have to be paid on time.”
The budgets for the food especially in case of television serials have been static for the past decade, though the prices of cooking materials have skyrocketed.
There have been instances where productions have shut down offices to skip payment of the caterers. Many caterers are left in lurch and are on road. The elaborate sets have puny food budgets.
Lavish amount is spent on sets, but food becomes the first casualty when it comes to budgeting.
ABDUL MOULDER-—Moulder Designer
He is angry due to lack of facilities provided for workers on sets. Film city ! Film City should be for film workers. But you will now find tourist buses outside its gate. It’s more like a picnic spot.
SATYEN CHAUDHARY-—Art director
“It’s considered to be a big industry. But those who know how it works inside know it is all baloney. Only actors are valued.”
“A spot boy too deserves respect and should be treated humanely. All should be treated equally and deserve consideration and respect.”, he reiterated.
ADITI DESHPANDE ––Actor & Producer
She highlights the fact that every human deserves respect, right from the actors to spot boys and light men. Their contribution to making a good film cannot be underestimated. “We may have talented Directors and actors, but we must have capable workers and technicians a part of crew to deliver quality content.”
DEEPAK QAZIR KEJRIWAL –Actor
He recalls that on the sets of Gandhi an ambulance was always on standby. No doubt it was an international co production. But all the channels operating in India are international channels. “In their own countries they adhere to all global standards but when it comes to our country why don’t they ensure that same standards and parameters are adopted. Why don’t they make it mandatory for Producers here to ensure that global standards of health are put in practice here?”
PREM SINGH THAKUR—Activist
” Especially during monsoon, the workers often seen working without the necessary equipment –gumboots, helmets, gloves etc. and they get fatally electrocuted during work.”
The gigantic sets put up and erected by workers have zero safety measures. He recalls an incident that took place while shooting in Punjab on the sets of Ajay Devgn’a film Son of Sardar, a steamer had to be lifted. High power wires are hanging above the steamer when 6 boys were in the process of lifting it. All of them were electrocuted and one died on the spot. “We fought a prolonged battle for death compensation and ultimately rupees seven lacs were given to the bereaved family. The question is whether his family can survive on this measly sum of money?”
The studios are like cubicles and leave little scope for any creativity. We are not provided food or snacks by Production houses, leave aside having any conveyance. It’s a 24×7 hours job. No rest rooms. Survival is a hazard itself. How can creativity be expected in these minuscule spaces? How can one survive in such a scenario?
“Recently my colleague has been through a catastrophe due to extended work pressure. He now suffers from thrombosis in his brain at the young age of 27 yrs. His future is bleak. The international production house, Fremantle, has shunned him post the hospitalization. Human life has no value here.”
“I’m Rohit Kadam, an editor since last 15 yrs. I always placed my work above everything else and the extended hours, intense pressure and thanklessness resulted in this condition… I urge all my editor friends to focus on their health. I am only 27 yrs. old and now I can’t even imagine how will I manage in future. I am the sole earning member of family. “
VISHNU SHARMA-–Actor & Voice Artist
He recalls a life-threatening incident.
“There was a small room with 3- 4 artists and technicians huddled together. There was a requirement of smoke, but they used kerosene induced thick smoke. It was smothering, but the DOP and assistants had covered their noses. When I complained of breathing issues, they brushed it aside by pointing out that no one else was complaining. So, I asked my co artists to protest but they continued to work, nevertheless. I walked out, citing that I would not be able to work till proper arrangements are made.”
DIVYANKA TRIPATHI –Actor
“Being an actor, sometimes we forget that we are humans. For a scene in which fight master services were not utilized I had to roll over the stairs and got injured and slip disc. For a month suffering from excruciating back pain, I continued to work as a 30-day contract was signed without extra work hour’s clause. During that period, I had to work even when I had viral fever.”
Despite having slipped disc, she was made to work for 14 hours. In such condition one must take a break every five minutes. How could she rest on a six-seater sofa? And when she requested for a basic room with a bed, the following day’s newspapers were flushed with the news that Divyanka Tripathi throws tantrums.
“We had many shows that acquired iconic status. Many actors of such shows are sitting at home without any work. When these shows are telecast the Channels reap a rich harvest. But why is the actor deprived of any royalty?”
Actors too slog for 356 days without a day off. They are often victims of many medical issues…viral fever, accidents including fractures, UTI infection or even pregnancy or marriage…why are they deprived of any benefit?
We are now on the threshold of taking giant steps in global arena but why can’t we provide basic facilities to our workers?Actors too pay heavy taxes. But why are the unemployed deprived of any benefit?
AHMED ALI SUMRA—Sfx Assistant
He recalls the time when he met with an accident in Bikaner on the sets. During tank blast scene, the petrol in his hand burst into flames. It splashed all over him, setting me ablaze. He was burnt at quite a few places.
“Look at my hand and my ear for scars because of the accident. Even my face was not spared”
SANJIVRANA CHANDER SHEKHAR SINGH —Music Composer
He fondly remembers the time when they used to make music in spacious studios which allowed them to give their best. The atmosphere was such that they could concentrate on creativity. “You can see that in such cubicles there is no scope for any creativity. We are working under tremendous pressure. The musicians are underpaid. The contract system is the bane of our craft. It has become difficult to survive. Gone are the days when your imagination soars high but now, we are made to crawl. It’s a question of survival now.”
SANJAY BHATIA –Actor
“The problem lies in the fact that we want everything cheap…serials, films so that we can have a very high margin of profit. But what about human life? Only when you are part of this industry and witness the working conditions on sets will you realize that human life is very cheap here.”
He opines that there are no safety measures in place, no regulation, no breaks for food. We will then know what real BOLLYWOOD INDUSTRY is. A multi crore industry.
SAMEER SIDDIQUE—Production executive
He touches on another important topic by stating that information regarding access to nearest hospitals or doctors should be available on sets. In case of any emergency, it will of great help. It’s important to have information of blood group of each crew member.
DEEPAK DAVRE —-Make-up Artist
One of the most unfathomable facts of Bollywood is that the workers who make the glitzy and glamorous sets for films that multi million budget have no homes for themselves.
They live in dilapidated huts near the pipelines. These rat holes are so tiny, that even sunshine refuses to come in. The lanes leading to their homes are so narrow that there is not enough space for the people to squeeze in, let alone accommodate an ambulance in case of any emergency or accident. It’s a difficult task to take the mortal remains for cremation.
“Life is all about survival. Even basic right such as access to safe portable drinking water is denied to them.” He is also faced with the dilemma of providing education to his children. Ironically while he works with big stars like Sharukh Khan and Salman Khan, he is not able to make his ends meet. He is not paid his daily wages for three months. He leads a hand to mouth existence,
“Opulent sets, big budgets and glamour. But he is not paid his wages for months. He can’t even provide education to his children. His dream of a decent life remains unfulfilled. Life is all about survival.”
With meagre resources his children have no access to proper schooling. How can he provide them with decent clothing and school dress? Living in such environment can be detrimental to his upbringing. They can’teven celebrate Eid or Diwali because the Producer determines when he will get his wages.
“We talk about Salman Khan’s film crossing 100 crore mark at box office. The focus is on revenues crossing the benchmarks that keep on rising. But the issue of health and safety does not figure anywhere.”
SUNEEL SINHA —-Actor
“We do not know if studios in Mumbai have requisite licences to operate. Presuming there are a hundred members in one unit and if thousand are working for ten units, is there any provision for toilets for thousand people; seating space; parking stand for vehicles and two wheelers? Or are there clinics for thousand people? No! Not in the near vicinity or far off locations.” He isn’t very hopeful and questions. “Why would anyone bother or be concerned. Being concerned implies spending money. But it’s not a question of money but of intent. The situation will remain as it is.”
“The entertainment industry is one of the highest taxpayers. But our workers are deprived of any benefit. We are treated like slaves. The 8 hrs of working rule are mandated by Government. This is strictly adhered to in other industries but in our film industry. If we refuse such punishing schedule, we are threatened that we will be replaced.”
He feels thy are being bullied and intimidated. Will the Government take cognizance of this exploitation?
Late DHANARAJ —Actor, Renowned Wrestler & Gold Medallist
“I am lonely and have no one to look after me.I get my lunch tiffin from outside and wash my own cloths. I’m alone here. I’m living a lonely life. But I am indebted to my union CINTAA (actors union) for their support and assistance. I don’t know for how long I will live… he seems to walk away into oblivion.
(He passed away two months after he spoke to the film maker)
RANGARAO CHOUGULE ––Art Director
“If all our stalwarts of the industry come together and take cognizance of health and safety issues, it will lead to resolution of relevant issues and prevention of loss of lives.”
MAHENDRA KUMAR TIWARI –—Dy. Director(ex) ESIC (Employees State Insurance Corporation)
“Having been a witness to plight of workers I am convinced ESIC (Employees State Insurance Corporation) will be a boon for them. Their families too will have access to it. ESIC will not be doing a favour to the workers because it is right of workers to avail the benefits available under this scheme.”
He highlights the fact that thousands of workers from other sectors are taking advantage of ESIC which has so many hospitals and infrastructure in place in Mumbai. Cine workers who are deprived of any access to social security deserved to be treated on par with workers of other industries.
It is possible that Director General ESIC may not be aware of the fact a few years back the workers were brought within its ambit. He will take due cognizance and it will be possible for workers to be entitled to be covered under ESIC. And they will be secured.
“Travelling, especially women, late night pack ups, at 1 a.m., 2 a.m. and the Producer expects these women to fend for themselves, that we provided you work, its more than enough. If they ask for conveyance to be dropped at home, it looked at as if you are asking for the moon.”
He laments and rues the fact that for our Government, the Hindi industry means a handful of superstars and handful of superstar producers. So, they think everything is hunky dory, it’s all about glamour and glitz and everybody is rolling in money. So, Government is very happy in taking the revenue which is in billions of rupees and is growing every day. Governments attitude so far is shooting means some stupid kids playing movie and tv and enjoying themselves and they are just partly entertainers. They are only here for political campaigns or public service campaigns. I think that’s the only reason we have not been granted industry status till date.
AMIT BEHL –Actor
The fact is that if I as an actor work for 12 hours, the unit works for about 14-15 hours. We have got our own cars that we come in by but the, the spot guys, the lighting guys, the setting guys stay at far off places and they are expecting the actor to react first at 9 O clock in the night and if the actor says “Pack up”, so it will be pack up for us so that we can reach home at 12 O clock so that we can get 5 hours of sleep. But why I am working for so many hours? “Does the Producer want me to work for so many hours? He puts it on the Broadcaster, the Broadcaster puts it on script not getting approved or the ratings. The entire system has gone for a toss”
RESHMA SHAH ––Supervising producer
She personally feels that at least one holiday should be necessary because everybody has their ME time. “We need that. Because working 365 days, 24×7, ultimately its very bad and no creativity comes out after certain point of time.”
LOVLEEN BAINS––Costume Designer
To her the biggest problem facing girls and women working in film and television industry is the lack of toilets because of which there are urinary tract infections, there are other gynec problems being faced by these women working in the costume department and other departments in film and television and neither do they have time because of long working hours to go and visit the doctor.
PIA BENEGAL-–Costume Designer
“When we are working on the streets and in remote areas of the country, in villages. I mean toilets and hygiene are not considered important. The women go early in the morning around 5 O clock, and they never seem to go anywhere because it’s a public space and men and cattle and people like that are around everywhere and so she always finds a way not to go to the toilet and we urban people are not used to that”
ASSHISH REGO-–Music Composer
“If you see the studios or any centres, I mean they are abysmal. They are violation of human rights. The toilets are dirty. Toilets for women are scarce and rights for females and junior artists, dancers, I mean there is no kind of privacy provided to them which is the right of any individual and a woman.” To him due to the greed and avarice of people in charge on the sets who are just out to make fast buck, the basic worker is deprived of these very necessary rights which needs to be provided to them.
ANIL SINGH-–Junior artist
“Food is not fit to be eaten and prepared under unhygienic conditions. The leftovers are recycled and served as snack in the evening. It can lead to food poisoning.
light men. Their contribution to making a good film cannot be underestimated. We may have talented Directors and actors, but we must have capable workers and technicians a part of crew to deliver quality content.”
To her everything is gone for a toss. if you agreed to work in television industry precisely, then your health is on a stake, your relationship is on a stake. Your whole life is on a stake and what we get once the show is over, the life is finished if you don’t get another show.
And there is no security on the sets. “I have personally gone through an incident recently where unfortunately I had an accident, a fall while shooting and I happen to break my AC ligament of my right knee. I have been a very energetic girl. I was into swimming, jogging, and gymming. But ever since I got this accident, my life has not gone back to normal so far. It’s almost a year now and I had to literally fight with my Production house to get the medical expenses at least. I was sitting home for about 8 to 9 months without work, and I had to really fight to get my expenses. It was CINTAA, it was my federation who fought for me. I was already going through lot of pain physically and every day when I used to get calls for work, it was very difficult to say that I am not able to work. I am sorry.”
JOAQUIM REBELLO-—Sfx Artist
“There was a scene in a film wherein an explosive had to be planted just before a plastic bag which was filled with petrol. Since the technician did not have the time to check whether the wires were properly sealed with plastic tapes, he forcibly put his hands inside the iron tub and unfortunately the wires were left open because of less time allotted to the technician which resulted in an explosion and the face of the technician was burnt but the main point here is the safety measures. If the Producer would have given ample time to work out proper safety measure it would ensure that the accident would not have happened.”
One thing more he would like to say is that we have a Cine Welfare Fund which on record is not functioning. In fact, whenever a Producer is making a film, if he wants to approach for his film to be censored, he must pay Rupees twenty thousand as his contribution to Cine Welfare Fund. So, our appeal is that if in some way the ESIC organization can take over this Cine Welfare Fund and really have an insurance Policy like they have in CGS and other Government bodies, it will be of tremendous benefit to us.”
JAMSHED MISTRY –Advocate High Court
He opines that as far as the laws that are applicable are concerned, every country has its own set, India has its set of labour and industrial laws. For example, you have the Industrial Disputes Act, the Shops and Establishment Act, you have other acts, including the Payment of wages, Workmen’s Compensations Act, Payment of Gratuity Act. All these acts should be made applicable to the workers. “The definition of the term “Worker” definitely includes those who are doing manual and technical work. So, there is no sort of reason why this portion or this section of workforce is kept out. It just takes a notification by the Government to bring them within the ambit of the Act and I think that is the need of the hour.”
Compiled by Opender Chanana -a legendary documentary maker.
Mr. Chanana is an Alumnus of Satish Chander Dhawan Government College,Ludhiana-India.This premier institution completes it’s 100th year of establishment.
He has been associated with Drama- and Cinema right since college days and was also awarded college colour then. Mr. Chanana makes Film Documentaries in Mumbai and his documentary, LIVING ON THE EDGE-DEGLAMOURIZING BOLLYWOOD depicting poor plight of cine workers has been rewarded globally with 350 plus awards till date ,thus recognising issues raised by him. Kudos to Opender Chanana for his relentless efforts for a cause so dear to him.
The Global Talk Media is grateful to Mr. Opender Chanana for relentlessly raising voice for the concerns of cine and TV workers. Alumni Association and his Alma Mater at Ludhiana are proud of his zeal for the cause so dear to him.
Administrator of this online media Brij Bhushan Goyal requests for valuable comments in the comment box so that issues raised by Cine/TV workers are taken to logical conclusion for redress of the sufferings of workers at the appropriate quarters in the Bollywood Industry as well Governmental bodies.