October 4,1953,A Red Letter Day For Film Editors— By OPENDER CHANANA
Bimal Roy, General Secretary of the Association at the time of celebration of Silver Jubilee of the Association recalls that during the 2nd World War i.e. in the forties, the technicians in Bombay were in a state of insecurity, irrespective of whether the films for which they had been employed were successful or not.
According to him, there were one or two honourable exceptions such as, the Bombay Talkies, the Prabhat Film Company, and the Wadia Movietone. But, by and large, the technicians and the workers were compelled to live from film to film. After the war, there was slump in box office collections and jobs suddenly became scarce. Those fortunate to get jobs considered themselves lucky if they got their salaries. They were not supposed to protest even if their salaries were not paid for six months. Although Producers regained their lost ground when box office collections picked up subsequently, the workers and technicians did not get their rightful share in this new prosperity.
The forties and fifties were privy to adverse working conditions in terms non-payment of wages and insecurity of service of technicians and workers. The technicians felt miserable and frustrated. Slowly the realization dawned that unity was the crying need of the hour.
It was in such an atmosphere that the idea of organizing a well-knit trade union body to protect their rights germinated and the late veteran editor Mr Shivaji Avdhut took the initiative with the help and support of his colleagues like Mr R.V. Shrikhande to organize a union to secure earned wages and remuneration of editors. He convened an informal meeting at his residence to explain his idea and plans to his colleagues. Since the idea of having a union was unheard of in those days, it took lot of explaining and arguments to explain the feasibility of having a union. The existing unions were primarily cultural and social bodies. Majority of film employees were not their members. Consequently they did not have the authority or mandate to enforce discipline and bargain with the Producers. It was during this period that a move was initiated to hold an All India Technicians meeting at Madras (Chennai).
A meeting of technicians of local industry was convened at Shree Sound Studios, Dadar to make preparations. Mr Avdhut took the opportunity to explain to his colleagues the idea of organizing film employees under the umbrella of an effective and militant union. Few participants were rather sceptical but the majority came to support the idea. The responsibility of organizing the union fell on the shoulders of Mr Avdhut who readily accepted the challenge of bringing together all his colleagues together since he had already covered lot of ground with the support of his colleagues. Through a letter dated August 6, 1953, he, along with few friends, invited all Editors and Assistant Editors to attend a meeting at Embassy Preview Theatre on August 9, 1953. It was unanimously decided in that meeting that a union of Film Editors and their assistants be formed under the name of Society of Film Editors. An ad hoc committee was formed to draft a constitution and make all preliminary arrangements.
October 4, 1953 marked a red letter day in the history of this union as during the General Body meeting held on this date the draft of constitution was presented and a new ad hoc committee was constituted to overlook the enrolment of members and to get the union registered with the Registrar under the Societies Act. It was in the same year that it was registered under the said act.
Since the Society of Film Editors was registered under the Societies Act, it did not enjoy the benefits and protection accorded to employees by the Trade Union Act. A historic decision was taken in the meeting of General Body held on August 15, 1955 to change its name from Society of Film Editors to Association of Film Editors and get it registered under the Trade Union Act of 1926.
The first Executive Committee, constituted in early 1954, held its first meeting on March 24, 1954. On July 4,1954 on the occasion of General Body meeting held at Shree Sound Studios, Dadar, it was decided to celebrate unions first Annual Day on August 15,1954, an event that was celebrated for a number of years.
It is interesting to note that the idea of having a parent body of film employees with a view to ensure co-ordination and co-operation amongst various craft unions finds mention in the minutes of the Executive Committee of the union held on September 17, 1954. The proposal to have a Federation of all craft unions found enough support and it was decided to take it to next level with convening of an Extra Ordinary General Body meeting that took place on December 12, 1954. The meeting took note of progress made in this respect and decided to await receipt of draft constitution of the proposed federation. Mr Krishna Gopal, affectionately addressed as KG by all was the prime mover of its formation and in the year 1956 the Federation of Western India Cine Employees was formed.
February 26, 1956 was a landmark date in the annals of not only the editors union but the entire fraternity of craftsmen in the film industry.
Presided over by its eleven times (1955/56 -1970/71) President Mr Goverdhanbhai Patel, an eminent cinematographer and special effects wizard the meeting witnessed Mr Avdhut announcing amidst cheers the registration of the union under the Indian Trade Union Act, 1926 (Registration No. 1963 of 31.01.1956). It was in this meeting that the constitution of Federation of Western India Cine Employees was adopted.
The Producers did not take kindly to the momentum the trade union movement gathered but had to accept the truth. Days of exploitation were over.
The earliest reference to minimum wages found in the records of the Association is possibly in the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee held on February 19, 1959. The meeting was presided over by late actor Jairaj. The meeting proposed wage structure that may not seem rational and practical today.
It was in the annual general meeting of the Association held on August 15, 1965, under the chairmanship of Goverdhanbhai Patel approved the charter of minimum wages which introduced several new elements, such as gradation or classification of films into A, B and C, specified daily rates of wages for black and white and colour films and also laid down the minimum wages for editors and assistant editors of documentaries and advertisement shorts. In the case of daily rates, the Association had prescribed an eight-hour shift or part thereof.
It was not until early 1972 that the minimum wages were revised again.
In the seventies the Association of Film Editors, barring perhaps the sole exception of Make-up Artists Association which started recruiting apprentices within its fold. The rules for induction of apprentices were changed from time to time.
It is important to note that the Association had several decades ago given due importance to apprenticeship for new recruits and framed rules and regulations which are worth emulating even now when new technology is inducted from time to time, thus requiring all craftsmen to undergo on- job training:-
- All applications were entertained once in a year during the month of May or any other month that was decided by the Executive Committee. The applicants were young person’s aspiring to take film editing as their vocation/profession. They were required to have following qualifications:-
Education: Minimum educational qualification required was S.S.C. or equivalent to it.
Age: Age limit was 21 years for those having educational qualification of S.S.C. and 24 years for graduates.
They were supposed to not to belong to any other craft in the film industry and/or members of any craft association or engaged in any other vocation.
- On being successful in both oral and written examination the candidates were issued permission by the Executive Committee to work as apprentices under various editors/members. They were instructed to observe the following rules and regulations:-
- They were to work as full time apprentice for a period of one year and were not supposed to accept any other job in any other vocation.
- They were to work as apprentices under the Editor/Editors notified in the letter(s) of permission issued to them only and were not to work with any other editor(s) under any circumstances without the written permission of the Committee.
- They were not allowed to render their services as assistant editor(s) during the period of their apprenticeship.
- After a period of one year, a test was prescribed to be arranged for those apprentices who had completed a year’s apprenticeship and carried out all the rules and regulations and conditions of their apprenticeship, on recommendation of the editor(s) under whom they had worked as apprentice, and only after the said test and recommendation of the editor(s) who would take the test, as per the advices of the Association, their application(s) for membership of the Association was considered as per relevant clause of the constitution.
The Association took several initiatives to regulate conditions of employment and the wage structure in many areas. It made a sincere effort to impose self-discipline and self-regulation amongst its members.
In the year 1979 the Association celebrated its Silver Jubilee and published a commemorative volume. It is perhaps the only publication in the archive that records various facets of history, growth, and development of the Association till the year 1979 from the day it was formed.
Mr. Chanana is an Alumnus of Satish Chander Dhawan Government ,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.