Tailors, electricians, carpenters, painters, cleaners, spot boys, travel operators, canteen services, junior artists, extras, dancers, art suppliers and not to forget a huge behind the scenes armada of Indian film Industry including editors, processors, colorists, crane operators, Camera Assistants, Directors, writers, trolley operators, lighting men, musicians, make-up artists – a million souls have been glued to news hoping for respite from COVID19. The dream merchants of India have been without work for 2 months and what seems evident they will be out of work for nearly 9 more months to say the least. Amidst this, the tragic demise of Irrfan Khan, Rishi Kapoor and the Industry body representative Kulmeet Makkar has only added to the eerie silence of a monumental crisis bellowing. Besides, all film projects in pipeline are likely to undergo change given this prolonged hiatus. Creative process is a constantly evolving process and all previous projects may spiral out.
Among this million, nearly 5 lac behind the scene workers exist in Mumbai alone. Approximately, 90% of these workers are marginalized, nearly below the poverty line mass of this great Indian fantasy that shapes not just the aspirations of Indian sub-continent but also symbolizes hope for nation run by merely 30 thousand capitalists. It is a travesty amidst crescendos of help and relief packages for the traditional Industries and the crisp dark suits of corporate world, the film worker is lost for hope and means to feed his family for a long foreseeable future.
Film workers usually get paid in a cycle of 90 days and sometimes never depending on the fortunes of the Producer and the film. Technically 4 lac people from Bollywood alone is waiting for their arrears as we speak. These are ironically the ones who perhaps will not exit in the flurry of migrant exodus to the heartland. “They belong here, they are part of India’s hope factory, they are domed and will die if Producers go bust” says an Industry veteran. There has been a glimmer of relief as Actor Salman Khan has been supporting a section of these workers, however, while this is great but these workers need a mid-term lifeline and hope of a continued livelihood. For long the Indian Film Industry is lop-sided and less than 1 % of individuals own 98% of generated wealth. Sadly, this gives an impression that all is well and film workers are flush with money and prosperity. Besides, far and few come forward to the aid of such workers.
Broadly, the core areas that need to be addressed are food and continued shelter, education of their children, healthcare and payment of essential services while the nation is on a pause and hope. This the time for the central government to demonstrate their long-term slogan of recognizing Indian Film Industry as an Industry – that has off course been work in progress for decades. Not that I hope for it to happen overnight but this is where numerous trade bodies that have existed as film industry bureaucracies must come to the fore. Enough of lip service to the Industry, this is time for their redemption as well. So, what can be done :
Healthcare and Education : Given the grave crisis, the workers need continued healthcare and education for their children. While there are schemes like ESIC etc but the fact is it does not cover majority of them and neither have adequate infrastructure nor reach to support these workers. All state governments must ensure healthcare and education ( both Government run and private ). This is where the recognised Industry bodies come into picture and they should issue passes for tokens to the effect which must be recognized and serviced by Government and private service providers. Likewise, various drugs / medicines ( both OTC and prescription based) should be made available to them.
Essential services : Payment of monthly essential services is a huge outflow for these workers. Likewise, the Tokens issued by trade bodies must be made cashable for continuity of services like electricity, water, telephone and mobile
Statutory payments : Premiums on any life or medical insurance, loans must be deferred for people who can pay upto next 9 months. It is a travesty of our nation and policy makers both that we waive off loans across the board as a governance mechanism but will create red tape for the poor and needy. IF farmers can get loan and insurance waivers then why not Indian Film workers certified by respective trade bodies?.
Resume regulated pre-approved shooting : This is the time that producers and creative think tank should restructure shooting methodologies. The current mechanism has no scope of social distancing and personal safety. To begin with such shoots that confirm to social distancing may be allowed in controlled environments like studios. Prasar Bharti can take a lead and lead such shoots given they do not have restrictive technical guidelines.
Micro Loans : It is impossible for government to come forward to help on individual basis but what government can do is to provide subsidies / loans to registered trade bodies. They in-turn can come to the aid and relief of nearly 2 lac marginalized workers registered with them to manage incidentals.
Employment alternatives: almost 90% of this humongous armada of workers are technical / micro technical / soft skill workers and government must offer integration to these workers with national and local employment schemes. Employment exchanges should make use of this skill set for doorstep services so desperately needed. Needless to mention that the workers of Indian Film Industry are damn qualified to offer service under duress, timelines and are an exceptionally hardworking tribe.
These, a million Indian Film Workers are a part of the great Indian dream. A dream of success, a dream of prosperity, a dream that anyone can rise to the top. These workers have worked relentless for last 70 years in inhuman conditions, behind the golden arcs and the fancy cocktails and magnum opuses – often hungry so that the formidable Indian middle class can wake up every morning to strive harder and make this country great.
(The author is a media & entertainment business leader )