Covid-19 leaves daily Bollywood workers breathless: ‘We have no help, no hope’
“If we don’t die from the coronavirus, we will definitely die of depression,” says Kirat Kaur, an actor, currently residing in Oshiwara, Mumbai. Kirat is one of many, who arrived in the maximum city with dreams, but the tumultuous last year has exacerbated their struggles. Junior actors, makeup artists, background dancers, lightmen and spotboys – many of these artists and technicians are day-to-day wage earners and crumble under the weight of constant desperation. With minimal help ahead – the past year hasn’t been kind to anyone in the industry – they look to a bleak future.
The coronavirus-induced lockdown last year had caused them enough misery – most of them lost their livelihoods, forcing them to return to their places of origin. They returned earlier this year on the wings of hope, but the surge in the number of Covid-19 has brought back the ghosts of last year. Many of them wonder if they should return home, this time permanently.
As cases of Covid-19 in Maharashtra began to increase, the state government announced a nighttime curfew and weekend lockdown on April 4, under which it allowed cinema units and television to continue working on weekends, but with safety standards in place. They were also told not to shoot large dance and fight scenes, putting a question mark on the livelihoods of the secondary and junior actors, who are largely daily wage earners.
But as the coronavirus situation worsened, a second round of restrictions in the state went into effect on April 14, banning filming and TV shows in the state for 15 days until the 1st. may. This meant that young artists, technicians and other daily wage workers would be unemployed during this period. Even as some producers decided to wait until the restrictions were lifted from May 2, the less privileged artists only remembered the long wait that had been 2020, and they wondered if it would be extended.
“Almost 75 percent of workers try to return home because obviously they can’t find a job. It looks like even May will be locked down. We are in a deep crisis, ”says Rakesh Maurya, President of Film Studio Setting and Allied Mazdoor Union. April was supposed to be a busy month for daily workers, as big movies – including Pathan by Shah Rukh Khan and Goodbye directed by Amitabh Bachchan – had taken over. In fact, the construction of massive sets for YRF’s Pathan was in full swing, which meant work for thousands of workers. But everything stopped.
The waiting period not only took away their jobs, but also the promise of vaccination. BN Tiwari, president of the Federation of Western Cinema Employees (FWICE), which covers five lakh artists, informs that all production houses were required to vaccinate team members and that this had to happen on sets.
“YRF assured that it would vaccinate its 2,000 to 3,000 workers. Everyone must do it for our workers, it is mandatory. It comes under the medical insurance they have covered for the workers. But now that the shootings have stopped, no arrangement has been made to vaccinate our artists. According to Maurya, no more than 25% of FWICE members have been vaccinated so far.
While several TV and film shoots, including Mohit Suri’s Ek Villain 2, Star Plus’ Imlie and Zee TV’s Kundali Bhagya, have moved outside Mumbai since the April 15 lockdown, FWICE is awaiting the return of its workers so that it can resume demand for vaccination from producers. “Many of our workers are in Goa, Gujarat and Hyderabad to shoot. Some had been to Delhi, but since there is a lockdown in the capital, they decided to return to their home towns. Once they got back from their shoots, the vaccination process could begin, ”he said.
Although these shoots are a relief for the artists, even if they are not going well due to the cases of Covid-19 on the sets. “There are a few shoots outside of Mumbai, but then we learn that someone or the other is catching Covid and the shooting is stopped.”
For junior actors, makeup artists, distance dancers, lightmen and spotboys, fighting during the pandemic is not about work or health. It’s about both, and more importantly about survival, which becomes difficult as there is little food left on the plate and the worry about the rent increase is eating away at them.
“The situation is nothing less than what happened with migrant workers last year. Our workers simply cannot survive without any help. And there was no help this time. We are not asking the actors because even they suffered losses when their films did not hit theaters. So if someone wants to give something by themselves, we are happy to take it. I will not be surprised if our artists return to their cities on foot. It’s such a helpless situation, ”he said.
Kirat Kaur, who had recently signed a few films that were supposed to be released in August, now spends his days praying to survive the nights. “We are unemployed. The landlords don’t even refuse to give us a rental concession. Everyone knows how difficult it is to secure a roof in Mumbai. We don’t earn a dime. Lockdown has made us broken. Where are we going? No one offered financial aid or even help with the grocery store. How are we supposed to survive until May? Prime Minister talks about empowering women, but why hasn’t the government helped disadvantaged women in industry? Don’t our lives matter? Our rents should be waived until the restrictions are in place. “
There are many like Kirat, whose Bollywood aspirations have been met with relentless suffocation at home, and therefore have no opportunity to return to their families now. “Who will accept us? We fought with our people to come here. We tried to nurture our dreams one day at a time, but that time killed our spirit. What hurts more is the lack of help from industry and government. Tomorrow, if we take an extreme step, who will take responsibility? The last year has also been difficult, but at least some help in the form of a ration has come for many of us. We felt like we were taken care of. But there is a feeling of apathy this time around, which amazes me.
So people, who toil for months to build a setting, whose work begins hours before the stars arrive and continues long after they leave, who stand in the sun without an umbrella and become all the faces you see. on screen but never notice, be ignored again? Tiwari tells indianexpress.com that television producer Manish Goswami is the only celebrity to offer groceries to day workers. “Manish Goswami assured that he would provide groceries to 100 of our artists. We will give them to the most needy. Additionally, FWICE sent a letter to Netflix reminding the streamer to pay the remaining amount of the aid it originally provided to artists last year.
“We wrote a letter to Netflix asking to provide us with financial assistance of Rs 3.5 crore, which is the balance of the seven crore they gave us last year. So we sent them a reminder. We also wrote a letter to Amazon Prime Video. However, the people at the channel never contributed. “
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