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Friday, July 10, 2020

No shoot, no money, TV industry survives on the hope of bouncing back

The major issue in the TV industry in terms of payment is that many members of the cast and crew earn salary per day basis. Also, as per the contract, the amount is handed over only after 60-90 days.

Written by Sana Farzeen | Mumbai | Published: May 25, 2020 7:03:12 am
Saheer Sheikh, Rhea Sharma, Kaveri Oriyam and Ritvik Arora TV actors on the set of a show in the wake of coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: PR Handout)

Actor Manmeet Grewal on May 15 committed suicide by hanging himself at his home. The 32-year-old actor, who worked on shows like Aadat Se Majboor and Kuldeepak, was reportedly struggling with dwindling finances amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

His family friend-producer Manjit Singh Rajput in an interview to PTI shared that Grewal was facing financial crisis as shoots have been on hold for more than two months. Manjit shared, “He was going through a major financial issue and he was also in depression. The added pressure of not being able to repay loans amid this (no work phase) got to him.”

Vineet Raina of Ishq Mein Marjawa fame was one of the first television actors to share the news of Manmeet Grewal’s demise on his Facebook page. He told indianexpress.com, “Manmeet’s death has left the entire television industry shaken. However, it also brought to light that we are losing humanity. His neighbours were not willing to touch him fearing he has COVID-19, and did not bring him down. His wife was holding on to his legs, and maybe if help arrived in time, he could have been saved. Also, one has to be open to asking for help from their loved ones. If indeed he was in debt, his friends or family could have helped him out. He should have also thought about his wife.”

The major issue in the industry in terms of payment is that many members of the cast and crew earn salary per day basis. Also, as per the contract, the amount is handed over only after 60-90 days. Actor-choreographer Jyothi Tommaar shared, “Sometimes it can take up to 120 days to get your payment. One must remember, every artiste working in the industry is a daily wager, as we all get paid per day basis and not monthly. I was lucky that a few of my work cheques arrived before the lockdown, but there are quite a few that are still pending. People keep saying that offices are shut, so how do we pay?”

For Tommaar, her husband’s (who works in the IT sector) salary has brought some relief during the lockdown. However, she has chosen to cut down on expenses as the future still seems grim. She shared, “I know so many people who have been dependent on work for their livelihood. And now they have no source of income. Also, even if the lockdown gets lifted on June 1, we cannot just resume shoot the next day. There has to be a proper way out, as people would be cautious about being near each other. It will take time before things become normal. I keep telling my husband, who is stuck in Delhi, and my two daughters that jaan hai to jahaan hai. So right now, we need to just stay positive and healthy.”

Producer Vikas Kalantri believes that one could arrive at solutions only if the entire industry gets together. He said, “Even if we start work immediately, payments will take a couple of months to arrive. And we are already behind for two months (shoots came to a halt on March 18). There are rents, and EMIs to be paid. I also feel that people who are well-off should come and donate to the industry, as it’s in dire need.”

The producer added, “The industry needs to come together and decide that they want to work. I spoke to a few state officials to discuss if it would be possible to quarantine one area, like a Film City, and shoots could resume there. Stringent measures would be needed to follow, and entry and exit monitored. We recently had Manmeet commit suicide because he had no money. No one would want to see more cases like this. We need to be strong, and plan out a process so that we all can bounce back.”

Vineet Raina too had a suggestion for channels and makers. He suggested that the crew could live on the sets, thus avoiding the chance of any infection spread. “The problem in Maharashtra and especially Mumbai is that the government hasn’t managed to contain the virus. While we are worrying about it, we need to also start planning for the time when the shoots could resume. And that has to be done right now so that we don’t waste more time whenever we get the permission for shoots.”

“To resume work, we might need to cut down on crew members on the set, to maybe 50 per cent. There are ample places on set, and I think maybe the producers could screen the entire crew and make facilities for them to stay on the sets. Anyway food is served three times. This way there would be least chances of anyone getting infected. Also, the actors and senior technicians could accept salary cuts, so that these daily wagers are able to survive,” added Raina.

Talks of shoots with fewer members might seem feasible, but Jyothi Tommaar questioned “at what cost?” would these changes be applied. She said, “We talk about shooting with 30 per cent people but how will it be possible? Everyone’s job is important while filming, and how will we manage without the rest. All these cost-cutting will come with a cost, and we will have to decide if we are okay paying for it. Production value, quality and speed will get affected. We know that it’s really going to affect all of us big time.”

While most continue to focus on the daily wagers, the industry also sees hundreds of youngsters coming in every day. With the lockdown announced, the no-work scenario has jolted their dreams. A fresher, who did not want to be named, shared with us, “I moved from a small village in Uttar Pradesh to become a television actor last year in October. I was doing well in auditions and had been receiving good feedback from the casting agents. I cracked two small appearances in March and was excited to face the camera for the first time. However, with the shoots being stalled, it all now seems to be a distant dream. I have almost run out of savings, and times are such that I cannot even ask my parents for help. They wanted me to come back after the lockdown was announced, but I decided to wait. But now I think I will have to leave as it’s the question of survival right now. I just hope that I get the confidence and means to come back again, and get a chance to fulfil my dreams.”

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