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Monday, August 02, 2021

The show must go on… on screen and off it too

Richa Chadda writes: Entertainment is going to be here, even when everything else shuts down. It’s an important industry in the country's ecosystem and a big soft power globally. It is a good time for us to learn and rebuild.

Written by Richa Chadda |
Updated: July 4, 2021 8:12:51 am
A TV show being shot in Kolkata when curbs were eased in June last year. (Photo: Partha Paul)

The economic impact of the pandemic on the film industry has been quite huge and has many layers to it. Personally, I was not affected financially. I have always been picky about my projects, working six-nine months in a year, and I have a habit of saving. But it’s not the same for people who rely on daily wages, such as junior artists, light men, gaffers, technicians, assistants and spot boys. Everybody’s income has been hit in the past year as shootings have stopped completely. Actors like us have had to sustain support staff — spot boys, drivers etc — on our own, which was not the case before the pandemic, at least not through the year. The production house behind the projects we worked for paid the dues of our staff members for the duration that the film was shot.

Last year, there were some provisions to support this section financially, including measures by the association for spot boys. Many in the industry also made donations for Covid relief. We are the largest film industry in the world, and I have always maintained that there needs to be some syndication of resources to help out industry workers in difficult times. We have many unions — the producers’ union, directors’ union, writers’ union — they all exist, but it would help if they had more power. I know of big producers who haven’t paid people who have worked for them. A sum of Rs 25 lakh may mean nothing to a big producer, but for many it is a matter of survival.

That said, I know everyone is suffering. It’s possible that people have lost money. Fortunately, we have a captive audience in the OTT space. Every day I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about paying my bills or desperately wish for more work to come in, but I sometimes wonder if that would have been the case had I been a new actor in the industry right now. Everything is shut and it’s quite demoralising at the moment. If you go to Versova or Lokhandwala, the usual hubs for newcomers, they are empty. Many have left the city to avoid paying exorbitant rents. Even many successful people have given up their residences in posh addresses and moved to Madh Island, where rent is a bit cheaper. Everyone is trying to adjust and adapt. I hope work picks up after this for everyone.

Last year, when the situation improved, I had shot something in October. I remember the entire crew being grateful to be just back at work. One member even thanked actors for being back on the set and agreeing to give takes without a mask. While actors are the face of the film industry, it also supports tens of thousands of people who are not seen on screen.

I could sustain my support staff, help them out with vaccination and their medical bills, but I also know of people who — even if they want to — have been unable to do so. Their present financial situation does not allow it. Crew members who collect wages at the end of a day’s work have been pushed into poverty as there is no work right now. We need to do something about this. Perhaps some senior members of the fraternity could all sit down and devise a plan — like what Javed Akhtar saab has done for lyricists.

I’m sorry, but we also cannot ignore the link between recent suicides by actors and these financial problems. People who work on pre- and post-production can continue to do so from the safety of the studio or their homes, but for actors, ground technicians and the larger workforce of the industry, we have nothing to fall back on. It’s question of sheer survival. I keep hoping that people get together in the industry and demand more in terms of incentives. Maybe lessening the GST burden on cinema halls is also a step in that direction, because they are paying huge rents. I read somewhere that you can rent a small screen in a mall for a child’s birthday party. Cinema halls are doing everything that they can to stay afloat. They have salaries to pay for ticket checkers, popcorn vendors, security, apart from maintenance costs of the property.

It’s not that people are not doing anything. Production houses such as Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions have organised vaccination drives and launched initiatives for providing meals. Maybe we can use this ongoing catastrophe to create lasting, long-term change. Maybe an older, wiser, person will find a way to make it sustainable for everybody. Entertainment is going to be here, even when everything else shuts down. It’s an important industry in the country’s ecosystem and a big soft power globally. It is a good time for us to learn and rebuild.

The writer is an actor known for her work in films such as Gangs of Wasseypur, Masaan and Section 375, among others

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