The film industry is going through a tough time. While the bigger actors and wealthy celebrities are somewhat managing to get by through their savings, there is a huge portion of the working class who are either on daily wage or on the slab-basis payment structure. With theatres getting shut in various states and a looming fear of total lockdowns hovering over our heads, the financial woes of the people surviving because of the film industry is growing by the day.
Talking about the same, actor Ranaksh Rana says, “Imagine any other industry being completely shut when a pandemic hits. We can’t because human survival will be in question. The entertainment industry, as the name itself suggests, is seen as not necessary for survival. But I remember the movie ‘Dead Poets Society’ and what legendary actor Robin Williams said – ‘And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.’ I strongly believe in this. Art is a crucial part of human existence. What would be life without the colors and flavours of art in it? Nevertheless, it is real. The struggle is real. Yes when an entire industry comes to a stand still, thousands if not lakhs of people are struggling in day-to-day lives, forget savings. It is quite difficult to manage finances for those who are solely dependent on continuous inflow. If the inflow stops, what do you do? We have several examples across the globe and a few in India too where entire series or movies have been shot virtually. It’s not widespread yet but I am hopeful that things will evolve with the changing times and the new normal is adopted to stay afloat during these difficult times of lockdown.”
Character artiste Harshali Zine says, “The third wave lockdown is not shocking at all. It was always anticipated. They had made it quite clear in the news. One of the life lessons I have learned is to always be mentally prepared for worst-case scenarios. Being part of the industry for more than a decade, I have made enough money and have enough savings to survive any black swan event. I also have passive income coming in, hence there is absolutely no pressure to take up a project for money. I take my own time to choose the right projects that fit my requirements. I have worked a lot in 13 years and now I’m yearning to do only meaningful projects that would satisfy my creative palette. Big relief for me is, I'm single and my only responsibility is to take care of my needs.”
Character artiste Aman Maheshwari adds on the same note, as he says, “Due to lockdown, of course, there was no work and the rent and all the other expenses were still there since living in Mumbai is quite an expense because when you’re living in a rented accommodation you are coming from a different city all your savings just go for a toss and it’s just embarrassing to ask for money from your parents. So, yes I’m very blessed that I have a very supportive family because of which I was able to cope with the circumstances. As of now I don’t feel I face any difficulties, but yes in this industry money comes after a few days, it’s not like you work today and you’ll get the money by the end of the month, you have to wait for a few extra weeks to follow payments. And there are still a lot of my payments that I have not received and this is about the time from before lockdown. So I think it’s a part and parcel.”
Actor Saanand Verma has been making us laugh all through his characters, but he opens up about a sordid reality faced by character artistes. He says, “Due to lockdown daily shows and films get affected and we all face financial issues. I get a call every now and then from my co-actors or colleagues for financial help and I always try to help them. Lots of financial issues are there because people are not working as the number of working days are getting reduced and the monthly income is definitely getting affected with time. We need to take care of the basic necessities and do not do anything which is very expensive and whatever can be done we should postpone it, especially things which are of high expenditure. Postpone anything which is expensive, and do anything now which is very important and we should plan our finances accordingly, because financial planning is very important in these times because everything is very uncertain, when things go very bad. So we all need to plan our finances and just be prepared for a rainy day. Just always think one thing that this is just a phase and everything is going to pass and we’re going to see the new times and sunrise with hopes, shinier and brighter if we keep our hopes alive and plan everything.”
The problem is not just with junior artistes and characters artistes. It has even affected the bigger names as well. Popular film director Vivek Agnihotri says, “The film payments are generally on slabs. Like signing amount, then few days before the shoot begins, then when 50% shoot is done, then when 80% shoot is done, then when the film is complete, and then finally on the film’s release. Now (because of the lockdowns) everything is getting pushed. So, if you’ve started and then shot for a few days, and then it gets pushed. So the payment which you were supposed to get after 50% of the film getting complete also gets postponed. I have faced the problem myself. We were supposed to finish ‘The Kashmir Files’ in early 2020, and it is 2022 and yet the film is not being able to release because of again a lockdown. So accordingly, the payments also get delayed. That’s a problem. Also, the number of projects you end up signing keeps becoming lesser and lesser because of the uncertainty of shoot and release. Therefore the financials also get affected.”
Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) President, BN Tiwari talking about the issues, says, “The problems were there even when there was no lockdown because there are so many workers. When a lockdown happens it just becomes more widespread. The first problem people come up with is that the payments which are pending, get cleared off as soon as possible. If the work is flowing, then they rest assured that the payment would come if not today, tomorrow. But what to do when there is no work at all? Many people do save, but there are daily wagers who have to depend on their day-to-day earnings. They face the maximum problems, and when this happens the Federation tries to help them out. I start making calls to people for support. Salman Khan, Yash Raj Foundation, Rohit Shetty, Ajay Devgn, and many others come up front and help us every now and then. A while ago, the YRF foundation helped people get vaccinated free of cost. Monetary help also was provided by many benefactors. Now, till the time the work is going on, there isn’t going to be an issue, but yes, if a lockdown situation happens, then these issues start coming to the forefront again.”
Lots of big-budget films have been pushed themselves ahead because of the pandemic scare. ‘Jersey’ to ‘RRR’ to ‘Radhe Shyam’ to ‘Prithviraj’ – many films have pushed their release dates ahead. These all were slated to be in theatres in the month of January. Now with them not releasing, the month of January is a total lull at the theatres, even in centers where it’s 50% occupancy. If the condition doesn’t improve in the coming few weeks, there might be films in the month of February as well which might push themselves ahead and not release in theatres. Unable to bear the costs of shelving a project, there might be films that might lookout for an OTT route. Let’s wait and watch!