The coronavirus pandemic has brought life to a standstill worldwide. With the number of COVID-19 cases in India on the rise, malls, theatres and other public spaces have been shut down till 31 March as the government attempts to contain the virus’ spread. The entertainment industry has taken a hit as events have been cancelled, film releases postponed and film and television shoots suspended from 19 March to 31 March. While production houses will incur losses as a result, it is the daily wage and contractual workers, such as spotboys, makeup artists, junior artists and other staff, who will bear the immediate brunt.
Beena Gandhi, 62, moved to Mumbai from Gujarat 25 years ago. Back then, she didn’t know she would have a long association with Mumbai’s film and television industry. Today, Beena works as a “crowd puller” with some of the best production houses in the country. Her job involves bringing in the audience that sits in on most reality and comedy shows, and hiring the crowd that may be required in the background for a scene on a soap.
“I gather junior artists and people to join audiences on reality TV shows like India’s Best Dancer and Sa Re Ga Ma. The demand had come down from 100 people to just 20 for the remaining days of the shoot. Channels want to avoid huge crowds on the sets and even celebrities shooting for these shows have refused to be on the set if huge crowds gather,” she says.
Vinam Prakash Vora has a two-year-old son and has been working as a junior artist for the past 13 years. Her husband works in a jewellery shop in Mumbai’s Zaveri Bazaar. “In a month I manage to get around 18 to 20 TV shoots. But this month has been particularly slow and now the shoots are cancelled. We get Rs 800 for a shoot which is seven hours long and Rs 1,000 for a 12-hour shoot.” Now, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus and the shoots being shut down, she knows the coming months will be difficult.
"“I still have my husband’s earnings to support the family but I have friends who only earn through these shows and they will find it particularly difficult.”" - Vinam Prakash Vora, Junior Artist
Another junior artist we spoke to, 45-year-old Ramesh Mishra, is also extremely concerned about the month ahead. Much like Vinam, this month has been a slow one for him. As opposed to 20 shoots in a month, he got just two in March. The shoots that have been planned for the coming months have also been called off. “I am sitting at home and thinking about how we will make the coming days work. We have never seen anything like this before. Getting by each day will be a task.”
“You really can’t ascertain the loss to the TV and film industry from this shutdown,” says Babu Shah who runs a modelling agency. “I have been working in the industry for 20 years and haven’t seen anything like this. A-list celebrities are in self-quarantine, shoots are suspended and production houses still haven’t started ascertaining the losses that they will incur,” Shah says.
“Since massive sets are already up, we were given a buffer of two days,” says Shah talking about why the shoots weren’t suspended with immediate effect and from 19 March instead.
“I have made sure that I provide all the necessities to those coming for the shoot,” says Sameer Singh, a TV director who works regularly with junior artists. He also realises that since channels are suspending shoots, the daily wage earners in the industry will find it difficult to make ends meet in the coming weeks. Singh says that if channels pitch in with some compensation, it could help tide junior artists over till the situation improves.
"“The TV industry works in a chain. If channels shell out some amount and pay the producers and in turn the producers can provide us with some money, we can make sure that junior artists get payment for 11 days. As of now, we are making sure that they get at least two days’ worth of extra cash so they don’t fall short.”" - Sameer Singh, TV director . Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsIOA Backs IOC, Says Confident of On-Time Tokyo 2020 Olympics . Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.