When light boys fall and get injured in Bollywood, when make-up artistes don’t get their wages, and dancers unfairly lose jobs, they pick up their phones and call the twins.
The two burly men who staged a stunning coup last week. The men who shut down the world’s busiest movie industry.
You could call them the workers’ special branch. Prem Singh Thakur, who ran away from his remote Himalayan village to come to Mumbai at 14 and first worked as a waiter at a moviemakers’ canteen, and Firoze Khan, who came to the city from Indore as a month-old infant, and has done horse riding on screen and voices behind it.
They lead the vigilance wing of Bollywood workers, raiding sets and relying on a huge network of informers who alert them about labour exploitation.
The campaign of Thakur and Khan — known in labour circles simply as “Prem and Raja” — is the rebellion of the underclass in a fast globalising industry, a revolt that has ripped off the sheen from the glitzy face of the Bollywood: Rich on cash, poor on soul.
The two men have been accosted by cleaver-armed men in an autorickshaw, received SMS threats, offers of money and days of utter desperation when they wept in helplessness — and overcome them.
They ignited the two-day strike by tens of thousands of workers that ended on Friday night after two days of bitter negotiations, with producers agreeing to pay higher wages, stick to legal working hours and not employ those who were not members of labour unions.
Bollywood workers still do not get the luxuries their counterparts get in other trades – like provident fund contributions, gratuity and bonuses. The striking worker weren’t even asking for arrears of a promised raise — they just wanted better wages now onwards. So they won the first round, but that paved the way for a new battle — implementation of the agreement.