The morning after the movie workers’ strike ended, dummy effects creator Shekhar Katoraiyan set off on his motorbike, a battered cellphone in hand, to look for a day’s work. His CV had a lot of stuff on it.
“I create fake rain, lightning, thunder …anything that the producer wants,” said Katoraiyan, 42, father of three from a village in Tamil Nadu, who lives in one of the slums behind a hill in Bollywood’s dream factory, Film City.
Housed across 350 acres of a forest in northwest Mumbai, hundreds of films are shot here every year. More than 1 lakh people work around the clock, every day.
But in the heart of the make-believe world of Film City, their real world is ruled by uncertainty of work, erratic pay — and the march of technology.
“Five years ago, there was enough work to go around. Now there are hundreds of labourers in search of work… We work for 15 days. We sit at home for 15 days,” said Katroriyan, speaking in Hindi, heavy with Tamil accent.
Besides social security, there is little training or skill development for workers. “Whatever I have learnt has been from senior workers who helped me out. Now, effects are being created on the computers,” he said.
To be able to work, one has to be a member of one of the 22 associations that form the umbrella labour union — and that requires a steep membership fee.
Sattar Sheikh, a spot “boy” and carpenter, paid Rs 11,000 for his membership. “I sold the gold ring from my marriage to raise money,” said Sheikh’s wife Afroze.
Sheikh worked all of September on the sets of television producer Ekta Kapoor's mythological drama Mahabharata. Now it has been yanked off air, and Sheikh is not sure where he will be working when shooting is expected to resume in October.
Even worse off in negotiating are members of the Warli tribe, who lost their lands to Bollywood and the rest of the city, and still live here in small numbers. “I borrowed money and took the film workers union card. Most tribals cannot afford that” said farmer and labourer Navshya Gavit, 39, as he drew water from a well at a rice field.
Across the road is the sprawling complex of Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods film school.
The last time Gavit got employment on a set was over three years ago. “I helped build a stone set for Lakshya,” he said, smiling at the memory. “Hritik Roshan was in it.”