It’s a catwalk in complete darkness — on a one-foot thick wooden plank— at a height equivalent of a five-storey building, holding heavy movie lights often without gloves.
That is Bollywood for the light boys who work in darkness to keep the Bollywood sets dazzling — and often fall, break their bones or die.
Mohammad Jaan, 37, took the fatal step last December when he was working on the sets of Bobby Deol-starrer Chamku, a fall that smashed his skull. His family, a young wife and two minor children, returned to their village in Andhra Pradesh after receiving a compensation of Rs 3.84 lakh. It was the third such death last year.
Jaan came to Mumbai in the early 90s but could not cope with the fast pace. He soon returned to his village, driving a cycle rickshaw. He got married, but soon came under deep debt, and escaped again to Mumbai to earn. He vowed to return home in his personal car. Over the next 15 years, he worked first as a spot boy, but the more attractive label of a ‘technician’ drew him to the more risky job of a light boy — which eventually claimed his life at 37.
Swapan Mitra, a light boy with over 10 years’ experience, says he has had over 100 minor accidents. “Yes, it’s a dicey job, but accidents are common.” “Sometimes one slips, sometimes the hand gets burnt, sometimes you break your bone or back, “ he added.
Nearly half the light boys get work for only 10 days a year. Bollywood pays them Rs 604 per shift and they get Rs 520 per shift in television with an annual hike of 12 per cent. With more movies and television serials being made, there is more work — and much more risk.
“Behind the scenes and stars, the conditions are appalling. My fears are that the conditions are so bad that it will be hard to get insurance cover,” said cinematographer Sunil Patel, who shot Bachna Ae Haseeno.
Few technicians are insured, and some labour unions are planning to add group insurance to their schemes. Mohammed Shakir, who came here from Allahabad in 1964, is a veteran.
"The light boys are always on the move — they have to change the focus after every shot,” he said. They keep running on narrow planks. Of late, some studios have increase the width of the plank to three feet — small mercy, considering that sometimes two light boys have to simultaneously cross them. But people like Suresh Ingre, who has worked on the sets of 600 odd films over the past 28 tears shrug off the risks. “Every job is risky. We want to be taken care of. That's all,” he said.