Rot at the heart of Bollywood’s dazzle | entertainment | Hindustan Times
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Rot at the heart of Bollywood’s dazzle

entertainment Updated: Oct 03, 2008 09:55 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times
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Not too far from where plush make-up vans for actors rented for Rs 10,000 a day choke movie sets in Film City, a minor issue was brought up last month: junior artistes — those who play minor roles or make up the numbers in crowd scenes — were scrounging for changing rooms and toilets.

Bollywood is on strike after thousands of workers stayed away on Tuesday, demanding better wages. Leaders of two main producers’ bodies — with 10,000 members — met workers’ leaders on Thursday, with no progress.

“The matter is still unresolved. There is distrust on the workers’ side towards producers, and producers have done little to address that,” a prominent filmmaker, who was at the meeting, said.

But producers seemed set to clamp down on foreigners working here without work permits, another sticky issue.

The workers’ protest has bared the bitter fissures in the world’s most prolific movie industry, where the last major strike occurred in the late 1960s.

It has also shown how at the heart of India’s most popular international brand, there is a deep rot. It is the underclass versus the rich, it is the old order versus the new, the corporate giant versus the traditionals — this is not the movies, this is a reflection of India.

Traditional, family-driven filmmakers believe that new corporate giants with deep pockets and trading on Indian and global markets have ruined pay scales.

“These corporate houses… have no clue about movies. They bragged that they came here to introduce a culture of honesty and transparency, but they have poisoned it further with their clever lies,” Mukesh Bhatt, chairman of the producer’s committee negotiating an end of the strike, told HT.

Several executives from corporate houses declined to respond on record. Bhatt said rosy projections of Bollywood’s financial boom by corporate giants, aimed largely at pleasing the stock market, had misled workers. “If workers’ demands are reasonable, we will listen. Otherwise, let them go ahead with [the strike] — for a month, two months, 10 months, a year,” said a top producer, declining to be named.

The strike has shut down shoots of several films and television serials, which is expected to hurt producers hard. From spot boys to light men to carpenters to junior artistes, Bollywood shortchanges those who work for it.

Daily-wage workers often don’t get paid for weeks. Payments are lower than those printed in official documents. From working hours to facilities to benefits, working conditions are so bad they would draw lawsuits in other industries. “What you are witnessing is a watershed battle,” said the filmmaker associated with the talks. “This will truly decide the future of Bollywood.”