Dream big: The Indian film industry is celebrating another shot in the arm, a whopping 1.5 billion dollar alliance between business tycoon Anil Ambani and Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks.
That doesn’t impress one man sitting in a room overlooking a shantytown in the thick of moviedom in Mumbai. “That’s one truth,” said Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt. “Devi Kapada, home to the original residents of Film City within the same complex, offers a different reality. Drinking water is scarce, starvation looms and they live in constant fear of being devoured by panthers. The workers’ lot has remained unchanged since I entered the business in 1970.”
Bhatt sits on the side of the producer, alongside his brother Mukesh. But he has frequently reached out across the divide. “We can no longer continue to confuse a club of 50 who are accorded media attention, as the major bulk of the industry.”
At 18, in dire need of a job, Bhatt joined as production manager for Raj Khosla’s Mera Gaon, Mera Desh. The job required him to bring food, arrange chairs, hail cabs for actors and carry make-up boxes for the stars.
“While I kept my eye on the aspirations, the half lies and full lies of the industry bigwigs, I could never delink myself from the reality of the junior artists,” Bhatt recalled. “I had a friend in Shouqat, a union worker, whose main possession was a suit, which he had to protect from rats in his hut,” he said. “In my darkest moments I took heart from that learning.”
When talks were deadlocked betwteen workers and producers during the strike last week, workers’ leader Dinesh Chaturvedi called Bhatt. He played a crucial role in resolving the crisis, Chaturvedi said.