While it is raining money in Bengali film industry, the moolah has so far eluded stuntmen. Stuntman Deba broke his collar bone when the invisible wire, which he was tethered to, snapped while shooting for director Milan Bhowmik’s 2008 Bengali film Satyameva Jayate, starring Mithun Chakraborty. The stuntman, who has been working in the Bengali film industry for the past 16 years, admits that doing stunts can be risky. However, stuntmen in Tollywood say safety measures are not compromised and accidents such as the one that happened in Bengaluru are unlikely.
The Bengaluru accident has not only raised questions about the safety of actors and stuntmen, but has also triggered a debate on the poor pay here. Stuntmen working in Bengali film industry complain of the stark pay disparity with those who come to work from Bollywood and Chennai.
While stuntmen in Bengali film industry are paid Rs 900 for an eight-hour shift, their Bollywood counterparts draw Rs 4,000 (and more) for the same. When stuntmen are hired from Chennai, they charge anything between Rs 4,800-Rs 5,200 for a two-day sequence in Kolkata.
“Earlier, we were paid Rs 600 for an eight-hour shift. Our pay structure is abysmally low compared to our Bollywood counterparts. We have been fighting for a long time but nothing has been done,” said 40-year-old Deba, who did stunts in Bengali films such as Abhimaan, Black, Challenge 2 and Mama Bhaagne.
Senior stunt master Santanu Paul, who has choreographed fight sequences for Bengali films such as Ebar Shabor, Rajkahini and The Royal Bengal Tiger, rues that stuntmen here aren’t paid at par with Bollywood. He says that the accident in Bengaluru happened due to key safety lapses.
Paul recalled an episode when they were shooting for Debesh Chattopadhyay’s Natoker Moto. Paoli, who essayed the character of veteran theatre actress Keya Chakraborty, was required to shoot a drowning sequence in the Hooghly. Paul, who choreographed the sequence, made sure there were divers, wet suits, harness, industrial crane, net and a doctor on call.
“One cannot compromise on safety of actors and stuntmen. Yet, at times, accidents happen. While shooting for a Bengali film in Chennai, a stuntman sustained 45 per cent burns during a fire sequence when fire extinguishers did not work. The Tollywood stuntman was rushed to the nearest hospital and he was saved,” said Paul, who is the fight master in Sandip Ray’s Double Feluda.
A stuntman, who didn’t want to be named, said that the Movie Stuntmen Association of Eastern Zone has 75 members. “We have insurance but our poor pay depresses us. Producers are willing to pay Bollywood stuntmen twice the amount when they shoot in Kolkata,” said the 23-year-old.
Producer Himanshu Dhanuka, who has made action films such as Fighter, Wanted and Shatru, said that safety measures are always discussed. He added that he only hires stuntmen who have the required skill and experience to do risky stunts.
“While shooting for a song sequence for Prem Ki Bujhini in London, Subhashree met with an accident. In UK, you need to have a medic on location,” he said.
Chennai-based Judo Ramu, a popular fight master in Bengali film industry, said that he doesn’t start work if mattress and safety ropes are not present on the location. “There was a sequence in MLA Fatakeshto where around 100 stuntmen were involved. I made sure everything was in order to complete the shooting,” said the stunt master of films such as Kailashey Kelenkari, Wanted and Paglu.
Director Ravi Kinagi said a lot depends on the stunt master, who choreographs the sequence. The director, who had shot action films such as Awara, Josh and Yuddho, said that he makes sure the stuntmen rehearse a shot. Though some actors such as Jeet and Dev like to do their own stunts, directors and producers say that they use body doubles whenever higher risks are involved.
“Experienced stuntmen are equipped to handle any situation. They have a stronger presence of mind. That might not be the case with lead actors,” said Kinagi.
Industry insiders say that most of the stuntmen in Bengali film industry are not properly trained to perform difficult stunts. Stuntman Bimal Roy received 32 stitches while shooting for a sequence in Santanu Bhowmik’s film, when he fell on glass. Hence, producers willingly hire stunt masters and stuntmen from Chennai for Bengali films.
But the stuntmen working in Bengali film industry have a different take on the matter.
“Most of our Bengali films are remakes of south Indian movies. So, it’s easier for the producers to hire stunt master and stuntmen from South who have already shot such sequences,” said a stuntman who did not want to be named.
Producer Nispal Singh roped in Bollywood’s ace action director Allan Amin of Dhoom and Singh Is Kinng fame to choreograph the fight sequences involving Dev and Koel Mullick in Rangbazz. “I didn’t want to compromise on the safety of the crew. Hence, I got the most experienced man in Bollywood,” he said.
Dev, who has done dare devil stunts in Chander Pahar and Rangbazz, told HT that he loved performing those stunts in the film. “There was a scene an aerial helicopter shot in Rangbazz and we took all precaution before doing it,” said the actor.