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TV sweatshops: Shoot me till I die

While you slumped in front on your TV set last week, relaxing after a hard day?s work, Roshni Chopra, whom you might have been watching, collapsed after working for 52 hours at a stretch.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 14:11 IST
Kshama Rao

While you slumped in front on your TV set last week, relaxing after a hard day’s work, Roshni Chopra, whom you might have been watching, collapsed after working for 52 hours at a stretch.

In any other industry, a 52-hour workday could lead to union action. But Chopra, lead actor of Kasamh Se, produced by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms, picked herself up and went back to work after a few hours without complaint.

“At least actors can rest between shots,” she says. “But the technical team has no respite. No profession is without hardships and I am prepared for mine.”

Not that Roshni has a choice in the matter. In the first place, TV actors have no union to take up their case. Just an association that looks mainly into problems of payment or harassment, if there are any.

Then there’s the need to ingratiate themselves with the producers. This is a highly competitive industry where, if an actor makes an impact, she could make anything up to Rs 1 lakh a day. And there are hundreds of wannabe actors in Mumbai just waiting for a break.

An actor who refuses to turn up because of ill health, or asks for a justified week’s break, could find herself written out of the serial.

Finally, the producers are too concerned with profits to really care about working conditions. For instance, Balaji Telefilms, with 18 serials on air, has just posted an operating profit of Rs 199.49 million for the third quarter of this financial year.

“My big lesson at Balaji has been that it is one thing to get to the number one slot, but it is quite another to stay there,” Ekta Kapoor told shareholders in Balaji’s annual report for 2004-2005. “It requires you to do a number of things better than your competitors: You need to stay focused and work 24 x 7 x 365. Period.”

Other well-known actors including Juhi Parmar, Sakshi Tanwar, Nausheen Ali Sardar, Rakshanda Khan and Neha Bamb have shot for two or three serials at a time, clocking 14-16 hours a day at different sets seven days a week, 30 days a month. In some circles, this would be called exploitation.

But TV actors don’t see it that way. “It’s your choice,” shrugs Smriti Iraani of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, who worked till the very last day of her two pregnancies. “No one puts a gun to your head.”

First Published: Feb 05, 2006 14:11 IST