Nearly one lakh people work for daily wages in Mumbai’s glitzy entertainment industry. When the pandemic shuttered it early last year, they were overnight thrown out of work. It was only after the lockdown to contain the pandemic was lifted in June that the industry sputtered back to life, barely. The Maharashtra government allowed film and TV shoots to resume, but with just . TV and web series shoots picked up pace but films are still not being shot as frequently. For the daily wagers, whose lives and livelihoods exist in the shadows of glamour, it meant work remained scarce. Now, with Mumbai in the grip of a fresh wave of infections, their situation is set to get worse.
The city has recorded over 63,000 new coronavirus infections in the past week, compelling the Maharashtra government to theatres, shopping malls and restaurants, and order and . Rumours are circulating of an impending extended lockdown and that worries Vijay Batham no end. “If another lockdown happens, I’ll stay in Mumbai no matter what,” he said. “It’s very difficult to keep uprooting my family.”
Vijay has been a spot boy for nearly 20 years. He was working on the set of Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 when the film’s shooting was halted after lead actor Kartik Aryan tested positive for the virus. Vijay, along with fellow spot boys, technicians and lightmen – all hired on daily wages – were left scrambling to look for other projects. He found work on a Dharma Productions film but that shoot was abruptly halted as well when actor Vicky Kaushal tested for coronavirus. So, Vijay is without work, again.
Not least because work in the film industry has winded down after several dozen and tested positive over the past week. Actor Akshay Kumar was confirmed to have the virus on April 4, leading to the shooting of his film Ram Setu being stopped. A day later, 45 junior artists working on the film’s set positive as well.
A little over a year ago, Vijay was working on an out-of-station shoot when news that a lockdown may be imposed hit the set. The shoot was cancelled and he returned to Mumbai, which was soon locked down. In June, when special trains were run for migrants, he left for his village near Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
“The whole year was useless,” he complained, “there was no work.”
He may be looking at another extended period without work. The team he works with has informed Vijay that there are no upcoming projects for at least another 10 days.
The situation is so precarious that the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, a worker union with 5,00,000 members, last week to the chief minister pleading with him to not declare a fresh lockdown.
“One whole year has passed with no work and no income, distressed lives and no food, hunger stricken families and deprived children. It was a very dreadful and sorry state of people who were left alone to fight their own battles of hunger and poverty with absolutely no aid from any government body,” the union said in their letter.
Recently, filmmaker Hansal Mehta voiced concern for artists and workers in the industry who are dependent on daily wages.
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