If there's a section of the film industry that is likely to be hit hardest by the ongoing Covid-19 shutdown, it's the daily wage earners – spot boys, stuntmen, makeup artists, light men and more who have been out of work since Bollywood stalled production on films, TV shows and OTT content on March 19. To offer them financial assistance, the Producers Guild of India partnered with the Indian Film & Television Producers Council (IFTPC) and the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) and set up a fund on April 2. According to FWICE President BN Tiwari, the donors include streaming giant Netflix (Rs 7.5 crore), filmmaker Rohit Shetty (Rs 51 lakhs) and actors Ajay Devgn (Rs 51 lakhs), Janhvi Kapoor (Rs 5 lakhs) and Arjun Kapoor (Rs 2 lakhs).
The money will be disbursed to the "neediest-most daily wage workers from the lowest wage brackets, who have not got any financial assistance," said Kulmeet Makkar, Chief Executive Officer, PGI. All transfers will be made directly into the workers' accounts, with no cash transactions.
This comes nearly three weeks after the guild announced its plans to set up a Relief Fund for daily wage earners.
When Film Companion spoke to several of these daily wage workers over the past two weeks, they said that they were unaware such a fund existed. "I didn't even know about any relief fund, I'm getting to know about it from you. If producers are distributing money to daily wage earners, then they should call them to their offices, take their card numbers and give them the money. There's no point giving it to the Unions, who often cheat us," said a spot dada, who did not wish to be identified. Others, such as stuntwoman Geeta Tandon, say they've been hearing about the fund through the news but have yet to receive any aid.
When Film Companion spoke to Makkar a week after the Relief Fund had been announced, he said the guild did not have a ready-made database of daily wage workers across the industry. It had reached out to various production houses in Mumbai, seeking lists of the workers employed as part of their ongoing projects, what their wages were and how many days they had been working for. By then, however, the nationwide lockdown came into effect and the guild anticipated that it would take weeks for such information to be collated. Early efforts, thus, focussed on collecting funds with no plans for disbursing the amount.
Partnering with the FWICE, which has a database of the 5 lakh members of its 32 affiliated organisations – like the Film Studios Setting & Allied Mazdoor Union and the Western India Motion Pictures & TV Sound Engineers Association – solved the issue. However, clerical errors still persist: while actor Salman Khan pledged to deposit funds directly into the accounts of the 25,000 most needy workers on March 29 and Yash Raj Films followed suit on April 4, the process was delayed when the federation discovered that many of the workers' names were duplicated.
Workers who are both, spot boys and light men, for example, belong to more than one affiliated organisation and so appear twice on the list. Tiwari said he expects the final lists to be made on April 7 and for Khan's and Yash Raj's transfers to be complete by the next day.
While the federation had also put together 4,000 bags of groceries comprising 5kg rice, 5kg atta, 2kg dal, 2kg sugar and 1kg masala, the shutdown meant that they could not distribute the packets until April 1, when they went door-to-door with groceries. "Over two days, we donated 1,000 packets. Now we'll give them to the associations (under us) because they know where their members live and that will make the process more efficient," said Tiwari.
Another association providing meals and groceries to daily wage workers, low-income groups and migrants is the Art of Living Foundation. Actors Taapsee Pannu, Kiara Advani, Rakul Preet and more expressed support for the initiative. "We've reached about 3.5 lakh people in 10 states. We give them groceries that can keep them going for a week or 10 days. The packet has 5 kg atta, 3 kg rice, 2 kg dal, condiments like salt, pepper and haldi, and two soap packets," said Ramesh Raman, CSR Head, Art of Living. The organisation has partnered with municipal corporations and NGOs to identify needy families in Mumbai's Dharavi, Dombivli and Thane areas. It also arranges for 5,000 food packets daily in Mumbai for those who do not have cooking facilities at home. Raman estimates that in Delhi, they've distributed 2.5 lakh food packets up till April 6.
Some in the industry, such as filmmakers Anubhav Sinha, Vikramaditya Motwane, Hansal Mehta and Anurag Kashyap have opted to bypass these associations and donate directly to daily wage workers they have worked with on their last film. "Daily wage workers are reasonably paid. I am sure they have savings and so it's not the money or the resource that an individual looks for at this point. What's important for him is a phone number that he can call when he needs it. So God forbid, somebody's mother goes to the hospital suddenly and he needs 30,000 rupees. He must have a phone number that he can call and the faith that: If I'll call this number I will have help reaching me by the time I reach hospital," explains Sinha.
To seek assistance from the PGI or FWICE, or to donate to the fund, write to: [email protected]
To donate to the Art of Living fund: https://www.iahv.org/in-
With inputs from Sneha Menon Desai