With the Mumbai film industry in shutdown due to the COVID – 19 outbreak, shoots have been stalled and releases pushed. It’s not just the big players who will be affected — Bollywood is a massive ecosystem, employing thousands in various unorganised sectors. From on-set caterers to junior artists to stuntmen and other daily wage workers, we bring you a series of short profiles of people who depend on the Hindi film industry for their livelihoods and how the lockdown is poised to affect their business.
Rohit Yadav, the owner of RR Catering Services in (Andheri West), has been cooking and delivering food to film sets for the past 20 years. He talks about the losses his business will incur over the next two weeks:
“The impact has been humongous. I have no words. Only once in 20 years has my kitchen been shut, and that too only for three days, when Balasaheb Thackeray died.
No shoots means that from the 18th, there will be no more film catering, which my business depends on completely. Our business is huge—we feed around 400 to 800 people every day. We have a team of 35 people, including chefs, waiters, kitchen staff and drivers. We cook, transport and serve food. All of that comes to a standstill. It’s not only a big issue financially but also psychologically because you have to take certain decisions. I can’t tell my staff or even myself that this will end on March 31 for sure. What if the cases go up and the government decides that we should spend 15 more days in quarantine? Then what?
We have huge labour costs and fixed costs. When you’re running a business with no income and huge expenses, like I will have to, then it’s a big issue. My staff stays with us. So their food (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and lodging is another expense that we bear. If I keep feeding them and paying their salaries while we’re out of work, that will cost me Rs 3 lakh for these two weeks. We get an average turnover of Rs 60 lakh a month so now if we’re out of work for two weeks, we’ll lose around Rs 30 lakh.
We’re entirely dependent on our staff and so can’t let any of them go. I gave them two options—either take the salary and go on a holiday back to your native place, or take the salary and continue living with us. Twelve people have stayed back so we are paying their salaries, paying for their food and lodging.
Two weeks ago, I knew this would happen but I wasn’t ready for it. Logistically, it’s fine, my staff and clients are like family and I can talk to them. But it still hits you psychologically – that you won’t have any work for two weeks. This idea that the kitchen is shut and I won’t have orders is really affecting me psychologically.
We maintain a stock at a godown because we can’t keep making fresh purchases everyday. So there’s a small amount of food that will go to waste—paneer and green peas, some chicken, corn, a half-open pack of butter.
What I’m afraid of is the day they give us the go-ahead and tell us we can resume our business, all the catering orders will come in at once, when we have just 12 staff here. Once I start asking those people to come back, they’ll say things like: I’ll come back tomorrow or I didn’t get a ticket or My mom is telling me to stay for two more days. When clients want food, we will have inadequate staff and won’t be able to cater to them.”
As told to Gayle Sequeira