The flip side of Bollywood

Health and Safety FIA Projects Publications

Mumbai boasts one of the most prolific and popular industries in the entire world of entertainment: it is the Mecca of Indian cinema. Although several other film and television production hubs exist elsewhere in this vast country, Mumbai is the home of “Bollywood”, where glamorous and successful Hindi language films are made at a relentless pace, starring established actors. With millions living in poverty or stuck in the rat race, Bollywood is a formidable dream-selling machine.

Tens of studios compete with one another to produce the next box office hit, feature films but increasingly also television series and soaps, or sign lucrative deals with overseas productions seeking to shoot on location. Exposure to the international market has brought in more capital as more foreign studios and broadcasters spend their dollars in Mumbai to secure themselves a share of a 1.2-billion potential audience bonanza. The provision of 100% foreign direct investment has made the Indian film market very attractive for them.

With hundreds of TV channels and sprawling multiplexes, content demand has never been greater and hardly a day goes by in Mumbai without crews hustling around, stunts pulling spectacular numbers, dancers engaging with tightly choreographed moves and actors delivering compelling stories on camera. And yet, behind Bollywood’s glamour, lies a much bleaker reality. A study recently commissioned by FIA with sister federations FIM and UNI MEI tells of abysmal standards exposing many film workers in Mumbai to unnecessary risks, often with troubling consequences.

Gruelling shifts, inadequate turnaround on many film sets, scant personal protection equipment for technical crews, no emergency procedures or fire safety measures, bad food, unsanitary conditions, insufficient training are commonplace. Permanent injuries and casualties regularly occur and are muttered away with a striking sense of fatalism. If a handful of film studios are beginning to take health and safety requirements more seriously, television channels are lagging shockingly behind.

The flip side of Bollywood tells untold stories of actors fainting from exhaustion, stunt performers plunging to their deaths, gaffers getting electrocuted, voiceover artists choked by poor ventilation, dancers suffering from repetitive strains, crew members walking barefoot among live wires, falling from heights, tripping or even getting attacked by wild animals as they find their way home at night. Medical care is often miles away from shooting locations and precious hours are easily wasted in the hectic Mumbai traffic.

In partnership with its sister federations, FIA is committed to helping the Federation of Western India Cine Employees drive better occupational health and safety standards into Bollywood. With funding from the Swedish Trade Union Confederation LO-TCO, a three-year project is expected to deliver training, awareness-raising activities, solidarity support and assistance. At a recent meeting in Mumbai, on November 26 and 27, film worker unions agreed on the necessary steps towards an effective industrial dialogue, culminating in the adoption of a much-needed safety code. Because the success of Bollywood cannot continue to be at the expense of those, whether before or behind camera, that contribute to it with all their skills and dedication.

Survey on OHS standards in the film/TV industry in Mumbai

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