Bollywood In the Time of COVID-19

by Noël de Souza April 3, 2020

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As India’s 1.3 billion people are under lockdown, all commerce and activities have come to a grinding halt. Movie theaters, malls, multiplexes, and all entertainment venues have shut their doors and so has one of Mumbai’s largest generators of employment, Bollywood. This has caused currently shooting films, television and daily web series to stop production. Film City, one of the industry’s largest and best-equipped studios, whose gardens are a tourist attraction, is like a ghost town today. Partially constructed sets that were recently being used, stand in eerie silence, deserted.   

Films that were scheduled for release with box office drawing talent such as Akshay Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan have been postponed. Each day that goes by causes a great financial loss for both theaters and production houses; but it is low paid workers who suffer the most and feel the crunch. They earn about $14 per eight-hour shift, with no benefits whatsoever. These are the carpenters, spot boys, extras and all the below the line workers.

It is in times like these that we see what is good in humans come to the forefront. People and unions and fraternities are banding together to do whatever they can to lessen the hardships of the less fortunate. Actors of name are doing their part, Akshay Kumar has given $3.3 million to the government assistance fund, Shah Ruk Khan has donated $800,00 to the film fraternity. There is an initiative put forward by the Art of Living Foundation and the Indian film and television industry, they are requesting everyone from the film fraternity, not just the big names, but everybody, to contribute. It could be as little as $15 which will feed an average family for ten days. A few producers have stepped forward and are paying the people who were working on their production part or their full-time wages. The producer’s guild and the trade federation of India cine are doing their bit in helping the less fortunate in the industry.

Besides the money aspect, actors are doing Public Service Announcements spots, educating the general public in the precautions that should be taken to safeguard themselves and their families against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime minister Narendra Modi had called upon the public to stand on their balconies, hang out of their windows and applaud the medical workers and police for their services during these uncertain and trying times, joining them were a number of top stars and Anupam Kher the star of the television series New Amsterdam.

It is at times like this that we see the glaring contrasts in wages. India’s $24 billion industry of films, television and streaming is very good for the actors, producers, and networks. But it is the everyday worker within the industry who is paid a wage that sustains him or her from day to day who bear the brunt of the current crisis. Now, perhaps a spotlight will be shined upon this problem and steps will be taken to remedy it.