New Delhi, 01 Feb 2021 17:00 IST
Updated: 02 Feb 2021 4:21 IST
Opender Chanana’s hard-hitting documentary exposes the dismal reality of working conditions in the Hindi film industry.
Making a film is like building a structure: there are people who conceptualize it, there are others who figure out the nuts and bolts, and then there are the labourers who are brought in to do the grunt work and transform the idea into reality. Watching a film on screen, we seldom think about the countless people who toil day and night to create the final product. Opender Chanana’s documentary Living On The Edge: Deglamourizing Bollywood takes us behind the glittering façade to reveal the startling reality of film workers and technicians.
The documentary is an exposé of the abysmal working conditions in the Hindi film industry, popularly known as Bollywood. The structure of the industry is such that it is heavily dependent upon workers, junior technicians and artistes. However, it’s not just the work that is skewed; compensation and the work environment are heavily distorted in favour of the ones at the top of this food chain.
From long working hours, hectic schedules, intense pressure to complete projects and unhygienic food to the lack of basic facilities for workers and the absence of insurance cover or a retirement fund, the film covers a range of issues faced by workers and artistes in the industry. The filmmaker has interviewed a range of people from junior artistes, sound recordists and technicians to actors, production executives, voice recordists, directors and choreographers to lay bare the prevailing scenario.
We see the pressure that daily television soaps place on the industry in terms of sheer labour, pushing technicians to churn out projects at a breakneck pace. As one dancer says, “Health and safety are non-existent.” The lack of amenities is attributed to greed. Simply put, money saved on amenities means greater margins. But it does not stop there. Chanana’s film highlights the food chain where the big fish prey on the smaller ones to rake in the big bucks. One of the interviewees likens it to the caste system, where the cycle of oppression is deeply entrenched.
We are shown headlines of reports of accidents on film sets where workers get little or no compensation. One must consider the shame of a country that produces the largest number of films in the world every year neglecting its workforce in such a systemic manner.
There are a few solutions that the film puts forth, chief among them being a health cover and according the film business 'industry' status. This will smoothen the process of seeking compensation, insurance and retirement benefits.
Chanana uses talking head shots to let the interviewees tell the story. The extreme close-up shots are sometimes jarring as is the music, which feels overpowering. The documentary focuses on a crucial issue, but after a point we hear more of the same from different people.
The film has been screened at several festivals across the world and won numerous awards. One interviewee remarks dismally, “Human life has no value here." One can only hope this eye-opening film makes the industry sit up and take notice.
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