Madras Week Movies

How Tamil cinema’s technicians survived this lockdown

Stunt master ‘Siruthai’ Ganesh   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Ready, ready, action.”

Amidst a cacophony of voices, we hear stunt master ‘Siruthai’ Ganesh uttering the three golden words to his crew, giving us a feeling that the film industry is slowly getting back to the grind. But no.

He is not shooting for a film, but for a video for his YouTube channel that will document the lives of senior stunt masters, in a series of first-person interviews. “Though the Government has given permission to shoot for TV serials, we still haven’t received any instruction regarding film shoots,” says Ganesh over phone. He was toying with the idea of starting his own YouTube Channel — Maga Aasan — during the lockdown. The channel will go live next month.

Ganesh was choreographing the stunt sequences for a Vemal film and was supposed to start work on a Pa Vijay film before he was bogged down by the uncertainty of the pandemic.

He barely managed to soldier through the nationwide lockdown in March. Then, issues began to creep in — both professionally and personally — when the lockdown was subsequently extended.

Though the South Indian Cine Stunt Directors and Stunt Artistes Union was helping artistes with financial aid and essentials, it ultimately boiled down to senior masters like Ganesh, who has been supporting his core team of 10 fighters.

While some technicians sought refuge in Zoom calls and executed shoots virtually, it was not an option for Ganesh, given that his line of work involves physical contact.

Discussing shoots in the new normal, he says, “Have you accepted this as our reality?If actors are certified Corona-free by medical professionals on the set, why should we worry? This is just a passing cloud.”

Ganesh was in the process of acquiring a piece of land and had a few commitments that were quashed in the wake of COVID-19. But he states that daily wagers were the worst affected, some of whom sought alternative routes for employment. “A jimmy jib operator started selling fruits. Some of the stuntmen I knew ventured into vegetable business and drove auto rickshaws. They needed the money for survival.”

For veteran wig maker B Natesan too, it was a question of survival. Despite the financial support provided by South India Cine and TV Makeup Artistes Union, he had to pawn his wife’s jewels, to pay rent and keep his business afloat.

The wig maker also made news for coming up with an innovative ‘Corona’ wig, in an effort to create awareness. “The Corona wig is long and messy. It is sported by actors who play arakans (demon) in dramas.”

Wig maker B Natesan

Wig maker B Natesan   | Photo Credit: K_Pichumani

Natesan sources hair from Tirupati, Tiruttani and Velankani. He says that the demand for hair has not dropped despite the pandemic.

He has reopened his shop, situated adjacent to Kodambakkam bridge, although there has been a noticeable dip in the number of customers, who, he says, are mostly cancer patients referred to by doctors.

“Once public transportation becomes operational, I am confident that customers will flock, as they used to before,” says Natesan, adding that he sold over 30 wigs on an average, which has come down to a maximum of five today.

The way back

Foley artistes S Babu and TP Purushothaman have not benefited from the relaxation either. They resumed work last month when the lockdown was further eased, and wrapped up the pending patch work for Gamanam (Telugu) and Robert (Kannada).

The duo was left with little to no projects when the Government issued permission to resume post-production work. “We usually have a tight schedule all through the year. But this has been a testing period; some of us have left for our hometowns,” says Babu from Tindivanam. They are commissioned for work by audio post production companies like Sync Cinema, Oli Sound Labs and LV Prasad Institute (for Telugu).

“I haven’t paid school fees for my daughter who is in Class XII. Online classes have started and they have been insisting that we pay at least half the fee,” says Purushothaman, who would make about ₹40,000-50,000 a month while Babu earned anywhere between ₹25,000-30,000, under normal circumstances.

For most technicians, the situation will only improve when theatres start functioning, since a cluster of movies is still stuck in a limbo. “How can producers pay our dues when their money is stuck? There is a lot that needs to be done when theatres reopen.”

This is the fifth in a seven-part series on Chennai and its people, in lockdown, celebrating 381 years of resilience.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 4:04:32 AM |

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