The ‘Indian 2’ tragedy: How safe is it to work on the sets of Kollywood films?

Actor Jiiva films for a fight sequence on the sets of his recent movie ‘Seeru’

Actor Jiiva films for a fight sequence on the sets of his recent movie ‘Seeru’   | Photo Credit: B_VELANKANNI RAJ

The recent accident on the sets of the Kamal Haasan-Shankar film is not a one-off case in Kollywood. If you are a part of the Tamil film industry, chances are that your life expectancy has already gone down a few points, and an insurance policy only comes with a high premium

If you thought that being around heavy filming equipment was the number one source of risk on a film set, think again. The traumatic turn of events on the set of Kamal Haasan’s upcoming film Indian 2 at EVP Film City in Poonamallee last week — which resulted in three lost lives — is only an indicator of the general lack of safe working conditions in Tamil cinema.


The reason is cavalier attitudes, industry sources allege. Talk to any stuntmen associated with Tamil cinema, and you are likely to hear words like veeram (courage) and thunichal (bravado) thrown at you. What such attitudes have led to is a working environment where people, for fear of being looked down upon or not being offered an opportunity for not being “manly enough”, endanger their lives to an extent that can be deemed foolish.

Dancing with death

An up-and-coming actor in Tamil films tells this writer that he was “extremely fortunate” to not have suffered concussion, after being hit in the head due to a human error that could have been avoided entirely.

“I’m playing the antagonist in this film, and so in a fight sequence, the hero picks up a stool nearby and hits me on the head. Upon impact, the stool is supposed to break into pieces but the art director screwed it up. He left an actual stool instead and I was stuck in the back of my head hard. I felt numb and I just sat down clutching my head. Luckily, I did not suffer concussion or other injuries but the back of my head was swollen for a few days,” says the actor, bemoaning the fact that filmmakers seldom offer stunt doubles for newcomers and actors struggling to make a mark in films.

Mainstream Tamil actors and character artistes have remarked that the culture in Tamil films is that production units seldom prioritise life and limbs over work and the product. Actor Vishal, who suffered an injury filming a stunt sequence for his last film, Action, thinks it is “necessary to take risks” for whistle-worthy moments on screen. In fact, he marketed the film by stating in a few interviews that he suffered over “100 injuries” making it. Actor Vishnu Vishal, who suffered a career-threatening injury while shooting the upcoming film Kaadan, has previously gone on record to document his “miraculous recovery”. Even actor Ajith was in the news recently for suffering a bike accident on the sets of his upcoming Valimai.

In the West, actors like Tom Cruise and Jackie Chan, famed for executing their own stunts and injuring themselves many times over in the process, are considered outliers. Here, outliers are all we have.

Such practices are alienating to foreign film crews, when they collaborate with Tamil filmmakers. Says Jaguar Thangam, stunt master and current president of Film and Television Producer’s Guild of South India, that while working actor Rajinikanth’s English language film, Bloodstone (1988), American stuntmen refused to dive off the cliff in Hogenakkal waterfalls. “They flat out refused. They said they would not jump because it was life-threateningly risky. But our fighters jumped. Rajini sir knows this story.” Why do the stuntmen feel compelled to take risks? “It is to show our veeram,” he says, and adds: “besides, our boys won’t say no.”

Passing the buck

Another issue brought to the fore by the Indian 2 tragedy is the lack of interest among film producers to insure their films. The few who do, only agree to do so if the premiums they pay leave a minimal impact on the production budget. The compensation packages doled out by such insurance policies, in the case of fatality, and after being subjected to a long drawn-out process, offer little value to the families of the victim. Compensation packages offered by film producers post tragic incidents also paper over the fact that it takes away the option of a legal recourse away from the victims’ families.

Producer T Siva of Amma Creations, who is a member of the ad hoc committee which manages affairs at the Tamil Film Producers Council, says that it is the responsibility of the respective craft unions to insure members and ensure their workplace safety. “As a producer, our responsibility ends with the provision of equipment. It is the technician who should ask for safety equipment if he needs it,” he says.

Thangam adds that Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI), the umbrella body that represents all film technicians in the South film industry neither offers to take life insurance policies in its members’ names, as a standard union or co-operative society practice, nor does it lobby with the Producers Council or the Producer’s Guild to mandate inserting workers’ compensation packages into the contracts technicians sign with a production company.

With more industry stakeholders committed to passing the buck by opting to blame the inefficiency on the part of Indian 2 production unit for operating an industrial crane with an “under-qualified operator”, as a causative factor in the tragedy, than opening up avenues to discuss constructively the ways and means to improve the safety of film technicians and contractual staff, it would appear that safe working environment in Tamil cinema is a target that is miles away.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 2:35:54 PM |

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