Mumbai Local

The Show goes on

While the Hindi film industry bigwigs may have welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move, spotboy Ajizbhai, who declined to share his second name, is feeling the heat. At some daily shoots, he is still being paid in old 1,000- and 500-rupee notes, he claims. “There is no time to stand for hours in queues to get them exchanged. The day’s work would suffer,” he says.

‘Spotboys’ are at the low end of the pecking order in the film industry; at shoots, aside from being the grunt force moving large spotlights, their job profile means they do pretty much anything else the production crew tells them to. They, like other daily wage earners —lightmen, carpenters, painters, junior artistes, stuntpersons — are finding that their payments and conveyance money (usually paid in cash) are getting deferred due to cash crunch or at best they are being offered cheques. “A lot of them don’t have [bank] accounts and can’t open them immediately,” says Dilip Pithva, honorary general secretary, Federation of Western India Cine Employees, the film industry workers’ union, which has 21 cine workers’ associations affiliated to it. “They are facing a long battle ahead for their own money.”

Ten days after the announcement most shoots seem unaffected, but production teams admit facing hurdles. “Haath tight ho gaya hai (Purse strings are getting tightened),” says one production assistant. Another says, “There are a lot of pains and problems but nothing has come to a halt.” Both admit that a lot of production expenses need to be handled with cash.

“Every minute on the sets, at the shoot, costs money. There are many incidental costs that all need liquid cash,” says filmmaker Suparn Verma. Soumik Sen, another filmmaker, says, “There are so many small things and last minute stuff — for example the diesel for the generator, or a trivial prop — that need to be managed with cash,”

How much cash money is that? “On an average a TV shoot requires Rs. 50,000 a day,” says an associate executive producer, “a film may need about Rs. 75,000; and for a big-budget film this e daily cash requirement can go up to Rs. 1.5 lakh per day. A major component of this is conveyance payments for the 100–200 (depending on the scale of the film) crew members.” So it’s not surprising that Mr. Modi’s announcement sent most production teams on a mad dash to withdraw what they could from banks.

The Show goes on

Not so shady any more

The industry had long been notorious for its underworld funding, black money and undeclared cash transactions. However, since the turn of the millennium, when corporate houses and studios began entering the business, things have been steadily changing for the better. “Till the late 90s, the ratio used to be 70 per cent ‘black’ and 30 per cent ‘white,’” says trade analyst Amod Mehra.

Today — or so we gathered from a cross-section of people we spoke to — at least 85 per cent and as much as 99 per cent of funding and payment is above board. Everyone from the top stars to the technicians get paid by cheque; only a handful of the lowest category of labour gets their wages in cash at the end of each day’s shoot. Ajizbhai confirms that though payments for monthly shoots for TV serials are by cheque, for most other shoots it is daily wages and cash payments for spotboys.

The model varies from one production house to another, though. Some prefer making cheque payments even to daily wage earners; others work on the cash-and-credit mode. “At times conveyance money may come to us 10 days after the shoot. Every production house has its own rules,” says lightman Vir Bahadur Sahni, currently on an outdoor shoot in Rajpipla, Gujarat. He was paid Rs. 65,000 through bank transfer just a day before the currency ban, and though he is away from home, he is relatively comfortable because his expenses on location are being met by the production house.

Just a few hiccups

Despite the clean-up in Bollywood’s finances, an interesting development recently has been that real estate developers are reportedly parking their money in film production, and their deals are known to be 50-50 cash-cheque.

Rumours have it that a yesteryear star who was given his fee in cash for one such project that was to roll in mid-December is now wondering what to do with his mountain of demonetised currency, even as the project itself has been held up for the moment.

Neeraj Pandey’s Akshay Kumar-starrer Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is currently shooting in Mathura, and the team is reported to have been caught totally unawares. Locals, though, have been helpful, accepting old currency from them. In that sense, much of cinema has remained unchanged: it is a business sustained by long-term ties, rapport and trust. “Some vendors have agreed to lock in the money,” another production assistant says.

There has been the news of a hold-up here and there. For instance, Milan Luthria’s Ajay Devgn-starrer Baadshaho has been delayed by ten days; it was supposed to go on the floor on November 19, but will now start shooting on November 29.

While things seem to be quite in control in Bollywood, the South, where the studio system and corporates haven’t made much inroads, is bearing the brunt of the Modi diktat. Black money and the cash-and-carry economy is a bigger reality there. “There is no money in the market; cash is stuck or not getting rotated,” says trade expert Sreedhar Pillai. “Releases are getting reshuffled.”

Ticket-buyers, however…

The most obvious immediate fallout, both in the North and the South, has been for the box office collections.

“The moment demonetisation was announced, the theatrical attendance went down to almost zero,” says trade analyst Amod Mehra. “Footfalls fell by 30 per cent over the last weekend.”

As Shailesh Kapoor, founder of Ormax Media, a firm specialising in trade insights, puts it, “People are too distracted to focus on entertainment. Also, there haven’t been many big films. But things will improve by the time Dear Zindagi hits the cinemas.”

While some small films — Saansein: The Last Breath and 30 Minutes, notably — have decided to postpone release, big films don’t have much of an option but to release. Delays would mean additional promotional costs and, besides, there aren’t very many release windows open, what with crucial weeks already hogged by biggies like Dangal and Befikre.


Then there are those who believe that short-term disruptions notwithstanding, demonetisation might help clean up the ‘new and improved’ industry even further. After all, the concerts, live events, party appearances and the like, which allegedly earn stars large cash payments, are yet to come under the income tax ambit.

And there’s the petty corruption. “Despite all the permissions, one has to fork out kharcha-paani money [i.e., bribes] to the Mumbai cops for shooting,” says a filmmaker, tongue-in-cheek. “Those pay-offs will go.”

It’s too soon to say whether these avenues for concealed income will now get blocked or just temporarily diverted. Especially in an industry whose very core is the art of illusion.

How much does a spotboy earn?

According to Ajizbhai, an average shoot will earn a spotboy Rs. 1095 for an 8-12 hour shift. They also get a conveyance allowance, an average of Rs. 95 for day shoots and Rs. 200 for night shoots. Bigger films and banners get them more: Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000 per day, plus Rs. 300 for conveyance. Ad shoots are known to pay the best: about Rs. 2500 for a day’s work.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 3:17:34 AM |

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