•  Punam Bakshi Mohandas
    •  06 June 2020
    •  1997

    The Good Samaritans of the Indian Cine Industry

    The Indian Film Industry and its Trade Unions come forward to fight COVID-19

    There’s much more to Indian films than a few visible faces of the industry. The COVID-19 pandemic and the enforced isolation it has wrought has been particularly hard for those on the fringes of the Indian film fraternity as a whole, such as character actors, back-up dancers, stuntmen, technicians, spot boys and so on. With film shootings at a standstill and sets being dismantled, how have the infinite numbers that comprise this staggeringly huge sector coped during these troubled times?

    All the leading film associations have stepped up to help their members, with some joining forces in order to reach out to larger numbers. The Cine and TV Artists Association (CINTAA) distributed ration packets and Rs 2,000 to members in dire financial need. Sushant Singh, Honorary General Secretary, CINTAA, said: “Rs 2,000 each was transferred to 731 members from CINTAA funds initially, making that a total of 14.62 lakhs. Later, donations started coming in from others who wanted to help. We also distributed rations to our members with the help of some NGO’s; CINTAA members like Arjun Bijlani and Ravi Kissen donated rations as well.”

    Film makers such as Sudhir Mishra, Anurag Kashyap and Vikramadiya Motwane were instrumental in getting the Producers Guild of India to partner with the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) and Indian Film & Television Producers Council (IFTPC) to set up a financial relief fund for daily wage workers. The Indian Film & TV Directors’ Association (IFTDA) president, Ashoke Pandit, also requested people in his tweet to donate to the FWICE account number.

    FWICE also organized ration distribution for members of all its affiliates for a week beginning the 22nd March 2020, the venue for which was Filmistan Studios in Goregaon, according to a statement issued by the association. Apart from this, FWICE stated that Yash Raj Films had provided Rs 5,000 each to approximately 3,000 workers.

    It is very heartening to note that, quite apart from the associations, there are many actors who played real life heroes by coming to the rescue with some staggering amounts. Hrithik Roshan has contributed Rs 25 lakh to CINTAA, supplied N95 and FFP3 masks for BMC workers and furthermore, provided 1.25 lakh meals to old age homes and low income groups through Akshaya Patra. Amit Behl, Joint Secretary, CINTAA, has also said that Akshay Kumar donated Rs 45 lakhs, which enabled the association to deposit Rs 3,000 each in the accounts of 1,500 members. Separately, the actor has further donated Rs three crores to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to buy PPE kits and other equipment, as also roughly 1000 wrist bands to help the Mumbai Police detect COVID-19 symptoms.

    FWICE has stated that Rohit Shetty and Ajay Devgan have each donated Rs 51 lakhs to it. Additionally, BN Tiwari, president, FWICE, is quoted as having said to PTI that Salman Khan is supporting 25,000 of the association’s daily wage earners financially, with the actor’s Being Human Foundation taking direct responsibility for this. The actor, who is in isolation at his farmhouse in Panvel, has also reached out to the villagers nearby by donating amounts of food rations.

    Telugu industry superstar Chiranjeevi announced his ‘Corona Crisis Charity’ project which serves food to approximately 600 people daily and also provided 10-day rations to families. Rajnikant has donated Rs 50 lakhs to the daily wagers of the Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI) Union. Tamil actor Vijayakanth donated land that he owns near Chennia (near Shri Andal Alagar College of Engineering) to be used to bury or cremate victims of COVID-19.

    Actor Sonu Sood has emerged as the unlikely Messiah of present times, as a reel-to-real life hero! Sonu started by distributing 500 packets of cooked food as well as groceries, which soon grew to 45,000 daily! On the 11th May, he organized the first busload of 200 migrant workers to leave for their home states and, since then, he has enabled thousands of the poor to reach their homes. Sonu personally replies to each tweet from hapless people; he has a small team helping him and has now established a toll-free number (18001213711) as well. Recently, he managed to get 177 Odia girls who were stuck in Kerala, airlifted back to their home state. Not just that, the actor has thrown open the doors of Shakti Sagar, a hotel in Juhu owned by him, for healthcare workers.

    In a move that is somewhat baffling, many leading actors have decided to contribute financially to the PM Cares Fund rather than directly help the struggling members of their own fraternity! The reigning ‘Baahubaali’ of the south, Prabhas, has donated a mindboggling Rs four crores, of which three are for the PM’s relief fund and Rs 50 lakhs each to the Chief Ministers’ relief funds of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana both. Similarly, Pawan Kalyan, Chiranjeevi’s younger brother, has donated one crore to the PM’s fund and Rs 50 lakhs each to the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana CM relief funds. Film star Allu Arjun has donated Rs 1.25 crore to the relief funds of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala. Ram Charan said he would be donating Rs 70 lakhs towards the Prime Minister’s office and state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

    Akshay Kumar is said to have contributed Rs 25 crore to the PM Cares Fund (aside from the financial aid he provided to CINTAA). Kartik Aryan said he was donating Rs one crore towards the same; Nana Patekar said he would donate Rs 50 lakhs; Diljeet Dosanjh has committed to Rs 20 lakhs; rapper Badshah said he would donate Rs 25 lakhs; Shilpa Shetty will be contributing Rs 21 lakhs; comedian Kapil Sharma is in at Rs 50 lakhs while Kangana Ranaut is alleged to have climbed onto the bandwagon with Rs 25 lakhs.

    The Nightingale of India, veteran playback singer Lata Mangeshkar, tweeted that she would donate Rs 25 lakhs to the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Assistance Fund. Actor Vicky Kaushal stated he was going to donate Rs one crore to the PM Cares and Maharashtra Chief Minister's Relief Fund. Varun Dhawan has contributed Rs 30 lakh to PM-Cares and Rs 25 lakhs to the Maharashtra Chief Minister's Relief Fund. Famous designer for the stars, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, has promised Rs one crore to the PM's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) and a further Rs five lakhs to the Chief Minister of West Bengal's Relief Fund. Shah Rukh Khan will further be contributing to the PM-Cares Fund through his IPL team Kolkata Night Riders and to the Maharashtra CM’s Relief Fund through his film company, Red Chillies Entertainment.

    Through Meer Foundation, the NGO established by him, Shahrukh Khan has supplied 50,000 sets of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the governments of Maharashtra and West Bengal. Meer also collaborated with Ek Saath – The Earth, to provide food to 5,500 families in Mumbai for a month, while a further 2,000 meals daily were supplied to hospitals and other households. Moreover, the Meer Foundation worked with the Roti Foundation to provide a further three lakh meal kits to 10,000 underprivileged people and daily wage workers in Mumbai for a month. Meer also partnered with Working People’s Charter to provide basic grocery items to 2,500 daily wage labourers in New Delhi for a month. Meer further supported a 100 acid victims in UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar and West Bengal. In addition to all of this, Shahrukh Khan offered his four-storey office premise to the BMC as a quarantine facility.

    It is not clear what the following actors have contributed to the well-being of their industry brethren, although each is said to have committed to the PM-Cares Fund: Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Raj Kumar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar. Although Vidya Balan did not donate directly, she participated in a campaign launched by celebrity platform Tring and is quoted as having said they were able to raise 2,500 kits worth Rs 16 lakhs.

    The Screenwriters Association (SWA) has also announced that it will help its members in a suitable way during the lockdown. SWA President Robin Bhatt penned a letter to the members and said, "Friends, as we all stand amidst this Corona Virus (COVID-19) Pandemic which has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, two problems of basic nature face us – Health and Sustenance. Although our resources are limited, we are committed to stand by our members who are in dire need." (Read the full text here.)

    In these trying times, the Association is offering assistance for the most essential need of food during the lockdown. Additionally, it has been decided that Immediate Financial Help of Rs 5000 /- will be given to any member who tests COVID-19 positive. A huge number of SWA members who are undergoing extreme financial crisis have already contacted the Association. SWA has reached out to them and provided assistance to a lot of them. Any SWA member (with valid membership) who finds her/himself in dire condition due to lockdown can write an email to SWA  contact@swaindia.org  with their membership details and their problem in brief along with their Bank Account details and mobile number. SWA has also urged able SWA members to join this noble cause and contribute to the relief fund so that the Association can help a maximum number of needy members. Many established screenwriters have made contributions to SWA as an answer to this humanitarian call.

    Although times are hard for everybody, it is evident that there are several film industry folks and organizations who can truly be called ‘heroes’, even if they remain off camera, who step up when their team members are in distress. Cheers to their spirit and commitment!

    (With inputs from: Dinkar Sharma)

    Punam Bakshi Mohandas is a film buff, a journalist, an author, an accomplished travel writer and an expert on South Asia. She also writes columns on film personalities. She has lived and worked in India, Dubai and Bangkok.