Dream Makers With Unfulfilled Dreams
In the age of crony capitalism, any mention of Karl Marx is anathema. That is why I was not surprised by the deafening silence the world over on the 201st birthday of the legendary economic and political philosopher on 5 May 2019. But if a myopic mind can make a pontificating Narendra Modi refute the enormous socio-economic achievements of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is it any wonder that political thinkers, financial czars and trade unions too ignored the revolutionary thinker who gave his life for workers’ rights?
 
Karl Marx’s heart lay in the welfare and progress of the labour class. Fighting numerous battles against European regimes for the dignity and prosperity of the proletariat, Marx suffered enormous hardships, insults and penury for his ideals. His rousing life story moved millions and it isn’t amazing that Karl Marx exerted a colossal influence on Hindi film makers like Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Kedar Sharma, Mehboob Khan, Ramesh Saigal and Chetan Anand. 
 
Inspired by the contribution of the working masses to India’s prosperity, their films emphasised Marx’s maxims that capitalism always sapped “the original sources of all wealth: the soil and the labourer” and “the rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs”. 
 
Irrespective of their grasp of Marx’s theories, conscientious commercial filmmakers like Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy and BR Chopra too unfolded stories of toiling peasants and workers as powerful catalysts of progress and development in a rapidly changing society.
 
 
Though umpteen films and serials have been motivated by Marx’s empathy for the labour class, the entertainment industry has remained indifferent to improving the conditions of its work force. They may stream tales of equality yet the reality behind the silver screens is of abysmal darkness. Producers have done little to spread cheer in terms of pay packages, reimbursements or other benefits to the largely unorganised work force. 
 
 
Rather than being harbingers of safety, security, shelter and happiness that are essentials of a welfare state, producers have usually denied junior workers of major social and economic benefits like pension, provident fund, life insurance as well as medical and other incidental facilities. 
 
In his treatise “The Missing 3 in Bollywood”, author Opender Chanana states the “spotlight of media has always been on stars without realising that their success is all due to the enormous contribution of the large labour force working behind the camera”. 
 
Though the situation is changing, what galls him is that the “workers are not partners in the exponential growth” of the industry and “the lowest rungs of the profession are being short changed repeatedly”.
 
The condition of work places in Bollywood is appalling. Visit any set or studio in Mumbai and you would witness artistes and technicians slogging in wretched conditions that are light years away from health, hygiene as well as safety and security standards of entertainment industries in US and Europe. 
 
 
I doubt if a studio owner or a filmmaker has ever been fined or punished for dingy, ill lit, dilapidated surroundings where even basic amenities like pure drinking water, clean toilets as well fire and other safety measures are usually absent. 
 
Obviously, poverty coupled with easy availability of huge manpower allows studio owners and producers to get away despite visible lacunae that would otherwise earn the severest of penalties under the Factories Act 1948. 
 
It is precisely because of the pitiable facilities in studios that film stars have adopted the use of the expensive, luxurious, air conditioned vanity vans for their comfort while junior workers still have no decent place for rest and in many places, not even proper toilet facilities, thus necessitating many to ease themselves in the open!
 
 
Unlike Hollywood, where elaborate safety precautions are taken while shooting, in Bollywood little attention is paid to providing proper medical services or protective gears to the junior workers. Even for the most dangerous of action scenes, the safety measures are nothing compared to international standards of safety and when mishaps do occur, producers placate the sufferers with a few donations and glib talk in the media rather than putting a working system of safety network and services in place. 
 
Of course, there are several associations like Cine Artistes Association (CINTAA), Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE), All Indian Cine Workers Association (AICWA), IMPPA (Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association) and Producers’ Guild of India, which oversee film and television production but, till date, their contribution to planning or improving the working conditions of cine workers is woefully inadequate.
 
 
Like most businesses, cinema and television industries too are brazenly driven by the lust for profits. Indian government has recognised film production as an industry and has allowed banks to sanction loans and other credit facilities; yet little has been done to set right the disparities of the system.
 
Several uprisings by film labourers against low wages, non-payments or untimely payments of dues as well as pathetic infrastructure and dreadful conditions at work have not led to any solution. Successive governments have assured legislative and financial regulations to improve the working conditions of film and television industry but the exploitation of film workers continues unabated with unregulated work hours inside grotesquely filthy and unhealthy environments. 
 
The Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1981 granted film workers the same rights as regular industrial workers but it has never been followed in spirit nor has it saved cine artistes from maltreatment by producers and contractors. 
 
The situation prevails due to lack of clarity within the various arms of the government as to who should legislate and supervise the entertainment industry. 
 
I am perennially haunted by Karl Marx’s profound observation that “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” Alas, “Achche Din” (Good Days) remains a distant dream for film workers too!
 
Author's Note: An unabashed admirer of Karl Marx's life and writings, the author has been enacting a solo, one act stage play entitled "Karl Marx Hindoostan Mein" for last several years. Taking a satirical look at modern India, the drama reveals the exceptional personal life of the great philosopher and his devoted wife Jenny.  
 
(Deepak Mahaan is a well-known Documentary Film Maker, Writer and Commentator)
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COMMENTS

Prakash Khatiwala

5 days ago

All those Bollywood guys knew one thing; poverty n accompanying misery sell n sell well.

AAR

6 days ago

1. Indian film industry Bollywood or Kollywood or any wood is plagued by greed and nepotism.
2. Main actors are paid 20-30 crores while the producers pay cheap salary to junior artists and technicians.
3. Hereditary recruitment has become the norm. Most of the second and third generation are horrible actors and they deny opportunity for worthy newcomers.
4. Despite huge hype and promotion, most of the movies are not watchable. Marketing is more important than script.
5. My pet peeve is Indian films (TV advertisements as well) are racists. We see only white skinned heroines as if other skin coloured girls and women are not to be seen.
6. Cricket and Cinema keep our youth engaged so government will never reform these distraction industries.
7. Luckily, Youtube, Amazon and other streaming services are providing a more fair and enriching platform of entertainment.

Cross Examination, My Lord!
From time immemorial, master storytellers have had an uncanny ability to foresee and forecast monumental happenings. That is why their tales not just manifest into reality but also change the future course and discourse of a society. From the vast fraternity of literary giants, the names of George Orwell and William Golding readily come to mind since their fictional narratives like “Animal Farm”, “1984” and “Lord of the Flies” foretold of despotic and democratic horrors much before “regimes of terror” were unleashed around the world!
 
Reel life is a reflection of real life on screen, yet it is a rare cinematic fiction that foreshadows the future. Ever since the astounding accusations against the Chief Justice of India, my mind is overwhelmed with scenes of the classic 1960 Hindi film Kanoon since they emit eerie echoes of similar decibels! To me, the metamorphosis of those fictional images into a near parallel reality today is a vital moment of introspection of our socio-political cauldron and though I have no intention to comment on the sensational allegations of sexual harassment against the topmost judge, I do wish to understand why Hindi films do not attribute negative shades to characters of judicial administrators?
 
 
Though a miniscule number of films have depicted personal dilemmas of judges, none except “Kanoon” has ever castigated their professional actions in the deliverance of justice. Unlike the US where films regularly mock, satirise, lampoon and criticise the workings of the president, secretary of state, attorney generals, army officers, bureaucrats as well as judicial officers with great disdain, it is surprising why our film scripts never analyse the professional conduct of judges in India. Despite numerous public allegations about corruption and misuse of power, it is perplexing why our film stories have neglected “cross examination” of the judicial improprieties of the administrators of courts.
 
If fictional shards of a film can induce dissection of a real life parallel six decades after its release, it has to be a brilliant creation and indeed Kanoon was an enthralling court drama due to Akhtar Ul Iman’s insightful writing and Baldev Raj Chopra’s deft direction. Devoid of songs, it highlighted an accusation by a lawyer (Rajendra Kumar) upon the judge (Ashok Kumar) of being a murderer, etching in the process one of the most gripping yet explosive court scenes ever shown on a movie screen. Mesmerising audiences with its taut suspense, Kanoon boldly sullied and sliced the judge’s character in view of his wager to plot a perfect murder!
 
But why is it that no film thereafter has been bold enough to depict the “vexatious knots” of legal functionaries? Is it the fear of punishment under the Contempt of Court Act? 
 
According to avant-garde film director Sudhir Mishra, since "any act... by word, spoken or written” can be construed “as scandalizing or obstructing the administration of justice or lowering the authority of a court”, it is a huge deterrent for creative film makers. 
 
Sudhir opines the draconian Act “makes film producers shy away from contentious subjects” since any gesture, speech or act can be interpreted as an insult of a court of law. And with the new found habit of fringe elements to haul people to courts, Sudhir feels a character portraying an unscrupulous administrator of law could render a film maker as a sitting duck and nobody wants to “lose peace and money if the law cannot save their skin”.
  
 
Would the courts be lenient to an exhibition of a judge’s professional impropriety on screen, I asked the highly respected former justice of the Rajasthan High Court Vinod Shankar Dave. A jovial man of great sagacity, Mr Dave frankly admitted that “the decision would entirely depend on the conscience and wisdom of the judge deciding the case.” 
 
Ruing “plummeting levels of tolerance”, Mr Dave conceded film producers face an uphill task in combating the statute in view of the combustible environment of our polity. But in his considered opinion, a plausible storyline depicting a flawed judicial persona should not invite punishment if there was no malafide intention to lower faith in the justice system. Disclosing he had not punished anyone under the Act even when he was severely criticised by the media, the former judge advocated punishment for contempt only as the last resort and that too if “the majesty and dignity of the court had been trampled for selfish reasons”.
 
 
A strong votary of public criticism to build a vibrant and vigilant democracy, Mr Dave decried the fading ability of Indian luminaries to laugh at their own selves. With a throaty laughter at parting, he recommended Charles Ashman’s book “The Finest Judges Money Can Buy” which cites proven examples of America’s “judicial pollution” since there were similar parallels in India too! 
 
Given the high prevalence of muddle headedness of Indian administrators as well as the timidity of censor boards, it is quite difficult to envisage a Hindi film in the near future about professional transgression by a legal practitioner. 
 
Surprisingly, a day after my conversation with Mr Dave, the former Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti publicly lamented in Chandigarh that the greatest shortcoming in the justice delivery system was that those deserving to be appointed were not appointed at all while “several judges unfit for appointment were elevated as High Court judges”. 
 
Couldn't this resounding statement about Indian system’s tolerance of judicial incompetence be used to script a new film? But will the courts allow universal exhibition of such preposterous shortcomings? 

(Deepak Mahaan is a well-known Documentary Film Maker, Writer and  Commentator)

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COMMENTS

Sucheta Dalal

3 weeks ago

Excellent. I must now see Kanoon and read the book - The best judges money can buy. Looking up kindle!! Thanks Deepak!

Harish

3 weeks ago

Very well written.

Modi biopic to release after LS polls, SC will not step in
The Supreme Court on Friday refused to interfere with the Election Commission on the biopic "PM Narendra Modi".
 
The poll panel told the court that movie should be released only after the Lok Sabha elections got over.
 
The seven phased polls began on April 11, when the biopic was to release. The polls will get over on May 19 and the counting on votes in May 23.
 
To secure level playing ground, the poll panel was asked to take a call.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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