Bollywood goes dark as 100,000 actors, crew strike

By Ramola Talwar Badam

MUMBAI, India – The shining lights of Bollywood went dark Wednesday as actors, technicians and cameramen struck to demand better pay and overtime, halting dozens of movies and television productions.

A coalition of 22 unions representing more than 100,000 technicians, dancers and other film workers ordered their members not to show up for work, indefinitely shuttering one of the world’s most prolific movie industries.

More than 200 Hindi-language films are produced every year in Mumbai, home of India’s film industry known as Bollywood.

But while the films portray a world of glamour and feature lush production numbers, working conditions on the sets are notoriously poor. Workers who build movie sets or handle lighting get paid about $11 for long days without overtime.

The strike comes on the eve of Hindu festival season, when the industry launches its biggest films in hopes of capturing large audiences.

“Workers are paid for eight hours, but they work far beyond this. They are not paid more money and are not even paid on time,” said Dinesh Chaturvedi, head of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees.

“Workers will not report back for work unless we are paid in time and have better working hours,” said Chaturvedi.

The strike could be a major blow to the local economy. Revenue from India’s film business generated roughly $2 billion in 2006 and is expected to double by 2012, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Union officials said some of Bollywood’s top stars, including Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, supported the strike and did not work Wednesday. Calls to the actors’ representatives were not immediately returned.

Ratan Jain, president of the Association of Motion Picture & TV Program Producers, said producers were trying to come up with a proposal Wednesday night to bring to union representatives.

“The strike is not in anyone’s interest,” said Jain. “Filming has come to a halt. We will sit down and find a solution.”