Workers and Unions in Bollywood Inc.

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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (link) pays attention to an aspect of film production we don’t think about very often – who gets to be an extra in contemporary Bollywood films. Pointing out that directors these days look for “extras who fit the scene,” the reporter Amol Sharma documents the emergence of entrepreneurs who work closely with directors to help cast extras. And what’s more, these entrepreneurs, who carry CDs with images of potential extras and broker deals with directors and producers, are proving to be a threat to a well-established institution in the film industry – the Junior Artists Union.

Indian directors say they need to be picky about extras as they try to go global and appeal to the United Kingdom and the U.S. markets, where higher production values are expected. “You can’t keep using the same faces every time,” says Sudhir Mishra, director of the recently released “Khoya Khoya Chand” (Lost Moon), a love story set in the 1950s. Mr. Mishra bypassed the union to hire actors he felt could more authentically portray prostitutes, bouncers and pimps in a brothel scene.

Directors also try to boost the international appeal of their films by using foreign extras, often European or American vacationers rounded up at Mumbai tourist spots — a tactic that is particularly galling to unionized extras. Film producers “give excuses, like ‘We’re shooting in a pub, so we want to have some foreigners there,’” says Firoz Khan, a 25-year-old member of the Junior Artistes Association, the union for male extras. “It’s just excuses.”

The Junior Artists’ Union is fighting back valiantly, trying to figure out how they can renegotiate their place in an industry that is currently besotted by the language of “corporatization.” Read the whole article here, and here’s a video that accompanies the article:

It’s important to note that this isn’t an isolated domain of the industry that is under siege. In an article in Anthropological Quarterly, Clare Wilkinson-Weber maps the changing world of costume design and the growing marginalization of “dressmen:”

Dressmen have always employed informal methods and techniques in their work, and they now find their skills, knowledge, as well as their privilege of maleness in a male-dominated industry being eroded as Hindi filmmaking is transforming itself aesthetically and organizationally in response to global forces.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with a number of such “dressmen,” Wilkinson-Weber explains how the “de-skilling” of dressmens’ jobs has to be understood in relation to changing industry logics and specifically, the entry of a number of young, urban women who “claim superior knowledge of filmmaking techniques and of the fashion world that informs film costume” [The Dressman's Line: Transforming the Work of Costumers in Popular Hindi Film, Anthropological Quarterly, 79(4), 2006].

I know very little about the history of workers’ unions in Mumbai, but this story points to the importance of industry-focuses studies that can provide nuanced understandings of production culture in “Bollywood Inc.”

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4 Responses to “Workers and Unions in Bollywood Inc.”

  1. Brit-Asians and Bollywood « BollySpace 2.0 Says:

    [...] The answer is rather easy to locate: the (first world) desi diaspora. An article in Mint focuses attention on the growing number of Brit-Asians who are turning to Bollywood as a potential career path instead of struggling to break into the European or American creative sectors (link). With the exception of the Goodness Gracious Me trio, and indie artists like Hanif Kureishi, the record of Brit-Asians succeeding in British media is rather abysmal. Little surprise, especially given that these second/third-generation desis have grown up watching Bollywood films (and perhaps singing and dancing at community/college events), that they are signing up to train at institutes such as the one Anupam Kher has set up (story here). Fists clenched, face contorted, the woman berates her best friend with accusations: How could she steal her boyfriend and then lie about it? A waistcoat thrown over her green kameez, she paces the floor in rage. Dressed in jeans and high heels, the younger woman weakly protests her innocence. The scene, performed by two aspiring actors, unfolds not in India’s film hub of Bollywood but in Ealing, west London, as part of the first batch of auditions at the UK arm of Actor Prepares, a school run by actor Anupam Kher. The actors are in their 20s: Pirah Palijo, 28, is a lawyer from Karachi, Pakistan, and now lives in London, while her counterpart Seetal Linbachia, 23, was born and raised in London, and works as a hairdresser in her father’s salon. The duo represent a growing number of British Asians who are looking outward and hitching their acting careers to opportunities in the rapidly expanding Indian film industry. To be sure, this is a welcome development and one hopes that such initiatives will, if only slowly, make it easier for actors without any family connections to enter the film industry. At the same time, we do need to recognize that this particular trajectory has rather high entry costs (financial and cultural capital) and might end up overpowering other, older trajectories and life-worlds (in ways similar to transitions in the domain of casting extras or those who used to work in costume design – see this). [...]

  2. BiilYBonnYU Says:

    Excellent blog! Interesting article and very informative! I will necessarily subscribe for this blog. http://movie-cool.com/map.html

  3. Bollywood news and gossip Says:

    There are no recent Bollywood articles in your blog.. but the articles which you have posted are good :)

  4. davda hiralkumar Says:

    Plz muje artist card banvado

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