A Blog on Cinema

Trade Unions and Malayalam Cinema

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As various organizations are accelerating the demise of Malayalam film industry, we are provided with entertaining sound bites to keep us hooked while we hop theaters showing Sarkar Raj, Kuruvi, Dasavatharam and Indiana Jones Director Ambili (anyone remember him?), in a press conference, said that there is a savarna-avarna problem in the industry.

We were stumped because till now our impression was the problem was with big egos and little egos. Before we started looking for news on such discrimination, Ambili explained the phenomena. According to him, people who earn more money are discriminating against people who earn less wages.

Thus AMMA, which according to him is a rich organization is discriminating against MACTA which consists of poor people. Just one word: Bharath Gopi. Just because superstars are filthy rich does not mean that every actor is. Then everything in the world has to be twisted to fit the savarna-avarna thingy, even if the generalization and metaphor are incorrect.

Next we thought he would blame George W. Bush, but he did not.

C S Venkateshwaran got to this point without Ambili’s lunatic ramblings. He is concerned that superstars are paid a lot of money while light boys are not and this imbalance needs to be corrected.

Let us not forget the fact that these workers are the lowest paid in the country, despite producing 60-plus films every year. And the ratio between the highest and lowest wages in the industry (ie, the money that a super star charges and a light boy gets to work in the same film) is beyond imagination.[The MACTA imbroglio — Who wants solutions?]

This emotional rhetoric does not work because we don’t go to the movie theater to see the light boy, but the superstar. There are many talented actors in Malayalam film industry, but as Maniyanpilla Raju told us, none of them have the initial and this is precisely why they are paid more. Any random person can be a light boy, but a Mammotty and Mohanlal happens once in a while.

There are very talented script writers, camera men and directors in Malayalam industry, but none of them will get paid the same amount that M T Vasudevan Nair, Santosh Sivan and Priyadarshan gets. This is not socialism, but pure market economics. You need to distinguish yourself with talent that your involvement in a project attracts viewers. Without that no one is going to pay you in gold.

There is a fair point that movies cannot be made without the sweat and blood of light boys, drivers and others whom you don’t see on camera. They have to be paid according to the prevailing market conditions for it is the honorable thing to do.

It should also be realized that the salaries of superstars will always be many times over the salary of their drivers.Once a bunch of people met Gandhiji and told him that they could not make a living with the charka and wanted to know what they should do. Gandhiji told them that he did not expect them to spin the charka their entire life. It was a stop gap arrangement till they moved to something better. Being a light boy, similarly is a temporary solution, till a better job is found. In fact the low paying job is a good incentive to try for a better job.

So, the ‘trade unionism’ that the so-called ‘creatives’ allege and point out as ‘the’ hurdle, is something that has been boiling inside for a long time. Obviously the fabulous amounts that are paid to the stars and the ‘creatives’ come out of the sweat and blood of these workers without whom the industry itself wouldn’t exist. The super stars and the fly by night speculators have nothing to lose in this game. This anti-labour attitude has been very much evident in their films also, that religiously idolises the hero (super star) and celebrates market freedom. (For instance, films of Srinivasan and Sathyan Anthikad have consistently depicted any kind of labour union as an impediment to well-being).[The MACTA imbroglio — Who wants solutions?]

Of course, this trade unionism in Kerala has been a hurdle. It has concentrated only on banning people from earning a living – just ask anyone from K S Chitra to Bhagyalakshmi. A major contribution of trade unions in Kerala has been to cleanse the state of all employment opportunities. Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab too have trade unions, but they are all booming economies, but ours is a wasteland. We have to thank Sathyan Anthikkad and Srinivasan for making honest movies.

On the same issue, The Hindu, noted the pathetic state of Malayalam cinema.

Kerala, which earlier used to witness about 150 film releases every year, now has only about 50 new films a year. The sources said easy availability of pirated CDs of new films, rising production cost and high remuneration of actors were all affecting the profitability of Malayalam films. Faced with huge electricity cost, about 200 theatres in the state have closed down in recent years. They were also unable to compete with new-age theatres having the latest sound systems and big parking spaces. [Malayalam films have few takers in Kerala]

Piracy, rising production costs and high remuneration of actors are not unique problems applicable only to Kerala. New theaters with better sound systems and multiplexes are the way of the future and unless the theater owners adapt, they will have to move out of this business. Once upon a time our cameras used to have films inside it with the switch to digital camera, the film studios had to adapt. This sort of change happens all the time and evolution favors only some. Did we see any MACTA leadership on such issues?

We agree with Venkateshwaran when he writes

But one should also take into account the fact that cinema is a peculiar kind of industry unlike manufacturing or other conventional businesses. It has a creative and spontaneous side, and constantly needs new ideas, talents and technologies. If ‘unionism’ stands in the way of such creative freedom and endeavours it will end up as yet another trade union that is unable to look beyond the purse of the financier. There are reports that the MACTA stranglehold over workers make it impossible for an ‘unregistered’ artist to work in a film in Kerala, or plan a film on his/her own terms, as a result of which shoestring often become noose string.

It (Malayalam Cinema) is neither idea-driven nor sensitive to happenings in other industries in the areas of changing market, funding, technology, treatment or themes. Moreover, it has refused to be an organised industry with its proper business plans and management systems. It is being run on an ad hoc and haphazard manner for a long time.[The MACTA imbroglio — Who wants solutions?]

If this trend continues, we will soon be a website on Malayalam Cinema history.

One Comment

  1. “If this trend continues, we will soon be a website on Malayalam Cinema history.”
    This line was the proverbial last straw.
    Hope Malayalam Cinema goes back to its days of glory.

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