Following a turbulent year plagued by COVID-19 and an industry reckoning following the suicide of a high-profile actor, the Producers Guild of India (PGI) is again stepping outside its remit to get the entertainment industry back on track.
The PGI has begun disbursing relief funds to daily wage workers in India’s entertainment industry, who have been the hardest hit group in an industry devastated by COVID-19 since March 2020. Through this drive, funded by PGI member Netflix, the guild is transferring funds directly into the bank accounts of thousands of active technicians affiliated to the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, the umbrella association with which most film workers are affiliated.
Earlier this month, funded by members, the PGI conducted a mass vaccination camp for industry workers in Mumbai.
These efforts aren’t part of the organization’s remit and aren’t enshrined in its charter, which is mainly to champion producers’ causes, but the extraordinary circumstances prompted the guild to take action.
“While the scenes then unfolding in Wuhan, Italy, Iran, U.S. and U.K. had given us a sense of the gravity of the pandemic, the repercussions for the content business really hit home when our sets fell silent and the shutters came down at cinema halls,” producer and PGI president Siddharth Roy Kapur told Variety. “We soon came to the conclusion that while there was nothing we could do about stalled film releases, disrupted shoots and ruinous cash flow situations, what we could do was try and ease the pain of those worst affected, [such as] the daily wage workers whose livelihoods depend on having an active set to work at.”
As soon as India went into its first lockdown in 2020, the PGI began fundraising from members to ameliorate the lot of industry workers, led by a $1 million donation from Netflix. Leading studio Yash Raj Films also pledged financial support as did producer Ekta Kapoor and stars Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Rajinikanth, Varun Dhawan, Prabhas, Randeep Hooda and Kartik Aryan.
While shoots remained at a standstill in India, the PGI released a handbook containing COVID-safe operating procedures for resumption. Before that could happen, the industry had to face another storm — an increasingly hostile media following the death of 34-year-old actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June 2020.
Rumors circulated that Rajput, a self-made outsider from a small town was depressed as a result of being shunned in the elite, nepotistic circles of the film industry. Haranguing television anchors appointed themselves judge and jury, with daily trials of Bollywood on primetime television.
The industry remained silent at first but eventually, after the media went into a feeding frenzy, the PGI released an open letter in September pointing out that while the industry may not be perfect, it was certainly not the den of vices it was made out to be.
In October, in an unprecedented move, the cream of Bollywood united to sue television news channels Republic TV and Times Now, alleging defamation during the channels’ blanket coverage of Rajput’s death and its aftermath. The first plaintiff on the suit was the PGI.
On Tuesday, in a landmark agreement, the Times Group agreed to not publish or air anything defamatory to Bollywood.
The next challenge was the Indian government deciding to introduce regulations for streamers, many of whom are PGI members. Streamers had saved many producers from crippling losses by buying films made for theatrical release and releasing them directly on their platforms.
The PGI made a representation to India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting making a strong pitch for soft-touch regulation with an emphasis on self-regulation by the industry rather than an external censorship regime.
In April 2021, events came full circle in India, with an aggressive second wave of COVID-19 plunging the entertainment industry into another shutdown. The sector is only now beginning to consider a gradual reopening.
“Who knows what the future holds,” says Roy Kapur. “We certainly didn’t expect to be administering vaccines as part of the guild’s mandate. However, whatever else the future may throw our way, we will certainly give it our all in trying to meet the challenges. We are acutely aware of the legacy the guild has built over almost 70 years under the stewardship of legends like Raj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan, V. Shantaram, Dilip Kumar, Vijay Anand, G.P. Sippy, B.R. Chopra and so many more. It is that sense of responsibility to both the past as well as the future that keeps us going and evolving.”