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Covid-19 Shadow on Entertainment Freelancer

Freelancers in the entertainment industry struggle to meet ends amidst the pandemic

Isha Chincholkar

Kalyani Shah, a 29-year-old art director based out of Mumbai, has had to dip into her savings to meet her expenses, as earnings have dried up because of the pandemic. “I saved up a little from the last few projects, but the future looks quite bleak.”, she said, “Producers are unwilling to invest in feature or advertising films. I am afraid I might not get any work in the next six months.”, Shah added.

Shah is not alone. Most freelancers in the entertainment industry — where people get paid for every project — are facing a daunting situation.

The government had enforced the lockdown since late-March to control the pandemic. As a result, the shooting of all films had stopped. With the cinemas shut down to ensure social distancing, earnings from the box office have dried up and projects have been put on the backburner.

“It is very expensive to live in Mumbai. I am struggling to pay the rent. But my family has supported me in this tough phase,” said Shah. She added that she considers herself lucky. “I don’t have to support my family. But many of my colleagues have to.” Art director Shah said, “My work entails commute, hence I cannot work digitally.”

Many big releases such as Rohit Shetty-directed Sooryavanshi, Baaghi 3, Khali Peeli, and Haathi Mere Sathi, to a name a few, have been postponed. The losses are not only for producers but, plenty out there who were employed on the sets.

According to the US entertainment industry union, about 120,000 film industry workers have already lost their jobs in Hollywood because of the coronavirus shutdown. Releases of Hollywood movies like A Quiet Place 2 as well as Disney's Mulan and The New Mutants, etc. have been pushed.

Shah, who has been working in the industry for the past nine years, said, “The people suffering the most are the daily-wage laborer’s we hire to construct sets. Now that there are no projects, we are helpless, as we cannot pay them. Most of them are migrants who come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar."

Actors, along with the production crew working in the television sector are also having a hard time. For instance, Manmeet Grewal, a TV actor, committed suicide because he was going through a financial crunch. Actors working in the daily-soap, Hamari Bahu Silk, starring Zaan Khan and Chahat Pandey revealed how producers did not remunerate them for a year.

Zaan Khan in his video on Instagram also said, “Technicians from my show are calling me and crying that they have just 200 rupees in their pockets and truck drivers are charging Rupees 2000 to take them home."

Freelancers across the globe who are working in the entertainment industry are hard-hit by the pandemic. According to the new survey conducted by the World Economic Forum, 70 per cent of gig workers said they have no income and 23 per cent only had savings. Over half of the gig workers had lost their jobs.

Gradually, the entertainment industry is resuming its projects while maintaining social distancing. To recover from the previous losses, there are layoffs and salary cuts of various freelance workers. “Although, as the saying goes one must go on, and not lose hope of getting things back to normal with new rules of social distancing,” says Shah.

Edited by Aishwarya Seth & Shaardhool Sreenath