'Indian 2' shooting mishap: How does Kollywood deal with accidents on sets?

The junior level workers on a film set are dependent on the large-heartedness of the production house or film star for compensation, say industry insiders.
'Indian 2' shooting mishap: How does Kollywood deal with accidents on sets?
'Indian 2' shooting mishap: How does Kollywood deal with accidents on sets?
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The Tamil cinema industry woke up to the tragic news of three people, on the sets of the Kamal Haasan-starrer Indian 2, being crushed to death after a crane fell on them. Assistant director Krishna, art assistant Chandran and production assistant Madhu were killed in the mishap that occurred at 10 pm on Wednesday.

Nine others, who were injured while working on the Shankar directorial, were rushed to a private hospital in Poonamallee.  

While the news came as a shock to many, important questions have been raised on the responsibility of production houses — in this case, Lyca Productions — towards their employees. Specifically, many have asked about the way in which Kollywood deals with accidents and mishaps that take place on film sets.

‘Compensation depends on producers, stars’

Lyca soon released a statement on its Twitter page stating, “No words could ease what we truly feel. We are extremely saddened with the unfortunate accident that happened at the sets of Indian-2 yesterday (19th Feb 2020). We have lost 3 of our most hardworking technicians. Our deepest condolences to their family members. May their souls rest in peace.”

However, industry insiders reveal that with no professional system set up by production companies, the workers who are injured on the sets may get compensation depending on whether the production house or film stars in the cast are ‘large-hearted’. Simply put, most employees on a film set are not given insurance specific to the film. 

A technician from the industry, on the condition of anonymity, says, “When working on a small film, we can’t expect much. Big production companies can, of course, give us insurance. It would be good if they did, but they only insure their films overall. There is no medical or health insurance since it is irregular work. Even stuntmen, who undertake dangerous work on film sets, are not given insurance. They are made to sign contracts that they undertake the risk at their own cost.”

The cinema industry, which is divided into various unions, has made little push to streamline efforts to secure labour rights for these employees. The technician, who is himself part of a stuntman’s union, says that unions only organise medical claims, if at all they do. “If you are lucky to be working with a big production house or on a large-hearted hero’s film, then they will handle medical expenses if you get injured. Union members will also donate up to Rs 1 lakh if the injury is such that you can’t work for three months.”

Other than that, the individual is not safeguarded against the risks of working on a film set.

Visiting the families of the injured at the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital on Thursday, actor-politician Kamal Haasan said, “'It could have been avoided' is something that everyone says after an accident takes place. I don't see this as an accident that took place at Lyca Productions, but an accident that happened in my own family. I'm not here as a representative of a company. This is my family. I've been in this business since childhood. This is a mishap that proves that there still isn't the requisite amount of safety in this industry. The cinema industry should take all steps to ensure that this doesn't take place in the future.”

Announcing a compensation of Rs 1 crore to the families of the dead and injured, the actor said that he too escaped death by a whisker. He said, “This (compensation) is a first aid. Not a treatment. Treatment would be safety for the junior-most employee in future shoots as well as insurance.”

“We are a high profile industry, so when accidents happen, it gets better profiled in the media. But the fact is that the people who are actually the victims of such accidents could be anybody. Accidents don't distinguish between the rich and poor. It is like a tsunami. I too could've been in this (hospital) room today. We escaped death by a whisker. The director (Shankar) and cameraperson moved away just four seconds before. The heroine (Kajal Aggarwal) and I were under the tent that was crushed,” he said.

He also added that he was ashamed that the industry did not ensure the safety of its employees.
Middle men 

“What happened was unfortunate. It was a close call even for the big celebrities on set like Shankar and Kamal," says a Tamil film director, who's familiar with the events that transpired on the sets.

Speaking about safety measures on film sets in general, he says that production managers or executive producers (EPs) are in charge of making sure that everything is functioning properly.

"They are the ones who are supposed to be organising everything for the day’s shoot. It is the job of the EP to ensure that any complaints about safety are dealt with then and there,” he says. However, the director adds that often, safety measures are compromised to cut costs.

“People want to make Hollywood-style films in Tamil cinema but they should also learn the behind-the-scenes protocols they have. It’s not enough if you imitate the movie alone," he says.

Costume designer Amritha Ram, who was on the sets of Indian 2 when the accident happened, told TNM that she and the lead actors - Kamal Haasan and Kajal Aggarwal - had a narrow escape from the falling crane. Amritha added that they'd been shooting in the same place for five days and that she was not aware of the crane having any issue prior to this.

“In a set like this, where we work for 20-25 days at a stretch, it is a team. They (the victims) were all so young. Who deserves to die there? Since it was a stunt sequence, there were a lot of people there,” she told TNM. 

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