While some from the film industry have made generous contributions to COVID-19 relief funds, they have allegedly not paid employees in theatres they own.

Telangana Theatre workers in crisis Image for representation- Picxy.com/chaws7098
Coronavirus Tollywood Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 11:55

In his 50s and with just a couple of years left for his retirement, Sanjay* (name changed) regrets having worked as a projection operator all these years. “It fascinated me back then and I continued in the job,” he recalls.

Sanjay works in one of the many theatres owned by popular Tollywood producer ‘Dil’ Raju. He has allegedly not received his salary for the month of April and the uncertainty over it has pushed Sanjay into a state of anxiety. It has become an everyday practice for him to reach out to the Telangana Cinema Theatre Employees’ Union leaders (TCTEU) which is associated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). TCTEU includes gatemen, security personnel, booking clerks, operators, electricians and other employees working in cinema halls. 

“My daily routine has become to contact the leaders, seeking their intervention. I have three daughters and with my meagre salary of Rs 15,000, I used to run the family. Now I am deprived of that too,”  Sanjay laments, asking, “How can we survive without a salary?”

This is the common question of the 25,000-odd theatre workers in the state, as an unprecedented health crisis has resulted in major job losses and salary deductions. While the Telangana government has declared all areas as ‘green zones’ except containment zones, thereby allowing people to reopen businesses, theatres, malls, bars and gyms remain closed. The uncertainty over when the crisis will end has the theatre employees worried. 

“We don’t know when the theatres will open and if we will still have our jobs,” Sanjay says.

In the meantime, ‘Dil’ Raju has made a generous donation of Rs 10 lakh each for the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh CM relief funds, for handling the COVID-19 crisis. Pointing this out, TCTEU state president P Pulla Rao says, “We were in tears when this happened. It is of course very generous of ‘Dil’ Raju to make such a donation but when you can’t even look after your employees, these donations are meaningless,” he rues.

Actor Nithiin too donated Rs 10 lakh to Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, and he too is being questioned by the theatre employees. “Nithiin owns a theatre in Sangareddy district, the employees working in his theatre too haven't received any salary yet,” alleges Pulla Rao.

In Telangana, Asian Cinemas -- one of the largest chains of multiplexes -- has allegedly decided to deduct 60% from salaries due to the crisis. Employees of other theatres fear that their organisation too would follow suit.

“We haven’t received the salary for the month of April, and it is speculated that our organisation too will deduct 60% of the salaries,” an upset Sanjay says. “If such a thing happens, I’ll receive only around Rs 5,000. Already we have taken many small loans to sustain ourselves," he adds.

As their livelihood is in jeopardy, challenging the Telangana government’s orders to abstain from any form of rally or gathering in view of the coronavirus crisis, members of the TCTEU and CITU held a protest in Hyderabad on Monday. The protesters demanded that the government intervene and ensure that the theatre management gives full salaries to the employees. 300 employees working in INOX theatres too were allegedly terminated in March without any intimation. However, a representative from INOX claims that they had outsourced the jobs to an agency called Manpower. “As their contract term had ended, they were removed. But still, Manpower should have ensured that those employees found other jobs," the representative says.

The theatre workers hardly have a union to fight for their rights. TCTEU was formed in 2018, and presently has only around 300 members across the state.

“Even today, you have many employees who don’t have any identity card to prove that they are employees at a theatre. The workforce here is disposable, hence we formed the union,” says Pulla Rao. TCTEU, on behalf of all the theatre workers, has given a representation to the Telugu Film Producers’ Council President C Kalyan and former President of Telugu Film Producers' Council Tammareddy Bharadwaj.

“We are hopeful that they will urge their colleagues to support us,” Pulla Rao says.

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