The safety of stunt artistes and the unnamed hundreds of workers who work behind the cameras to shape the action on screen was back in focus on Thursday (February 20) with three crew members of Kamal Haasan’s new film being killed when a crane came crashing down on the sets.
From 50 people being killed in a fire on the sets of the TV show ‘The Sword of Tipu Sultan’ to matinee idol Amitabh Bachchan’s near death experience while shooting ‘Coolie’, safety norms on film sets have long been a cause for concern.
And with Wednesday night’s accident on the sets of ‘Indian 2’ in Chennai, in which nine people were injured and Haasan and director Shankar narrowly escaped death, it was not just time to rewind to the tragedies through the years but also swivel the spotlight to the security and compensation covers available for those in the industry.
Tamil film actor Amritha went on Twitter to recall a similar accident in the same place — EVP Film City in Chennai — during the shooting of her film ‘Bigil’. One person was seriously injured.
EVP Film City, which was an amusement park earlier, is where a man was electrocuted during the shooting of Rajinikanth’s 2017 movie ‘Kaala’. And also the place where an AC mechanic died when he fell from the second floor during the shooting of ‘Bigg Boss Tamil 2’, hosted by Haasan.
“That place is actually horrifying, the same kinda light fell on a person during ‘Bigil’ shooting and we were all shattered just like this one!! I just wish people don’t go there to shoot again or just don’t go there, lot of negative vibes, RIP,” Amritha said.
According to Aejaz Gulab, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Movie Stunt Artists Association, an elaborate system is in place to ensure the security of stunt people who are often at the forefront of danger. In cases of accidents, the association takes over.
“If an accident happens, hospitalisation is taken care of by the production side. They take care of the medical expenses. They have to give a part of the salary until the person returns to work. In case of death, we calculate the amount as per the compensation act,” Gulab told PTI.
Actor Akshay Kumar, he said, is of enormous help and has been paying the premium of 425 members of the stunt community for the last three years. B.N. Tiwari, president of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE), said he hoped the kin of those killed will get a compensation of ₹35-45 lakh.
Stunt director Sham Kaushal added that films are usually insured. It is the producer who gives compensation and many times actors and directors also provide financial aid, he said.
Down south too, unions look after the community, said stuntman Subbu. “The Andhra Pradesh Cine Stunt Directors & Stunt Artists Union gets our mediclaim done. I have never been injured, but some in my union who were hurt were taken care by the union,” Subbu, who has performed stunts in the Telugu film “Goodachari” and the Malayalam movie “Kalki”, told PTI.
Lesser known tragedies
Industry insiders hope the unions will ensure that the magnitude of what happened in 1989 will never be repeated.
The biggest tragedy on a set in India was the fire that year on the sets of “The Sword of Tipu Sultan” in Mysore. Lead actor and producer Sanjay Khan, who suffered major burn injuries, underwent 73 surgeries and spent more than a year in hospital. He later returned to finish the series.
Three years earlier, Bachchan was shooting for a fight sequence for his 1983 feature ‘Coolie’ with Puneet Issar when he fell on a table, rupturing his intestine. Both the accidents became national headlines, but there are many others who have died unsung.
In 2016, two stunt actors drowned in a lake near Bengaluru while shooting for the Kannada movie Maastigudi. Both were captured on camera jumping off a helicopter into the lake from a height of about 50 feet, reportedly without any life jacket.
The same year, Anurag Kashyap’s assistant director Sohail Shah was killed in a freak accident on the sets of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ while driving a jeep on a bridge in Varanasi. He took a sharp turn to save two passersby and fell off the bridge.
In 2017, a painter fell from the scaffolding at the Goregaon sets of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ and died. That year, a technician lost his life on the sets of Anushka Sharma-starrer ‘Pari’ after he came in contact with live wire at the films set in Kolkata.
Director Kaizad Gustad’s assistant was killed in a train accident while he was standing on a live track during a film shoot in Mumbai in 2004.
Jayan, a popular Malayalam star in 1970s considered a daredevil, was killed in 1980 when a helicopter stunt for his film ‘Kolilakkam’ didn’t go as planned and the chopper crashed.