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Madras film strike: Producers demand their pound of flesh

Production and release of Tamil films have come to a grinding halt with the Tamil Film Producers Council and the Film Employees Federation of South India on a warpath, each trying to establish supremacy over the other.

The more than one-month long impasse, following a dispute between the two bodies, has crippled the industry, affecting production of about 20 films and release of 25 others, locking up an investment of a whopping Rs 500 million.

The trouble started when some members of the FEFSI resorted to a flash strike when the shooting of the film Raman Abdullah, directed by ace cameraman Balu Mahendra was in progress, protesting against the director engaging "outsiders". This snowballed into a major crisis when FEFSI launched an indefinite strike, affecting other film units as well.

Thanks to the state government's intervention, FEFSI called off the strike after a week. Meanwhile, the producers hardened their stand and insisted that they would not engage any technician or worker associated with FEFSI. They demanded that workers and technicians form new organisations exclusively for the production of Tamil films, on the lines of organisations in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

With the producers calling the shots, the crisis remains unresolved, affecting the livelihood of hundreds of workers and technicians.

The crisis took an ugly turn on Saturday when an FEFSI contingent turned violent at a meeting convened by the directors. Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has now stepped in to resolve the impasse and called for a meeting of all sections of the film industry.

Meanwhile, the producers received a shot in the arm when on a suit filed by the TFPC, the Madras high court restrained FEFSI from interfering with film production.

"This would help us to give the final touches to some of the films which are ready for release", K Rajagopal, council president said. The council, he added, had decided to seek the court's intervention as FEFSI officebearers resorted to coercion to stop work. The TFPC would not hesitate to file a contempt of court petition if shootings continued to be disrupted, he said.

Rajagopal was confident that the kind of organisations the council sought would be formed soon and that shooting would resume in another 10 days. But the FEFSI, determined to avoid a split in its ranks, refused to permit any such move.

FEFSI President S Vijayan said a split in the federation was as unlikely as a divide in the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Moreover, a minimum of 18 unions would have to agree to the required for the formation of a new federation, he argued.

Notwithstanding his claim, a few unions comprising directors and technicians have already decided to break away from FEFSI, which comprises 26 unions.

Leading film director Bharati Raja, who headed a meeting of directors in a bid to form a 'Tamil Nadu Technicians Federation as desired by the producers, said he was positive that such a federation will be formed.

He claimed that his group has the support of seven unions affiliated to the FEFSI, comprising editors, cameramen, makeup men, writers, production management, art directors and still photographers.

Rajagopal justified the council's insistence on an exclusive bodies for Tamil films, claiming the FEFSI had often resorted to intimidatory tactics and disrupted film shooting. He said the council was prepared to pay the present enhanced wages but workers and technicians would have to carry cards proclaiming they were members of exclusive federations for Tamil films, he said, adding that the producers were willing to wait till the workers and technicians form a separate federation, Rajagopal said.

But Vijayan was adamant: "We will neither allow the FEFSI to split nor allow outsiders to work for Tamil films."

M Balasubramanian, SIFCC president, who has been trying to end the impasse, said it was very difficult to quantify the losses the industry was sustaining since many films were at various stages of production. The strike has worried a dozen producers, whose films are almost ready to be canned.

Producer K T Kunjumon said his losses already amounted to Rs 300,000. His grandiose set, a replica of the massive Rajaji Hall, erected for his film Ratchagan was destroyed in last week's rain. Besides, several new Cielo cars parked near the set were also damaged, resulting in a loss of another Rs 700,000, he claimed.

High profile director Sankar's Jeans and Kunjumon's Ratchagan, starring beauty queens Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen respectively, Bhagyaraj's Vettiya Madichi Kattu, K R's Kaadhal Rojave and Arjun's Thayin Manikodi are some of the 45 films in the pipeline.

According to the grapevine, some actors and actresses, having time on their hands now, have plunged into "business" like real estate, drinking water supply and lottery sale.

Trouble brewing
Lights out!

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