TV production remains suspended

Actors and technical staff fear for their safety if recordings resume

Despite the lifting of corona-related restrictions for some businesses, most private drama production houses remain closed.

Early reports of resumption of recordings raised concern among actors. The News on Sunday talked to a number of actors and producers to know their views on the issue.

“I have received many calls. They have rescheduled my shoots as if the pandemic is not a big issue,” said a leading actor, who requested anonymity due to contractual liabilities.

To a question about why actors had not shared their concerns with their producers, he said: “It’s complicated. We have to work in the industry. If one says no to a producer, that production house will cut us off from the project. On top of that they will bear a grudge against us for the rest of their lives. One may never be re-hired by that production house.”

“Gathering around 15 people in a room and more than 30 on the set, and then pretending that the virus will not spread is a joke. We cannot wear masks and gloves during recordings. There are people from every background there. Many of them don’t even have access to basic healthcare. We all need money, but our health is our biggest concern,” he said.

Abdullah Kadwani, CEO of Geo Entertainment and director of 7th Sky Entertainment, says that recordings would not be resumed without the government’s approval.

“We are not planning to go on shoots until we get a go ahead from the government. The situation is a bit tricky for all of us. The viewership has gone up 100 percent as many people are staying home. Shutting down only the media industry will not help fight coronavirus. There are other sectors of the economy which can’t be shut down, for example, factories. We all have to stand together and take the necessary risks. However, strict safety measures will have to be put in place first. We will only resume recordings if and when the government allows us to do so,” Kadwani said.

“We believe in completing the projects we initiate. That is why we are in a better situation than others. We are not going to run out of content. We have new projects coming on-air very soon. We work on 9 to 10 projects at a time. We routinely maintain a healthy environment and ensure safety. We have to produce. To that end, we will look for the safest and the best ways.”

Kadwani also spoke about reducing staff during recordings.

“Usually there are 40 to 50 people on the sets at a time. We might now reduce that number to between 20 and 25 by ensuring that only the most-needed people are on the set. It will be less crowded. We will not go against the flow or risk anything. That said, one day, the industry has to resume,” he said.

To a question, he said: “I am aware of what the support staff are going through; it is terrible. We always make sure that they are well taken care of.”

Actor Humayun Saeed, also a producer at Six Sigma Plus, says he is not in favour of resuming drama recordings right away.

“We should stay closed for now. However, the question is, until when? We will have to resume sometime soon. If we don’t follow safety rules and don’t stay at home, then the situation might become worse. I’m not in a favour of resuming recordings until the government says so.”

To a question about what safety measures will be taken if recordings do resume, he said: “We will probably reduce the number of crew and would call only 15 to 20 people to the set. We have medical kits, including the temperature checking equipment along with gloves and masks that will be provided to everybody on the sets. We will instruct everyone to maintain a safe distance, wash hands and use sanitizers. Everyone’s safety is our priority.”

“We will have to resume recordings sometime soon. If we don’t follow safety rules, then the situation might become worse. I’m not in a favour of resuming recordings until the government says so,” says Humayun Saeed.

To a question about whether the industry was facing a shortage of content, Saeed said: “There is a shortage of episodes. That is why Meray Pass Tum Ho is getting a repeat run and Mera Dil Mera Dushman is aired only once a week. Of course, this is better than risking actors’ health.”

However, another actor said that he had been called up by a production house to join recordings. “I got a call two days ago. However, I said I will only come if the producers themselves come on the set, sit there and check everyone’s temperature. Are dramas worth more than our lives? If I go there and something happens to me, who will be responsible.”

Saeed, however, rejected the claim that recordings were resuming.

“Calling somebody up and discussing scripts or such matters does not mean that the actors are being asked to return to the sets. One of these days, we will have to decide our future course of action. However, calling this a pressure tactic is a wrong.”

Actor and director, Wajahat Rauf, recently halted recording of his latest movie due to Covid-19. He is sure about not taking any risk. “Showcase Films will bear a financial loss rather than risk lives. TV channels usually do have several dramas with them. We also halted the recording of dramas and films. We won’t go for the shoots until the government allows us to do so. It’s true that we are losing a lot of money, but lives matter more.”

To a question about how his production house was helping daily-wage employees, Rauf said: “We are supporting daily-wagers as well as other team members. However, we wish and pray that this crisis is over soon so that the wheel can again be set into motion.”

However, a director working for another production house told The News on Sunday that actors were under pressure to resume work.

“A producer is telling his staff that coronavirus is nothing more than common flu and they should resume work as soon as possible. They only pay their permanent staff for three months. So there is no question of paying spot boys or technical staff.”

Another actor agrees. “We are strictly told not to share pictures of the recordings going on now on the social media.”

“I am a make-up artist. I have and served for nearly 17 years in this field. The channel has not paid my seven months’ salary. I am suffering from tuberculosis and my production house is aware of my condition. Yet no one has come forward to help me. A few actors have helped me, but how long will they keep supporting me,” said a worker.

Actor Ali Gul Pir says the safety of actors should be the first priority of production houses. “This is a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. I understand that the media industry is struggling, particularly the technical staff. The people who run these production houses should be held responsible for safety and economic wellbeing of their staff. There is no reason why they cannot buy health insurance for their workers.”

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. She can be reached at [email protected]

Coronavirus: TV production remains suspended