Vantage point

Thursday, December 04, 2003

An excerpt from my favourite newspaper - The Daily Some Achaar (Our motto - "Lip smacking news that you can preserve")

Maharashtra Mulling anti-BPO bill
Mumbai - Maharashtra, the state where most Indians head to find employment is now considering an anti-BPO bill. Sources in the Sushilkumar Shinde government say that these moves are afoot because of the pressure being put on the government by the "Bollywood Extras and Junior Artistes AssociatioN"(BEJAAN), who are miffed over losing their jobs to foreigners because of an increasing number of movies and songs being picturised abroad.

"We have worked hard for years to be a part of this industry and is this the return we get?" fumed Maina Chungi, the spokeswoman for BEJAAN. "We have put on weight, worn atrocious orange and purple clothes and danced to insipid tunes for a pittance. We deserve better than this."

It is estimated that songs in Hindi movies employ up to 50,000 male and female dancers every year. However with the trend of shooting movies and songs abroad, their income has been steadily dwindling.

"10,000 BEJAAN members are jobless. Their jobs are being stolen by lithe and fit dancers in America, whose only qualification is that they are white. They get to wear clothes of normal colours and yet they get paid more than us." Miss Chungi said.

Things came to a boil last year when Karan Johar's tear-jerker "Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham" featured a song that had hundreds of British and American dancers in the background. Industry sources say that this song is the most expensive song ever in a Hindi movie, for the sole reason that the extras were paid in dollars.

"Our jobs are being outsourced to America. Not only that, our government is losing vital foreign exhcange" Miss Chungi explained. She talks about the good old days when she made her debut over two decades ago in Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi". "I remember I got paid a handsome amount for being an extra at the funeral scene in Gandhi. I was just told to wear a white sari. That was Hollywood paying us. But Bollywood has treated us shabbily." she raises her voice.

"For the sake of Gandhi, we request this government, which is from the same party as him - Ban BPO in Maharashtra."

The Shinde government is tightlipped about such a legislation. However Dty CM Chagan Bhujbal said "We sympathise with the plight of the BEJAAN members."

Meanwhile the Shivsena has jumped into fray with Supremo Balasaheb Thackeray supporting the BEJAAN demands.

"By hiring dancers from abroad, filmmakers are going against the Indian culture. We demand that along with stars, all extras be taken abroad for shooting songs."

The Shivsena is thinking of making an example out of the latest Karan Johar flick - Kal Ho Na Ho, in which almost every song features American dancers. There are talks of giving the producers a time of one month in which to reshoot these songs with BEJAAN dancers, failing which Sena members will stop the screening of the film.

It remains to be seen whether the Shinde government actually brings an anti-BPO legislation. Some Maharashtra legislators are already drawing up plans to visit the United States to study anti-BPO laws so that they can be replicated in India.

"We hear the best drafts of the anti-BPO laws are available in Florida, California and.....which is the state which has those Casinos in Las Vegas.........Nevada. We are planning a study trip to help this legislation" a minister said on the condition of anonymity.

So the scene is set for a politico-legal waltz. Meanwhile the members of BEJAAN are hopeful. Maina Chungi says

"We wait for the day when the jobs that the First World dancers have stolen from us are returned through legal means."