With clashes between producers and the FWICE becoming rampant, filmmakers are opting to shoot outside Mumbai. BT investigates the matter
Rachana Dubey (BOMBAY TIMES; June 24, 2017)

Last Friday, an unpleasant incident unfolded on the sets of Tumhari Sulu, when Vidya Balan and Neha Dhupia were filming the iconic Hawa Hawai number. Less than 30 minutes after the camera rolled, members of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE), accompanied by their aides, arrived on the scene and demanded that the shoot be halted. Their grouse was that the dancers for the song had been hired through an external dance coordinator and not their union.

BT was present on the set to witness the drama. One of the producers reasoned that there was no communication or agreement between the industry and the federation on the matter, but in vain. The union members still insisted that the dancers' payments be routed through them. When the dance coordinator argued that this amounted to extortion and an assault on his livelihood, a heated war of words ensued. Producer Tanuj Garg and executive producer Deepika Gandhi spent five hours trying to resolve the stand-off between the warring factions, but the union members left the set only after the coordinator was ousted in the wee hours of Saturday. Tanuj says, “It's unfortunate that producers suffer such unnecessary nuisance and stress while shooting in Mumbai. Anyway, what matters is that the song was completed as planned.“

This, as much as we'd like it to be, wasn't a stray incident. Over the last few months, similar ruckus has happened on the sets of filmmakers like Madhur Bhandarkar, Milan Luthria and Nikkhil Advani. Madhur, who has shot almost all his films in Mumbai, says that he continues to face issues even after two decades in the business. He presses the fact that for years, filmmakers have been campaigning for the one-window-one-permission plan, which can simplify the process for seeking permission to shoot films in Mumbai.

“The plan is still stuck in limbo,“ says Madhur, whose Indu Sarkar set in Karjat was invaded by the federation workers. He adds, “As on date, if we have to shoot anywhere in and around Mumbai, we need permissions from many bodies; each one of them has to be approached individually, which is time-consuming. There are thousands of workers' bodies and their representatives that land up on the set with the intention of making some quick buck. When you invest money to procure permission for a location and block a top star's dates, you don't want work to stop. You'd rather 'resolve' the matter amicably instead of halting the shoot for hours on end. Also, there are too many bodies representing the same categories of employees. They stamp on each other's feet, and in the bargain, the producers suffer monetarily and otherwise.“

According to industry insiders, the situation has worsened over the last three years, particularly after FWICE chief Dharmesh Tiwari passed away. The federation's new governing heads have not been able to save it from getting fragmented, which has only made matters worse for producers who have to deal with every group separately.

Producer Mukesh Bhatt rues that even calling the cops doesn't help much. He adds, “Lately, there have been quite a few incidents of federation workers creating a ruckus on sets. I am not surprised that despite being the hub of show business, most film and TV show shoots have moved out of Mumbai. The ones that are here might also pack up soon. Unless absolutely necessary, no one wants to shoot here anymore. You see, workers and producers have to co-exist; dadagiri is no solution to any problem. The rules followed by the federation are age-old and don't fit into the scheme of things today. They need to revamp their way of functioning and their set of regulations.“

A case for doing away with the FWICE is pending before the Competition Commission of India for the last 18 months and a decision is expected next month. Shoot disruptions are becoming increasingly common and producers are regularly inconvenienced by the ego wars and politics between industry factions. BMC and police woes only compound the problem. Siddharth Roy Kapur, the head of the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, says, “The FWICE matter is sub judice; the commission is looking into the monopolistic and restrictive trade practices being indulged in by these associations, and a ruling is expected very soon.“

Producer Sandeep Singh points out another disturbing trend - increasing animosity amidst producers because of the problems they face while tackling the federation workers and resolving other issues. He says, “We're fragmented as an industry; we don't support each other. TV producers and channels are far better in that sense, they stand united in the face of a problem. Filmmakers are distracted  - they first seek permissions, and then start fighting rabble rousers due to which the films suffer. There's a reason filmmakers run away from Mumbai for their shoots. As far as the case is concerned, even serious ones take five years to reach a conclusive judgement in our country. I don't think our case matters so much to the government.“