IS TV A SERIAL KILLER?

Rishi Majumder goes behind the arc lights and reports the daily grind that is the life of many TV actors

is TV a serial killer...

This serial was important to me, so I gave it my all. But I have learnt my lesson now.” This is what TV actress Roshni Chopra has to say about passing out on the sets of Kasamh Se. But the dilemma about whether to burn out on one job or fade away doesn’t end with one person, unfortunately. TV stars, writers and producers in the film and television industry admit to killer work schedules and play the blame game when it comes to the source of this problem.
“I’ve worked 24 hours a day and shot 10 days non-stop, and I still have 30 working days a month. And schedules will remain just as hectic,” says TV actor Ronit Roy nonchalantly. Roy does not hold anyone responsible for his busy work schedule. “It’s the way things are. If you want to work you have to comply,” he adds.

chetan hansraj


Others are not as forgiving. “Just like doing your time in jail, you have to do your time here,” opines Chetan Hansraj, one of the busiest actors on TV today. Hansraj is now taking it easy because he doesn’t want to “kill” himself; and that is because he can afford to do so. “As a new actor
I did eight to 10 scenes a day. I had to prove myself for the first three years. Only after that could I sit back and focus on quality rather than quantity,” he rounds up.

roshni chopra


But why does even a new actor have these
schedules? “The script for each episode comes in late because of TRP demands from the audience. These effect changes like scenes being re-written and re-shot,” explains TV actress Pooja Ghai. When Ghai started off, she was shooting for four months with about two hours of sleep everyday. When this led to her losing her consciousness on sets and being hospitalised, she remembers her crew members asking the doctors, “When are you going to discharge her? She has a lot to shoot?” before even checking on her. While such health break-downs among TV actors is common news, one actor called Jyoti Chanakya actually “overworked himself to the extent that his unhealthy lifestyle led to cancer”, claims a TV actress who doesn’t want to be quoted.

ronit roy


At the center of this vortex is the daily soap opera. Rekha Modi TV script writer for dailies
claims, “A daily soap is
like running a factory. Creativity roz karni hai (Translation: ‘You have to use your creativity everyday’, I suppose.). Due to the manic competitiveness in the industry, this will have to be according to the TRPs the channels receive. So the writer can’t write their plots and characters in advance.” Which means that the actors don’t get their schedules till the last minute because one never knows how a scene is shaping up. “Often after going on floor you realise that the drama in the script isn’t coming through, so you have to rewrite, maybe bring in more characters,” Modi adds.
Kinnari Mehta, producer of current soap Sinndoor, explains further, “We’re in the middle of a boom. With serials on five days a week, we work 16 hours everyday. Even while talking to you now I’m working out the forecast for Wednesday and ahead, and my production house is one of the most organised. Imagine the mess the unorganised ones will be in.” Mehta also points out
that people are “glued” to daily shows, and that hence “there’s nothing the TV industry can do but meet the trend”.

pallavi joshi


But all actors aren’t so fatalistic about this trend. Actor Sumeet Sachdev, for instance, says, “Even when I start
ed out, I had the options to do many more shows, but I didn’t take them on. I’ve never taken on more work than I can handle. It’s not true that an actor has to do as many shows as he can fit into a day to prove himself. He could do that by doing one show and putting everything into it.” But while Sachdev blames the actor’s greed for money and fame for taking on so much work, Hansraj disagrees. “There is so much competition in the industry today that if a new actor gives up work, it’ll go to someone else, and make his chances of survival shaky,” he reasons.
Strangely enough the film industry, earlier known for erratic schedules, has eased its load. Says film producer Boney Kapoor, “This is because we’re functioning as an industry. There’s more dependability where commitment is concerned. Actors and producers nowadays insist on
a complete script, before shooting, and stick to that. We’re shooting films in a short span now, but that’s because people are working on one film at a time. Every thing is much organised.” Not having the burden of a daily deadline helps, perhaps?
All this brings us to another vital question – the quality on offer. Producers, writers and actors involved in the ‘daily’ phenomenon, defend it tenaciously, with Modi and Mehta claiming, “The output in one day is the same another would come up with in five days. It’s up to the artists to meet the challenge.”
Yesteryear’s TV, film and theatre character actor A. K. Hangal however, has a different take. “Yahaan sab sirf paise banaanein ke chakkar mein hai. Kaam se kisi ko matlab hi nahin,” he dismisses. He claims that earlier too, TV serials were prepared hurriedly to be sent to Delhi for Doordarshan, but at least they were meaningful. “Like Tamas”, he cites. Directed by Govind Nihalani, it was an exploration of the communal riots in 1947 and analysed relevant social complexities.

While Hangal does blame the absence of such fare to the lack of “progressive, able and educated” directors, in the TV industry, he does not override the crazy TV deadlines as a factor as well. “I had played Vallabhbhai Patel in a serial called Mountbatten, The Last Viceroy, produced by a UKbased production house. They had prepared the script six months in advance and I had four days to go through it before I started shooting. Can you imagine that happening here?” he asks pointedly.
Actress Pallavi Joshi, once much seen on TV, actually claims to have retracted from the industry because of its daily grind. “The industry has gone crazy! Showing the same thing day in and day out exhausts both the actors and the viewers!” she exclaims. Joshi further elucidates that dailies exhaust all character and story options, leaving nothing for the viewer and at the same time exhausts the actor so much that he or she can’t perform. “There’s no definite character or line of thought. These might suit women who’ve come here to earn quick bucks before they get married and settle down, but not for someone like me who wants a career in acting,” she argues. Joshi claims that she’s praying and waiting for the weeklies to return. Maybe we all should!

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/mur4

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