The arrest and taking into judicial custody of Kannada film Mastigudi's producer Sundar Gowda, and naming him as an accused in the tragic case of two actors’ death during shooting, has generated a debate among the film fraternity in Karnataka.
President of the Karnataka Film Chamber S R Govindu gave a public statement asking why a producer should be punished when all he did was provide funds and trust that the director, the stunt director and the rest would do the job well. Many other producers also openly expressed their dissatisfaction at Sundar Gowda being remanded to Ramanagar jail for 14 days. None of them had any idea about the responsibilities of a producer. Strange.
The Film Chamber, after a meeting, has issued a ban on the three — director Nagashekhar, lead actor Duniya Vijay and stunt director Ravi Verma, till further notice. Why Vijay? Because he was also party to it; he did not insist that the co-actors also be provided with life jackets like him.
The fact is, there is widespread talk from the stuntmen. They claim the actors should not have been made to jump at all because it is the job of trained stuntmen. This was a stunt that had to be executed by a trained professional. They are licensed to do it.
There is a registered All Karnataka Stunt Actors’ Association with 150 card-holding members, who are insured to cover any mishap. They are accusing the stunt director of not calling them to save some money.
All of them state in unison that Kannada film producers always compromise on safety, that they spend on heroes but not on stuntmen. In fact veteran stuntman ‘Different’ Danny, who has worked in over 550 films, has often said, "there is no respect for technicians in Kannada film industry". The most that a stuntman gets at the end of a hard, almost impossible stunt is a mere pain-killer injection.
On the tragedy at Thippagondanahalli, the man who was supposed to drive the motor boat has also made a statement. He had asked for Rs 25,000 for a day’s service and the production team did not want to spare that money. If a motor boat was ready as standby they could have saved the actors. The chopper was hired but not the motor boat. So far only the body of Uday has been found and brought up. Search is still going on for finding Anil’s body.
Coming back to the primary question about who should be held responsible for the film shoot, the producer cannot escape saying he is only a financier and hence should not be blamed in case of mishap. All producers are fully responsible for the work, from beginning to end, for the entire unit. Whenever a mishap has happened in the past, the producers have taken care of it all.
For instance when Amyra Dastur hit hero Diganth with a stiletto, causing grave injury to his eye, almost losing his sight, the producer immediately got him admitted to a hospital in Scotland, where they were shooting, and took care of the surgery and the complete hospital stay.
There are several instances in the Kannada film industry when the producers have failed to provide safety/security to their actors. Especially after the neo-rich/real estate guy-turned producer have flooded the Kannada film market, a basic sense of film-making etiquette has been lost. The primary rule is that the producer is responsible for the safety of the entire unit — from hero to the last set boy.
In the case of Mastigudi too, the director and stunt director cannot decide on their own to shoot at Thippagondanahalli reservoir, hire a chopper, invite the television channels for publicity, without involving the producer. Hence the producer is well aware of the risk being taken. He should have warned both the director Nagashekhar and the stunt director Ravi Verma to take all necessary precaution.
However, it is also true that it was the responsibility of both the director and the stunt director to take all precaution.