The aftermath of the Kannada film Mastigudi shooting tragedy, which claimed the lives of two young actors, Anil Kumar (30) and Raghav Uday (32), is throwing up more muck than the Tippagondahalli reservoir that has not been desilted in 60 years.
While the entire film industry and the general public, are condemning the carelessness with which the stunt shooting was carried out — at times calling it nothing short of murder — questions are being raised about the safety measures undertaken while shooting a stunt of this proportion.
The film production unit could procure a chopper for the shoot, paying a hefty amount, but did not have a motor boat to save the actors. Both admitted to a TV channel before the shoot that they were not good swimmers, had a phobia of heights and that they had never gotten into a helicopter before.
The actors were not told about the stunt. It was a surprise for them. One actor said, “we thought dupes would do it but now they are asking us to jump”. Everything about this stunt shooting seems wrong.
The permission to shoot at the reservoir was only to use the bank and surrounding area, not for jumping into the water. There was no permission for aerial shooting. The actors were bare-chested, showing off their abs, for continuity, hence could not be provided with safety jackets.
Only Duniya Vijay, the hero, was given a life jacket.
Even he was finding it difficult to swim and was eventually rescued. What if it was fatal for him too? Money was spent for renting a chopper but not spent for getting a motor boat. This tragic incident could potentially equate to criminal negligence resulting in culpable homicide.
Did the actors have a choice? That is real the question. They jumped because they trusted the stunt director. Yogaraj Bhat, a director who visited the spot, said “The location was in no way conducive for shooting. No idiot would think of shooting that way. There were thousand other ways to shoot the shot. It is nothing but stupidity.”
There is uncontrollable anger in the public regarding the stunt. When somebody mentioned compensation, director Duniya Suri, a close friend of the actors, spat at the reporter. Can compensation justify the death, he asked. But the more important question to ask in this situation is, are such stunts required?
The Indian film industry depends on a make-believe world and hence stunt action are an integral part of our cinema. We now have very sophisticated methods of shooting stunts.
The Mastigudi shooting required very basic safety measures, actually. Couple of motor boats, a rope, a life jacket. Even two dummies could be used to show the fall and close up in green mat could have done the job. Life jackets could have been used and erased during post production and abs recreated.
Could have, would have, should have.
Why did Ravi Verma, the stunt director, proceed to carry out the stunt without even the basic preparation? Did he want to prove something? In the past, filming for Lock Up Death (1995 Kannada film), two stuntmen Ravi (30) and Shivakumar (23) were asked to jump over a double-decker bus on motor bikes. The calculation went horribly wrong and they landed on ground with multiple fractures including the skull. They never recovered.
Strangely, Thriller Manju, the stunt director for this film was awarded Best Action Director. Nobody questioned if the stunt director had not thought of ‘what if they miss’.
When Peter Hein did that famous bike jump in Telugu film Magadheera and miscalculated and landed on the ground from 100 feet high, he suffered 99 fractures. His jaw was totally dislocated. There are so many nuts and bolts in his body he jokes that metal detectors love him.
Most of the stunt guys are insured. But that does not lower the risk of their job. If a driving license can be cancelled after two violations, why can’t the stunt director’s license be cancelled? Why is there not a ban on stunt directors who ignore safety precautions?
The common excuse heard in the film industry is that "accidents happen". Well, there is a difference between accident and deliberate overlooking of danger. The gross callousness shown in Mastigudi stunt shooting classifies as the latter.