After Indian 2 set mishap, Tamil producers weigh in on safety measures and insurance policies for crew members

Surendhar MK

Feb 26, 2020 11:02:45 IST

The appalling shooting spot mishap at the Indian 2 set erected at EVP Film City on the outskirts of Chennai has shaken the entire Indian film industry. The horrific accident which left three technicians dead and many others injured has come as a wake-up call regarding the safety standards and insurance policies undertaken by production houses engaged in the showbiz.

Bankrolled by Lyca Productions, Indian 2 is directed by Shankar and stars Kamal Haasan and Kajal Aggarwal in the lead roles. A day after the massive accident, Haasan, while speaking to reporters outside Kilpauk Medical College, revealed how he, alongside Shankar and Kajal Aggarwal, escaped miraculously by a few seconds and meters. On the one hand, while the industry has been mourning the loss of three lives due to an overloaded crane that came crashing down, industry pundits and media analysts have also been pondering about the standard of safety, precaution measures in the film industry and why a proper insurance policy is the need of the hour for all the technicians involved in the making of a project. Firstpost spoke to some noted producers and technicians to know their viewpoints on this sensitive, pivotal topic.

"When it comes to avoiding accidents on the spot, particularly while shooting action sequences, the production house has to take charge completely. Delegating safety precaution measures to third parties and later blaming them won’t work. Bigger the film, the bigger the potential problem is," Dhananjayan Govind, national award-winning writer, producer, and distributor, told Firstpost. 

 After Indian 2 set mishap, Tamil producers weigh in on safety measures and insurance policies for crew members

Kamal Haasan penned a strongly worded statement addressed to Lyca Productions

In a strongly-worded statement, Kamal Haasan on Tuesday wrote to Lyca Group Chairman and Founder Subaskaran Allirajah (also produced 2.0) and said that accidents of this kind destroy the confidence and belief of the entire team in the production unit. "With a deep sense of anguish, I write this. The events that happened on the night of 19 February 2020 continues to haunt. People with whom we were laughing, eating, and working together are no longer there, and the realization that they will never be back is most remorseful. I was just a few seconds and fewer meters away from the spot where the mishap occurred and miraculously escaped from joining the list of fatalities. I can hardly express my trauma and agony in words. Our ability to compensate can and should never be equated to our sense of responsibility," Haasan's statement read.

He further added: "With so many human lives involved in a shoot, the paramount importance for the Production is to ensure the safety of people involved in the shoot. Accidents of this kind only destroy the confidence and belief of the entire team, in the Production team. I want to understand the steps taken by the Production team to ensure the safety of the artists, crew, and other technicians involved in the shoot and also the kind of insurance that the Production team has taken. Any loss, cost, damage, risk undergone on account of the Production team failing to carry out what they ought to have carried out has to be compensated in full and at the earliest."

Haasan argued that producers should ensure the best of medical help to every crew member admitted to the hospital. "You should ensure to implement all guidelines on safety and institute an audit process to assess safety standards at shoot locations before the commencement of any shoot. Only by such positive and proactive steps, the Production team can demonstrate its diligence in adhering to safety requirements and thereby restore the confidence of the cast and crew (including me) to report back for the shoot."

Rajsekar Pandian, the producer, and distributor of Suriya's 2D Entertainment said, "In all our projects, irrespective of its budget and scale, we first sit and get insurance done for all the actors and crew members. The production house must oversee the entire process as they own the project, and people are answerable to them. One can’t leave anything to chance. There must be a production head supervising all the action sequences and also potentially risky scenes involving animals. Even though we associate with experienced personnel with hundreds of films behind their back, accidents and mishaps can still happen anytime, and one can’t blame anyone directly."

Producer Kotapadi J Rajesh of KJR Studios, who distributed Ajith's then industry-hit Viswasam, says insuring film projects is a must-do for all production units. "Like health insurance and life insurance, film production insurance will also give greater benefits and a higher cover with a higher premium. All leading insurance companies offer their services to us. Natural calamities, accidents, damages to set properties, injuries, death, etc. are covered by the insurance. Of late, companies are also providing post-release insurance in the case of a film’s run being affected by uncontrollable factors like a nationwide or state-wide strike, protests, an emergency government decision, etc."

Producer S Lakshman Kumar of Prince Pictures, known for bankrolling Suriya's Singam 2, highlighted the importance of safety measures to be taken while performing stunt sequences. "When it comes to stunt scenes, lead actors should definitely avoid doing risky action scenes as it adds a needless layer of risk to the proceedings. Cinema is all about make-believe, and the services of expert stuntmen have to be utilized. They are trained to put their life on the line for risky stunts. Prior rehearsals for stunt sequences is also a necessity; extra care should be taken for fire stunts and underwater stunts. And, it’s always good to approach reputed, tried, and tested vendors when it comes to hiring primary camera and lighting equipment. Careless wiring should also be avoided due to potentially dangerous electrical mishaps. A few extra thousands spent in hiring the right equipment and the right people can do only good to a film set," Lakshman Kumar told Firstpost. 

Dhananjayan said maintaining appropriate checklists would come in handy when there is an unexpected accident. "These checklists will contain items related to safety, first aid, and other production-related requirements. Checklists also make sure that the unit is always on their toes. Ultimately, accidents can still happen despite all safety precaution measures, as things aren’t always in our control. The production house has to take care of the injured and the families of the deceased on top priority. Financial requirements and insurance will be of prime importance in the case of such untoward accidents, and the production house should take complete responsibility."

Rajasekar Pandian pointed out that the production council and the corresponding union members should also discuss and come to a consensus on the number of working hours for a person. "Crucial technicians like crane operators shouldn’t be allotted double call sheets (one call sheet spans 8 hours) just because of the extra pay. They should be in the right physical and mental frame to manage such a crucial department as it’s not just their own lives but also the entire unit, which depends on their smooth functioning. This applies to any field of work, not just cinema. People shouldn’t be overworked and fatigued," he stated.

Lakshman Kumar said it's imperative to avoid unnecessary people on the set. "When it comes to safety measures, it’s a priority to avoid needless people on the set. More the number of needless people more is the scope for untoward incidents and mishaps; their over-enthusiasm and overzealous nature can lead to anything. To ensure seamless communication, walkie talkies have to be provided to all unit members," he reasoned.

Amritha Ram, the costume designer of Indian 2, talked about her traumatic experience on the set. "We feel lucky that the death toll didn’t further rise as we were shooting a grandly mounted action sequence involving hundreds of junior artists. A smaller set with lesser shooting space and cramped lighting setup would’ve made it even more deadly and dangerous to the unit as there wouldn’t have been any space to run and escape."

While Kamal Haasan's stern statement to Lyca Chairman has grabbed the attention of everyone in the industry, Amritha Ram says the actor has already initiated talks with crucial bigwigs in the industry regarding the safety standards and insurance policies. "The very next day after the Indian 2 accident took place, Kamal sir made sure that he supervised the insurance requirements of the deceased and injured. As an industry veteran, he has done mind-blowing action scenes in many of his films and suffered many injuries due to his risk-taking quality and not due to the lack of safety measures. Kamal sir has always been a stickler to safety and precautionary measures at the shooting spots of all his films. He has already initiated talks with important industry personnel from all over the South to take the awareness about safety, precaution, and insurance to all film units operating in the country."

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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2020 11:02:45 IST