Editor's note: The rape conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has left the fate of many people in limbo. In the second of a four-part series, Firstpost speaks to some of the 147 film technicians of Singh's production company, who claim that their salaries remain unpaid and they have nowhere to go.
Sirsa, Haryana: The conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief has not only left the organisation floundering, but also several hundred employees in the lurch.
Among them, 147 film technicians of his production company Hakikat Entertainment Pvt Ltd.
They claim the company owes them Rs 80 lakh in back pay and other arrears.
The crew don't know where to turn, what with their hero behind bars and Honeypreet absconding.
Around 10 films that were in production have been shelved.
"Dera is in a mess," said post-production manager Sunil Kumar. "Where do we go?"
The technicians, mostly men between the ages of 24 and 36, hail from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. They were employed as VFX editors, composers, graphic artists, post-production technicians, in electronics and as animators.
Ram Rahim was the actor-producer-director-lyricist and writer for all these films.
Honeypreet, who knew little or nothing “technical” relating to film production, was the assistant director.
The technicians’ salaries ranged from Rs 45,000 to Rs 150,000 per month. They were promised permanent jobs, and the soon-to-be-set up ‘Film City’ was the biggest motivator. They claim to have left good jobs with Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad and in Bollywood, lured by the handsome salaries and attractive perks offered by the Dera chief's production house.
“We cannot leave until we are paid what we are owed," Ravinder Kapsee, a post-production manager, told Firstpost. "We will not leave. We're running out of money. Fast. We're at a dead end."
Kapsee said other Dera employees, including teachers, administrators and those working menial jobs have begun leaving the campus.
But for the time being, these technicians are staying put. They literally have nowhere else to go. Not only do they live on campus, many of them are staying with their families. Their children are enrolled in Dera-run schools.
“Who would have thought of such an ending?" asks technician Murli Akash. "When Pitaji was convicted, Dera folded like a house of cards.”
The technicians had finished post production on two Ram Rahim movies – Lion Heart and Hind Ka Napak Ko Jawab – and were busy finalising the rest of the films. Then, the axe fell.
Many of them took up jobs with Hakikat Entertainment 18 months ago. When the Dera chief was arrested, they were working on the Ram Rahim movie called Online Gurukul.
Team members Murli Akash and Arun Kumar said when they were contacted with job offers, they were taken aback by the salaries on offer.
"We were told that there was no chance of the films failing at the box office," they claimed. "But now, we have neither work nor salary. And we can't leave because they haven't paid us our dues."
However, they claim that they are unaware of any "goings on" in the Dera campus and said there was no reason to suspect anything untoward happening. They said Ram Rahim's three-film MSG series, which have been released, were doing well.
“We will not leave until we are paid," Kumar added. "It's no use returning home empty-handed. Ram Rahim sold us a million dollar dream. That we'd work soon be working for a film production company that was as good as any in Hollywood. And now, we're trapped."
Kumar alleged that Dera acting head Vipassana's phone was unreachable. He added that most of the Dera spokespersons were either booked by the police or fugitives. Dilawar Insan, a Dera spokesperson, was arrested by the police on Thursday.
They said that their biggest problem is that if they leave the Dera campus, they won't be able to get back in. They said the police has made it almost impossible for anyone to get in and out, including the media.
They said the only government official they've spoken to was Sirsa deputy commissioner Prabhjot Singh. And that too only during an official campus visit.
"We explained our situation to him and asked him to help us," Kumar said. "He's promised he'd help us recover the money."
Singh, speaking to Firstpost, said the authorities were cognisant of the film technicians' plight and were taking steps to redress their grievances. He said the matter had been referred to the district labour officer.
“If the Dera management don't pay the technicians we will take action against them," Sindh said.
It seems the technicians have no choice but to wait.
The authors are Haryana-based journalists and are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Sep 18, 2017 13:28:08 IST