BHOPAL: Thousands of employees of cinemas in the state have become jobless due to the closure of both single-screen and multi-screen film theatres for the past 16 months. Some of them are doing odd jobs to make ends meet, while others are living off their savings and loans from relatives and friends. All of them are waiting for the unlocking of the cinemas and hoping that it may happen by July-August this year.
Cinemas were ordered closed in the state in March last year following the outbreak of Covid-19 in the state and have been shut since then. They were allowed to reopen for around two months in between, but, due to the cap on occupancy and , in the absence of release of big-ticket movies, most did not resume operations.
First to close, last to open
Cinemas are the first to be shut down and the last to be reopened, says Rajendra Malaviya, 32, who used to handle the publicity work of new releases. He is now working in a milk dairy. He used to make around Rs 25,000 per month. ìAfter the closure of cinemas, I worked as a labourer with a flooring contractor for some months. I used to fix tiles. When the second lockdown was imposed, even that work stopped,î he said. He is the breadwinner for his family, comprising his wife, two children and parents.
"My father is too old to work," he says. According to him, one of his colleagues has committed suicide, while another is driving an auto-rickshaw.
Rajendra Kumar Soni was the manager of Raj Talkies, Bhopal. Besides that, he also used to handle the work of making copies of the films from hard drives and supplying them to different cinemas. That brought him a decent income. He is now working in the warehouse of a liquor shop. ìI get Rs 10,000 per month as salary here,î he says. The amount is hardly enough to meet the needs of his family, consisting of his wife and two kids.
The same story all around
Forty-year-old Shamim Khan was employed as a gatekeeper at Bharat Talkies, Bhopal, for 10years. The last time he received his salary was in April 2020. "In March this year, my owner sacked me," he says. His accounts, he was told, would be settled after the cinemas reopen. Khan, whose take-home monthly salary was Rs 7,229, is now working at the battery shop of his brother. He has two sons and a wife to look after.
SP Agarwal, 65, who used to handle the work of publicity of films, is now surviving on the income of his daughter. "Who'll give me a new job at this age?" he asks.
Afsar Khan, who was the manager of Bharat Talkies, says that the theatre employed 10-12 people, but all of them have been sacked. ìI was paid half my salary for some months. Later, that, too, was stopped,î he said.
Aalam Noor, 50, who acted as the link between the cinema owners and distributors, says that he was in the field since 1989. He is living off his savings now.
Vijay Kumar Jain, who worked as gatekeeper at Bharat Talkies, is waiting for the cinemas to reopen. "I'm taking help from my relatives," he said. Both of his sons, who worked in a cloth shop, have also lost their jobs. He is finding it impossible to pay the Rs 4,000 rent for his home.
258 single-screen cinemas in the state
"There are 258 single-screen cinemas in the state and nine in the city. There are around 50 multiplexes in the state, six of them in Bhopal. Each cinema employed between 10-18 employees. Hundred per cent of the workers have lost their jobs. How can we pay them when we have no income? Besides employees, those who managed the canteens and parking lots, too, were dependent on cinemas for their livelihood. So, the number of affected persons, including their family members, must be more than 20,000. The government hasnít provided any relief to us. In fact, we weren't even given an appointment to meet the chief minister." -Azizuddin, secretary, MP Cinema Association