Sony Pictures Networks India ups safety bar on TV sets

MUMBAI: TV production in India has been a bit of a bummer over the past few years: hazardous material constructed sets, loosely put together electrical connections, below par sanitation, and shoddy facilities have been the hallmarks of shooting floors. Safety measures for TV actors and crews have been sub-par. Accidents have sometimes got out of hand, and there have been several incidents over the years where crew have been injured or lost their lives. Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) is changing that at least on one front: having ambulances and clinics on all sets where TV shows or films are being shot.

Apparently, the company has hired one of India's top emergency response services TopsLine to deploy 11 mobile clinics and ambulances at the sites of 16 shows where shooting is under way in Mumbai and its periphery. Why is SPN India suddenly getting a shot of corporate social responsibility?

Well, it's part of its efforts to raise the bar and provide protection to those who work on the front lines to churn out the content that brings it ratings and revenues. A while ago SPN India officials had conversations with these folks on how they felt on the sets, and the reaction was pretty eye-opening. Most respondents said that, apart from wages, what they wanted was better hygiene and ablution facilities, apart from safety. That prompted the network to spring into action, taking the first of many more steps it intends to take in this direction.

The mobile medical vans are likely to cover around 1600 people at a stretch if one were to assume 90-100 people working on an average at each of its different sets at a time.

While TV industry professionals have lauded SPN India's initiative, a lot more needs to be done says Hats Off Productions co-founder and the Indian Film & TV Producers Council TV division head JD Majethia. However, there are challenges, he admits.

"The nature of business is so different -- the shooting sites are temporary structures; it's difficult to make arrangements. Sites keep shifting, and sometimes the sets are on wheels," says Majethia.

There is the lack of basic hygiene amongst the crew at times who chew tobacco, spit betel nut juice (pan) on the sets, which tends to dirty the area. Of course actors have their vanity vans, which keeps them ring fenced from the mess. But the crew has to bear with it all the same.

A problem that is faced by many a producer and production supervisors is providing proper lunch tables on locations. "On large shooting floors, if there are 100 people at work and everybody needs to be accommodated during lunch, it becomes difficult to manage, say 10 tables, in an hour's time," explains Majethia. Then, potable water, for example, is one of the issues that needs careful planning.

At times there is the mosquito menace at the shooting locations. And when the Dengue fever scare has been running rampant, this is indeed concerning. "In such situations, we often take the help of pest control services and also provide safety creams such as Odomos to all the actors and workers," Majethia said.

Majethia once again lauded SPN India's ambulance drive and added that the industry is constantly working with the various trade craft bodies to improve the lot of those on the sets. "And things can only get better from here," he said.

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