Foreign faces loom large over Bollywood

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Bollywood’s junior artistes and workers are not only victims of irregular pay and lack of payment structure, but also face what is becoming a global problem - foreigners taking over.

Bollywood actor Salman Khan is seen performing at the Rajiv Gandhi annual awards ceremony in Mumbai in this August 17, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Manav Manglani/Files

“Producers bring in foreign extras and junior artistes because they look nicer, and our people lose out on their jobs,” said Dharmesh Tiwari, general secretary of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, the umbrella union for Bollywood employees.

A three-day strike by more than 100,000 junior artistes and workers affiliated to the FWICE was called off late on Friday, after four producers’ bodies promised timely payment and proper recruitment of extras.

“One of our demands is that no local artiste should be neglected over a foreign one,” Tiwari said.

But producers claim this is not entirely true.

“We have an agreement with the FWICE that if they cannot provide us with the required artistes we can hire from outside and that is exactly what producers are doing,” said T. P. Agarwal of producers body Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPAA).

Bollywood churns out about 1,000 films a year and most of them feature elaborate dance sequences and the demand for extras to stand in the background or dance behind the lead pair is always high.

Barring a handful of foreign actors that have starred in leading roles most Westerners feature in the backdrop as scantily dressed dancers in nightclubs or drinking at bars.

Shailendra Singh of Percept Picture Company says it is not fair to stop foreign artists from working in Bollywood.

“Its like saying someone from India can’t go and work in Hollywood. Why not? There should be no curbs imposed on creativity,” he said.

“Creativity is fine, but what about our livelihood?” Tiwari said.