Don’t compromise on safety in shooting stunts, says filmmaker

New Delhi, Nov 9 (IANS) The Indian film world mirrors the same class and caste divisions as the country’s society, feels industry professional Udayan Baijal, who has contributed to stunt-heavy international productions like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Dark Knight Rises”. He says safety protocols are a must to follow during risky scenes.

Baijal, who is a producer and has worked as first assistant director on films like “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, “Point Break” and “London Has Fallen” too, told IANS: “Unfortunately, there are no health and safety protocols that we follow as filmmakers in this country.”

“The film crew hierarchy mirrors the same class and caste divisions as our society – and unfortunately the lower down the film food chain one goes, the lesser the regard for health and safety.”

His comment comes after two actors drowned in a lake near Bengaluru after leaping off a helicopter for a crucial climax scene of Kannada movie “Masthigudi”. While the hero swam to safety and even had a life jacket, the two others who drowned had no prior training and they reportedly didn’t even know how to swim. Besides that, the safety measures were almost nil.

Commenting on this, Baijal said: “Filming can be dangerous work, but there are protocols and standards in place to prevent such accidents. For any stunt sequence, there are certain non-negotiable must dos before you star filming.”

Sharing these, he pointed out:

* The first thing that should have been done in this situation is a health and safety assessment. A swimmer with a life vest should have been sent out to assess the water – check depth, the presence of nets, silt and anything else that could prevent the actors from swimming to the surface. For a stunt like this, the first thing you need is to make sure your stuntmen and actors are strong swimmers. They shouldn’t even be allowed to perform the stunt without certifying their swimming skill level.

* You must have a crew meeting/ briefing on set before the stunt is shot. The first assistant director and stunt director need to take everyone through the plan in detail and present a plan to the crew if and when things go wrong. It is the job of the first assistant director and stunt director to visualise what the plan of action will be if things go wrong (and they often do). The primary responsibly to ensure that all of this happens is the producers.

* Next, it is essential to do a half-speed rehearsal. This is to make sure that backup plans that have been put in place work. So in the case of ‘Masthigudi’, they should have played out the stunt at a safe speed. The jump should have been at half the height – with the chopper flying low and rescue boats should have been up and running, engines on and the boats should have gone through the drill of moving in and helping the stunt men/actors to safety. The reason it is called a rehearsal is so we can tweak and adjust things if they didn’t work properly (for example, faulty rescue boats).

* Only once the rehearsal is complete to the satisfaction of the first assistant director and stunt director, should you start filming. From what I have read, none of this was followed in the case of “Masthigudi”.

* Lastly, I think majority of film crews in India suffer from a dangerous complacency towards health and safety on set. It’s considered uncool, weak and unnecessary to rehearse, plan, have health and safety meetings and assessments.

‘Ho jaayega’ (It will happen) is the constant refrain from producers and crew. This extends beyond stunts — it applies to grips, electrics, art, special effects and production. To see any real change in the way we work, we need to first address, challenge and change this attitude.