PAGE 06 & PAGE 07: Lights, Camera, Action, IFFI & “We Have More to Fear than the Virus”

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By Karishma D’Mello

“There might be a pandemic, but my job is still the same. I am cleaning, just like I did last year, and the year before. The only difference is this year, I’m doing it with a mask on,” Anjun Bepari tells The Peacock. This is her third year of working at the International Film Festival of India. 

Bepari is resigned to the consequences of the ongoing pandemic. “We are all going to get the virus at some point,” she says. “There is no time to stand by and wait for the virus to pass. Life goes on whether or not we are afraid. We must do what we can to earn our daily wages. This month it’s working here, next month it will be somewhere else.”

To her co-worker, Riyana Tahashildar, the festival spells new beginnings. “This is my first job in Goa. It is very different from other states. There are so many opportunities to earn money and build a better life. I am happy to have this job.”

It is also Begam Naikwade’s first day at a film festival. However, unlike Riyana, she has been living in Goa for the past nine years. While you can usually find her on duty at the High Court of Bombay, in Panaji, she has now been tasked with cleaning the premises of The Maquinez Palace, one of the three venues for the 51st International Film Festival of India. “When we first heard about the virus, we were terrified. We didn’t know what to expect; we were worried about getting infected. A few months have passed since then and now I’m not worried anymore. It doesn’t matter if there is a virus or not; I still have to earn my living,” says Naikwade.

A little further down by the Inox multiplex, Yesudas Nyaltori echoes a similar sentiment. “There is risk if we work during the pandemic, but there is greater risk if we do not work during the pandemic. If we do not earn our money, how will we live? We have more to fear than the virus.”

Sameer Naik stands guard at the entrance to the Maquinez Palace. He has been working for the festival for the past two years, and he enjoys his job. In reference to the ongoing pandemic, Naik adds, “Everyone’s temperature is checked at the entrance and their hands are sanitized. If we all maintain some distance and wear our masks, there is nothing to fear.”

Like Sameer, Sonu Raj also takes pride in his work. “I’ve worked for IFFI for the past eight years. I help with the lights, the furniture, and the welding; I am an all-rounder. Every year we get a list of requirements, and this year is no different. We do what we’re asked to do.”

However, the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic is still real for others. “It feels good to have some work during this time. We don’t know what our next job will be; it’s difficult to say because of the virus. We need to make ends meet,” says Saurabh Bhoumik, as he works on setting up the décor along the red carpet. 

Kamal Bera adds “We are afraid of getting the virus like everyone else, but we have to work despite the fear. We don’t have the option of saying we’re afraid. What will we eat?” However, Bera adds that his worries about contracting the virus have subsided since he first heard about it in March 2020. “When you first hear about something, it is new and unknown, but over time you get used to things. That’s how life is. It has been almost a year now; we have learned to live with it.”

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