In many ways, actor Tunisha Sharma’s death has refocused attention on the arduous working conditions endured by TV stars, who frequently struggle to cope physically and mentally while working long hours — 15 to 18 hours a day, with daily shoots. We asked industry experts if a lack of work-life balance and erratic schedules, which leave little time to discuss personal issues, could be added to the list of causes in such tragic cases.
“I’ve seen TV actors work 55 days without a single day off, and that’s not healthy,” actor Priya Malik says.
In the past, successful actors Vaishali Takkar and Pratyusha Banerjee committed suicide while suffering from depression and anxiety.
Nivedita Basu, a TV show producer and creative director, agrees that unrealistic work hours can lead to a toxic work culture. “Working 14-16 hours a day is toxic, and for people like us who work behind the camera, the day is even longer. The unfortunate reason is that there is so much competition in the field. When five people refuse to overstretch their working hours, ten others readily agree to do so. “That’s the problem,” she laments.
Basu says she’d appreciate a system that allows dedicated working hours “so everyone has time for other things as well”.
However, producer Sandiip Sikcand believes it is critical for aspiring actors to prepare before entering the television industry. “Some people come into this field thinking it’s a piece of cake. They must understand that working continuously has a negative impact on both their mental and physical health. “That’s the cost of the fame and adoration you get here,” he observes.
“Age also plays a crucial role here,” actor Charrul Malik says of Sharma’s death. “Tunisha started as a child actor, and that age and stage is very challenging for someone who is approaching adolescence,” she explains. She was far too young to accomplish anything. At her age, children usually study and spend time with their parents. It’s a critical time, and at this age, your mind can easily be diverted. You can feel mentally abused and not understand the symptoms of depression, and I believe that’s what happened to her.”
Malik, who has worked on the daily soap Nazar, understands how difficult it can be to maintain a work-life balance. “I understand it’s a professional commitment, but I also believe that there should be a more organised structure of breaks even during the day, and definitely a mandatory break every week or after 10 days for every actor.”
When asked if counselling on set could be an option, Malik agrees and suggests that a counsellor visit the actors once a month. “With TV, you have to work with the same set of people for months, so having someone from outside for a conversation is beneficial, as you may not always be comfortable sharing things with co-actors.”
Basu advocates for counselling in all fields and for all employees, not just the lead actors. “Those at the back of the kitchen or serving tables should be treated with the same care as those at the top. You have no idea who is dealing with which issues. I don’t think anyone will come to you and talk about it unless you go out and talk to them one on one. People say things like, ‘phone uthaa kar baat kar lena chahiye tha, aap share kar lena chahiye tha’. “Itna aasaan nahi hota,” she says emphatically.