In southern Syria, Roman theater survives civil war intact

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Syrian scouts tour the Roman Theatre at Bosra, a World Heritage Site, south of Sweida, in the Daraa province. (AFP)
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Syrian scouts tour the Roman Theatre at Bosra, a World Heritage Site, south of Sweida, in the Daraa province. (AFP)
Updated 24 November 2018

In southern Syria, Roman theater survives civil war intact

BOSRA, Syria: Mobile phone in hand, student Abdelaziz Al-Aswad bounds up the steps of an UNESCO-listed Roman theater in southern Syria, elated that the heritage site has survived seven years of civil war.
The second-century theater stands tall in the ancient city of Bosra, which the United Nations cultural body designated as under threat after Syria’s conflict broke out.
Al-Aswad was among dozens to visit and take pictures of the theater under grey skies on Friday, as part of an organized trip to the area sanctioned by the tourism ministry.
“I traveled 700 kilometers (430 miles) from northern Syria to see the theater after hearing so much about it,” said the 23-year-old, who hails from the northern city of Aleppo.
Regime forces retook full control of the surrounding province of Daraa in July, for the first time in six years.
Rebels had overrun parts of Bosra in 2012, and then took it over completely in 2015.
“I thought I’d find it destroyed, but it seems to have survived this vicious war,” said Al-Aswad, dressed in a red hoody and matching headband, both bearing the words “I am Syrian.”
Dozens of visitors, including some armed with umbrellas to fend off drizzle, hiked up the dark stone steps of the semi-circular theater for a better view of the stage below.
Around them the ancient auditorium appeared largely unscathed, except for a hole blown into the steps, a small pit on the stage, and shell pockmarks on columns.
In ancient times, Bosra was the capital of the Roman province of Arabia, and an important stopover on the ancient caravan route to Makkah, UNESCO says.
The archaeological site — which was once a bustling city of some 80,000 people — also contains early Christian ruins and several mosques.
Khaled Nawaylati, one of the trip’s organizers, said he was overjoyed to find Bosra’s theater in one piece on his first visit in ten years.
“You can’t imagine my happiness after I saw the site was safe and sound,” he said.
According to Wafi Al-Dous, head of the local civil council, no more than five percent of the theater has been damaged.
Hundreds of archaeological sites have been destroyed, damaged or looted in Syria’s conflict, with all sides blamed for the pillaging.
Before the war, tourism was an essential source of foreign currency for Syria’s economy, second only to oil exports.
But after the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011 spiralled into civil war, the fighting kept foreign visitors at bay.
With clashes and bombardment raging across the country, internal tourism also plummeted.
“Internal tourism completely stopped in 2011, and visitors have since stayed away,” said Dous, who fled Bosra when the rebels fully overran it three years ago.
He has only recently returned, but with the government back in control, he is optimistic.
Restoration will soon get underway, Dous said, and a festival that once saw Lebanese singer Fairuz perform in the ancient city will be revived.
Syrians on the organized tour on Friday were delighted just to be able to visit a landmark of their country’s history.
In the middle of the Roman stage, 30-year-old Manal posed for a picture with her seven-month-old daughter after making the day trip with her husband from Damascus.
“We can’t travel outside Syria, so we’re starting to visit our own country again,” she said.
“There are so many beautiful places” to see, she added.


‘My quest’: Priyanka Chopra brings Bollywood to Toronto

Updated 14 September 2019

‘My quest’: Priyanka Chopra brings Bollywood to Toronto

  • Priyanka Chopra was the first Indian actress to lead a primetime US series
  • ‘The Sky is Pink is Chopra’s first Hindi-language film in three year

TORONTO: No Indian star has made a bigger splash in Hollywood than Priyanka Chopra — and the “Baywatch” actress said she is on a quest to shatter myths about Bollywood, including its approach to sex.
Chopra was the first Indian actress to lead a primetime US series with FBI thriller “Quantico,” and cemented her global celebrity status by marrying pop singer Nick Jonas last December.
That star power secured a glitzy, red-carpet slot at Toronto’s film festival for “The Sky is Pink,” Chopra’s first Hindi-language film in three years. It is the only Asian film on the prestigious gala lineup at North America’s biggest movie festival.
“People get surprised when they see ‘The Sky is Pink’ and they’re like, ‘this is not a Bollywood movie.’ Bollywood is not a genre!” Chopra said ahead of the premiere Friday.
“It really is my quest to educate people in that.”
Directed by Shonali Bose, “The Sky is Pink” tells the tragic true story of Aisha Chaudhary, an inspirational Delhi teenager whose life was cut short by a rare genetic disorder.
Chaudhary delivered a TED talk and wrote a book on her battle before her death in 2015 at the age of 18. But the film focuses on her parents, exploring how their marriage and love — and even their sex life — survived the loss of two children.
Until recently kissing was rarely shown in films made by conservative Bollywood, better known abroad for its colorful musical numbers and fairytale romantic plots.
“I don’t think we haven’t spoken about sexuality in Indian films — we do,” said Chopra, 37. “I think sexuality is spoken about in many different ways in Indian cinema.”
“It’s culturally sensitive, yes,” she added. “India is an amalgamation of modernity and tradition. And this film is made by a modern Indian. So hence, you see what her language is. This is true to who she is.”
Bose, whose own marriage ended after she lost her son, was approached by Chaudhary’s parents to make the film.
Chaudhary had been a fervent fan of the director’s work, and never fulfilled her “dying wish” to see Bose’s previous film “Margarita With A Straw.”
Bose said she was moved by the request but chose to focus on the parents after learning of their “amazing” love story and care for their child.
“They wanted the film to be about their heroic dying teenage girl, and I don’t feel she would’ve wanted to be on a pedestal — actually she was really cool and humble,” she said.
Chopra, who does not have children, said she drew on others’ experiences, including Bose’s, to play Chaudhary’s mother Aditi.
But there is plenty of Chopra in the role too. At one point her character is described as “the ‘almost’ Miss India.” Chopra herself was crowned Miss World in 2000.
As beauty pageants led to acting, Chopra, who attended school in the US, said she held onto her global outlook.
Also a singer, Chopra has released songs with US chart-toppers including Pitbull and The Chainsmokers.
“It’s a genuine quest of mine to be able to cross-pollinate cultures, and to be able to take Indian cinema to the globe as much as I can,” she said, adding: “It’s not the language that’s the barrier — it is the fear of the unknown.”
Movie-mad India has the largest film industry in the world in terms of the number produced — up to 2,000 every year in more than 20 languages, according to industry data.
Bollywood star Akshay Kumar regularly appears in Forbes’ annual list of the world’s top 10 highest-paid actors.
In recent years Bollywood’s influence has spread in North America, thanks to a growing, affluent South Asian diaspora — and a smattering of Western converts.
But while other Bollywood actors and actresses have landed high-profile roles in the US, such as Deepika Padukone in 2017’s “XXX: Return of Xander Cage,” none are as recognizable as Chopra.
“I really hope that there’s so many more entertainers from India that get the opportunity and push themselves toward global entertainment,” said Chopra.
“The world of entertainment is so global now,” she added. “With streaming coming in everyone from anywhere can watch anything.”