Tale of two cities: Bollywood mulls move over virus curbs

Sanjay Leela Bhansali
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Updated 10 June 2020

Tale of two cities: Bollywood mulls move over virus curbs

  • Filmmakers complain of heavy losses due to Mumbai lockdown

PATNA: To move or not to move, that is the question.

The issue has triggered intense debate in Bollywood as leading producers and directors search for safer, more practical filming locations following the coronavirus lockdown in Mumbai, India’s financial capital and the center of its entertainment industry .

At the forefront of discussions is Sanjay Leela Bhansali, one of Bollywood’s most successful film directors and producers, with acclaimed blockbusters such as “Devdas,” “Bajirao Mastani” and “Padmaavat” to his credit.

“How do we shoot intimate sequences, action sequences or war sequences (with the actors masked and gloved as part of the anti-virus measures)? Isn’t it a better option to relocate the shooting?” Bhansali said in an exclusive interview with Arab News. An indefinite halt in production means the $8 million set for “Gangubai Kathiawadi,” his latest film, lies abandoned at Mumbai Film City (MFC).

Set in 1960s Mumbai, the film is based on the real-life story of a notorious gangster named Madame and features Bollywood star Alia Bhatt in the title role. The film was 80 percent complete when Mumbai went into lockdown on March 23, halting production work and shooting schedules.

Coronavirus curbs have added to the woes of the sprawling, unkempt city suburb where thousands of films are churned out every year. Elaborate return-to-work conditions set by Maharashtra’s state government on May 30 include barring all actors aged 65 and above from working during and after the lockdown.

As a result several filmmakers said they were forced to consider shooting elsewhere, mainly in Hyderabad, which is home to the equally acclaimed Ramoji Film City (RFC). Built in 1996 and named after renowned South Indian producer Ramoji Rao, the RFC is a major tourism draw, with thousands visiting Hyderabad city, capital of Telangana state, every year.

The RFC has 47 studio sets — more than double the number at rival MFC — and has record-breaking blockbusters, such as S.S. Rajamouli’s “Baahubali,” to its credit.

Another film that has been hit by the lockdown is “Thalaivi,” a Hindi-Tamil biopic on the life of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha, with Kangana Ranaut in the leading role.

Production work has been shelved indefinitely as the film’s climax requires the scene to be shot with a crowd of thousands — an impossible option under current social distancing rules.

Speaking to Arab News, director Ashoke Pandit said: “How can we shoot crowd sequences or battle scenes under the guidelines that the Maharashtra government has laid down? Hyderabad has always been a favorite shooting spot for Bollywood. We might consider moving there.”

He said that shift to the RFC “wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary” with several films having been shot there in the past.

“If you remember, Rohit Shetty shot his entire ‘Golmaal’ series there and is working on the forthcoming film ‘Sooryavanshi,’ featuring Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Ranveer Singh,” Pandit said.

Besides being a relatively safer option compared with Mumbai, there are other pluses to working at the RFC, he added.

“It’s also about the amenities. A filmmaker can shoot anything there in a contained space. The film city in Mumbai is in a deplorable condition. No renovations or upgrades have been done in the past 20 years, although we have repeatedly pleaded with the Maharashtra government,” he said.

Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, who directed the 2019 hit “Tashkent Files,” agrees, adding that a move to Hyderabad is “definitely on the cards” for him.

As of Tuesday, India had reported 9,987 cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 266,598 infections.

Maharashtra remains one of the worst-affected states in the country, with 88,528 cases and 3,169 deaths.

With that in mind, it is unlikely that restrictions will be lifted soon, filmmaker Milap Jhaveri said.

Hyderabad was the “next best option,” he said.

“There are discussions among producers regarding shooting. Telangana has fewer cases of coronavirus than Mumbai, so producers are planning to shoot there because of safety and convenience,” he said.


Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

Updated 44 min 56 sec ago

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

  • Antony Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden
  • Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.
In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.
Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.
Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.