Virus-restricted Bollywood filmmakers focus on ME, UAE for movie shoots

Virus-restricted Bollywood filmmakers focus on ME, UAE for movie shoots
In this picture taken on October 2, 2020, Bollywood actors Vaani Kapoor (L) and Akshay Kumar pose after completing the upcoming spy thriller Hindi film 'Bell Bottom', at the airport in Mumbai. (AFP)
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Updated 08 October 2020

Virus-restricted Bollywood filmmakers focus on ME, UAE for movie shoots

Virus-restricted Bollywood filmmakers focus on ME, UAE for movie shoots
  • Other top film directors scout locations in region due to its ‘convenience, better work ethics’

PATNA: Bollywood filmmakers struggling to shoot films in India due to the coronavirus restrictions have been focusing on alternative locations in the Middle East.

Several producers are set to shoot their latest film projects in the region, with the UAE one of their most popular choices.

Among them is one of Indian movie industry megastar Salman Khan’s favorite directors, Ali Abbas Zafar, who has set his sights on Abu Dhabi for his next big-budget action film.

The yet-untitled project will star actress Katrina Kaif in the lead role as a female superhero on the lines of “Wonder Woman,” with action sequences being shot in the UAE capital.

“I’ve found the locations which I needed in Abu Dhabi. This will be my chance to shoot India’s first female superhero films in locations never seen before in an Indian film,” Zafar told Arab News from Dubai.

As the flick’s producer and director, he is currently in the UAE, along with his crew of 20, to prep for the filming process which is due to begin in January.

Zafar, who had worked with Kaif in Bollywood romantic comedy “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan” and action drama “Bharat” prior to this project, said the Middle East was “suffused with potential and possibilities” for film locales and he described Abu Dhabi as “an ideal shooting spot.”

He added: “I am not sure how shoot-friendly other regions in the Middle East are. But Abu Dhabi is very supportive of resources and infrastructure. They welcomed me to shoot my film with open arms.”

Zafar had earlier worked with Khan and Kaif for two months in Istanbul on the action thriller “Tiger Zinda Hai,” but said Abu Dhabi was “a different experience.”

He added: “It is naturally beautiful. You can place your camera anywhere. Besides, they have a very solid, supportive, and reliable team at the ADFC (Abu Dhabi Film Commission).”

In addition to supporting Indian content, the ADFC has also facilitated big-budget Hollywood films in the UAE capital.

Zafar pointed out that this was one reason why the ADFC could manage big crews. He noted that Dubai provided a convenient base where “my crew and I can plan and function without any disturbance.”

The UAE has fared well in limiting the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. It has a lower caseload and infection rate as compared to Mumbai, in Maharashtra state – where Bollywood is based – which has to date recorded 1.4 million cases and nearly 40,000 deaths.

Indian actor and entrepreneur, Sachiin Joshi, who has a fully functional office in Dubai said that the need for producers to work in a strictly disciplined environment during the pandemic would drive more people to the Gulf and the Middle East in the coming months.

“The work ethics in the Gulf region are extremely high. This is not obtainable in Mumbai. Social distancing and shooting with a skeletal crew are not difficult in Dubai and the Gulf region. It’s a way of life there,” Joshi added.

“The last things Bollywood producers need right now are rowdy crowds and unruly fans during the shooting process. So yes, the exodus out of India to shoot will be substantial in the coming months.” Indian film director, Kabir Khan, who shot his espionage thriller “Phantom” (2017) in Lebanon, said: “The government was very supportive, and the locals love Bollywood. It was a pleasure shooting for ‘Phantom’ in Beirut.”

Several other filmmakers have also taken the decision to move their projects abroad including superstar actor-director Aamir Khan (“Lagaan,” “3 Idiots,” and “P.K.”), who is all set to shoot his underproduction film “Laal Singh Chaddha” at locations across Turkey, and director Ahmed Khan who has slotted “Baaghi 4,” starring Tiger Shroff, for the Middle East.

“I was supposed to shoot ‘Baaghi 3’ in Syria, but we did not get the necessary permissions. So, we shot in Serbia instead, which we passed off as Syria. But I am definitely heading in that direction for the fourth film of the ‘Baaghi’ series,” he said.

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Updated 04 December 2020

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”