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

  • 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.

Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

Updated 29 November 2020

Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

  • Fake donation by undercover reporters reveals sophisticated terror network

LONDON: A Daesh fundraising operation based in the UK seeking to free Western jihadi brides from Syrian refugee camps has been exposed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Undercover journalists spoke with a “fixer” in Turkey before exposing a “courier” in London collecting what he thought was a £4,500 ($5,987) donation to the operation.
But the brown envelope hidden at the “dead drop” by undercover journalists contained only a crossword book. In response to the revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation.
The Syrian camps targeted by the operation for escape bids include Al-Hol, where Shamima Begum, who fled Britain aged 15 to join Daesh, was held.
A report last week revealed the existence of an Instagram group called Caged Pearls, run by British women detained in Al-Hol who are raising money to finance their escape from the camps.
The page promotes awareness of its mission through a poster reading: “Al-Hol — The cradle of the new Caliphate.”
One woman raising funds in the camp was named as “Sumaya Holmes,” who had been smuggled out of the camp and traveled to Turkey.
Holmes is said to be the widow of a British Daesh fighter who died in Syria, and the current wife of a Bosnian extremist serving jail time in his home country.
Holmes asks for donations on her Facebook page and posts pictures of women holding up posters begging for help.
One poster said: “I am a sister from camp Al-Hol and I need $6,000 so that I can escape from PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Please, I ask everyone to help me and donate as much as they can.”
Holmes captioned the image: “This is my friend and she is in need of help. She sent me this photo yesterday. Please, even if you can’t help, pass it to those who can donate to her.”
Another image posted by Holmes shows a woman holding a piece of paper that says: “I am your Muslim sister in Al-Hol camp. I need help from my brothers and sisters to be freed from the hands of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). I need $7,000 to be able to get out with my children.” The message added: “You can trust Sumaya Holmes on Facebook, she is trying to help me raise money needed.”
A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as a drug dealer who had converted to Islam. They messaged Holmes on Facebook to offer support and money.
Holmes then requested to communicate on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by extremists and criminals for its high levels of security and privacy.
She asked for a Bitcoin donation but the undercover reporter declined. She then suggested making a bank deposit in an associate’s account in Jordan, and then hawala, an Islamic method of transferring money that uses a broker system. But the undercover journalist declined again.
Holmes finally provided details of a man called “Anas” in London who could collect funds in person. When an offer to donate was made, Holmes accepted.
In the meantime, she had been actively posting her support for Daesh on Facebook. In one post, she described the Chechen who beheaded teacher Samuel Paty last month as a “hero.”
In London, a second undercover reporter set up a meeting with “Anas” to deliver cash for the operation.
But the reporter changed the plan and left an envelope containing only a crossword book at the agreed-upon location.
As the journalists watched carefully, a man wearing a white crash helmet soon arrived on a scooter.
He found the package and messaged the reporter: “File received, let me check the money and tell you.”
He soon discovered the ruse, telling the undercover reporter: “There are no money in the envelope, there is only a book? It seems that you are not serious about your subject.”
When confronted again, “Anas” denied any involvement in the exchange, which would be illegal under British law had the envelope contained cash. “No, no, I don’t take anything, you are wrong,” he said.
Later, Holmes also denied her involvement. “That’s not true, good luck with publishing your lies,” she said.
The latest estimates suggest that about 300 of the 900 Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh are back on British streets.
Dr. Vera Mironova, a Daesh expert and research fellow at Harvard University, said: “To escape from the camps costs about $18,000 and the success of these campaigns shows the sheer amount Daesh are able to raise online.”
She added: “Once the women are smuggled out, it is impossible to monitor them. The women who collect money online are still with Daesh and are trusted and supported by members worldwide. They work with a network of supporters globally.”