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.


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 min 2 sec ago

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.