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.

Malaysian employers shocked, angry over fines ruling for overcrowded migrant workers’ lodgings

Updated 30 November 2020

Malaysian employers shocked, angry over fines ruling for overcrowded migrant workers’ lodgings

  • Businesses face penalties of more than $12,000 per worker for breaching new COVID-19-driven regulations

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian employers on Monday expressed their shock and anger over the government’s decision to impose a $12,277 fine for each foreign worker found to be living in overcrowded lodgings.

A number of company bosses said they were in a race against time to fall in line with the new criteria and avoid being hit with heavy penalties.

“Although many employers are rushing against time to fulfil the requirements, one of the main challenges industry players face is with the local councils,” Soh Thian Lai, president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM), told Arab News.

He said local councils throughout the country were not prepared “to assist the industry with the required endorsements” to comply with the terms of the Employees’ Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodations, and Amenities Act 446.

“This has led to the main reason for the delay (in providing more space for migrant workers),” he added.

The decision came as a surprise after the Human Resources Ministry (HRM) had set March 2021 as a deadline for all industries to comply with the act which requires employers to ensure that their workers had sufficient residential space.

Malaysian government minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, announced last week that the penalty would be imposed from Nov. 26, sending shockwaves through businesses.

Soh said to provide housing facilities for each worker, employers were being forced to create additional space.

“There is, however, a lack of suitable accommodation as there are limited hostels available. Converting shop-lots to dwelling space will take time and costs to renovate the space according to the specifications outlined in the regulations as well as meeting other requirements by local authorities,” he added.

Act 446 was fully implemented in September this year after the country’s parliament amended the previous jurisdiction which only covered housing aspects of more than 20 acres of the plantation and mining sector.

The new amendment, however, extends the rules to all employment sectors that provide housing for workers.

“Most companies are currently juggling their operations toward business recovery while trying their best to adhere to this legislative requirement to readjust the living quarters for their workers,” Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Executive Director Shamsuddin Bardan told Arab News.

Shamsuddin said that “the spike in (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 infections at a workplace involving foreign workers may have triggered the government” to call for the full compliance of Act 446 with immediate effect.

While the government “needs to contain the new infections” among foreign workers, it was also important to “assist employers,” he added.

“Many employers still depend on various government assistance, such as wage subsidies, to remain in business.

“It was only introduced on Aug. 30 and the government then decided to enforce the act in November, so the lead time given to employers to fully comply with the act was too short.

“It is costly to upgrade accommodations on the backdrop of a decreased cashflow from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shamsuddin said.

Soh said Minister of Human Resources Saravanan Murugan had acknowledged some of the challenges involved and agreed, in principle, to a more educational approach for enforcement of the act.

“Following several taskforce meetings with the ministry to address compliance to labor laws by industry in recent months, it has been agreed that given these challenges, including the challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, industries would need some time to make the changes and improvements to the housing facilities,” he said.

The FMM said it had written to the government and reiterated a previous request “for a 12-month grace period, without the imposition of any immediate penalty.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA) president, Supramaniam Shanmugam, told Arab News that 59 members of the association had expressed concerns over the “lack of time” to comply with all the requirements of Act 446.

“The Act 446 talks about the welfare of workers and one of the items to fulfil are the certificate of accommodation, which is done online, and our members have been advised to apply for it. So, what we are asking for is time,” he said.

MARGMA represents rubber glove manufacturers and employers, including leading industry players such as Top Glove and Supermax.

The HR minister and government labor department were both unavailable for comment.

The Malaysian director general of health, Noor Hisham Abdullah, recently called for employers to adhere to Act 446 “as a matter of public safety,” adding that “infections involving foreign workers needed to be addressed. The Ministry of Health urges employers to play a bigger role in tackling it.”

On Tuesday, Malaysia reported more than 1,200 new COVID-19 cases, adding to the national caseload of 65,697 infections.

According to the World Bank’s estimate, Malaysia houses at least 3 million foreign workers and is the sixth-largest migrant-receiving country in East Asia.

Indonesian workers make up to 39 percent of the total migrant workers population, followed by Nepal and Bangladesh at 24 and 14 percent, respectively, according to a report published in August by the Southeast Asia office of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung foundation.

Foreign workers in Malaysia are restricted to low-to-medium skilled industries such as construction, services, plantation, agriculture, manufacturing, and domestic work.