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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Show me the money

When Aishwarya Rai was approached for the role that went to Ameesha Patel in Mangal Pandey the Rising, she reportedly asked for a fee close to leading man Aamir Khan's (around Rs 7 crore). The producer refused, but that was then. Today, Aishwarya and fellow leading ladies charge what they want and get it.

Kareena Kapoor charged roughly Rs 2 crore per film before Jab We Met, the success of which has pushed her price up to Rs 3.5 crore, say industry sources. Aishwarya is charging Rs 4 crore for Robot opposite Rajnikanth, while Priyanka Chopra reportedly charges Rs 4-5 crore per film. Suddenly, fees for Bollywood heroines seem to be soaring.

Elite list
Preity Zinta charges Rs 3 crore, for instance, but usually does films with banners like Yash Raj or Dharma Productions, which are like family, hence a 'discount'. Rani Mukerji, whose fee hovers around Rs 2-3 crore, is similarly choosy.

However, even a junior actor like Amrita Rao is charging Rs 2 crore. Bipasha Basu charges around Rs 2 crore, too, as does Katrina Kaif. In fact, Katrina's two-film deal with Studio 18 is worth Rs 6 crore, not to mention the Rs 1.5 crore she was paid for an item song in Blue. Just to put that in perspective, at her peak, Madhuri Dixit charged a mere Rs 20 lakh while Sridevi commanded around Rs 25 lakh per film.

Justified expenditure?
Though the male A-listers (the Khans, Akshay Kumar, and Hrithik Roshan, for example) charge between Rs 7 and Rs 12 crore per film, Ash and Kareena are now paid roughly the same as John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan.

"Few stars can ensure a good initial. And the number of women in this bracket is fewer, so they naturally cost more," says UTV Motion Pictures CEO S. Roy Kapoor.

The flip side
The glass ceiling still exists, however. As distributor Niraj Manchanda says, "Only heroines with a strong overseas market will benefit. These prices are irrelevant in the Indian market."

When Shilpa Shetty asked for Rs 50 lakh for an item song in Krazzy 4, director Rakesh Roshan went to Rakhi Sawant. So it will be of interest to see how far the industry sustains these rates.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New £220m shopping centre opens

A new £220m shopping centre has officially opened in Cambridge.

The Grand Arcade has taken seven years to plan and complete and is home to 53 shops over two levels. It also has parking spaces for nearly 1,000 cars.

The Mayor of Cambridge, Jenny Bailey, cut the ribbon to mark the centre's official opening.

Those behind the project hope the new development will establish Cambridge as one of the main shopping destinations in the East

Reliance Money gets approval to operate in Oman

MUMBAI: Reliance Money, a financial products distribution firm, on Thursday said it has got approval for setting up a branch and offering investment advice in Oman.

The Anil Ambani Group firm has become the first Indian company to receive 'in -principal' approval from the Capital Market Authority (CMA) Board, the regulator in Oman, a company statement said.

"Having successfully launched our operations in the UAE, we now plan to offer cost-effective, quality financial products and services to our clients in the Sultanate of Oman. This is a part of our endeavour to reach out to the large NRIs and PIOs in the Middle East," Reliance Money Director and CEO Sudip Bandyopadhyay said.

The company aims to tap 20 million Non Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian origin (PIOs) residing in Middle East through the venture.

Reliance Money would initially launch its broking and mutual fund distribution services.

The company would also offer a mobile portal that would allow users to get free real-time access to market information on their phones, in addition to real-time chat facility, with its experts, to get high quality market research and guidance to take an informed decision.

It also plans to offer portfolio management services at an entry level of as low as 50,000 dollar, the statement added.

In February this year, Reliance Money had made an entry in the Middle East by launching its bouquet of cost effective and secure financial services in the UAE.

"We plan to enter other Gulf countries like Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar in the next 6-12 months," Bandyopadhyay added.

Protests rightly focus on the Olympic Games

This summer’s Olympic Games are supposed to be China’s “coming-out party,” with elaborate plans in place to show off the country’s growing economic and political strength.
For example, Chinese officials plan to stop much of Beijing’s traffic on the days of the games to lower air pollution. They have moved entire neighborhoods, and built new buildings. What the Chinese government hasn’t done is meet international human rights norms. At least 90 people have been killed in Tibet in recent weeks, in yet another police crackdown. Peaceful protests have led to bloody streets and a restriction of media reports to the outside world.
So it’s no surprise that the Olympics is turning into a pressure point the world community is using to try to persuade the Chinese to lighten up in neighboring Tibet. Many people are starting to speak out in favor of boycotting the games, or at least the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.
Stanislav Sedláček is one of them. The Brno native was among the pro-Tibetan activists detained for trying to block a group carrying the Olympic torch in a ceremony in Greece Sunday, March 23, according to the Czech News Agency.
A number of politicians have also gotten involved in local protests, including Green Party leaders Martin Bursík and Kateřina Jacques, and former President Václav Havel. Bursík and Prague Mayor Pavel Bém have both pledged to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing. And hundreds of people have marched against the oppression in Tibet in recent weeks in Prague, a spontaneous outpouring of support from people who know firsthand about political repression.
It’s good to see Czechs involved in the growing world protest. No voice is too small in this movement, which is picking up momentum. Bernard Kouchner, France’s outspoken foreign affairs minister, has called idea of boycotting the Olympic opening ceremony “interesting.” A former human rights activist, he said he plans to discuss it with other foreign ministers from the 27-nation European Union next week.
A boycott of the opening ceremony could embarrass China to soften its stance on Tibet without hurting the Olympics competition or its athletes. And it would show that the world community is willing and able to mount a united front against egregious human rights violations.
Too bad other world leaders don’t agree. Czech President Václav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek have both said they plan to attend the games, though they have denounced the Chinese government’s violent suppression of Tibetan protests. The list of other leaders who plan to attend, according to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, includes U.S. President George W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Since the Chinese have spent the past two or three decades trying to exterminate Tibetan culture, it might seem a little late in the game for world leaders to act outraged.
But in the arena of human rights violations, it’s never too late to speak out.

Bush and Bin Laden's virtual war

To contemplate a prewar map of Baghdad - as I do the one before me, with sectarian neighborhoods traced out in blue and red and yellow - is to look back on a lost Baghdad, a Baghdad of our dreams. My map of 2003 is colored mostly a rather neutral yellow, indicating the "mixed" neighborhoods of the city, predominant just five years ago.

To take up a contemporary map after this is to be confronted by a riot of bright color: Shi'ite blue has moved in irrevocably from the east of the Tigris River; Sunni red has fled before it, as Shi'ite

militias pushed the Sunnis inexorably west toward Abu Ghraib and Anbar province, and nearly out of the capital itself. And everywhere, it seems, the pale yellow of those mixed neighborhoods is gone, obliterated in the months and years of sectarian war.

I start with those maps out of a lust for something concrete, as I grope about in the abstract, struggling to quantify the unquantifiable. How indeed to "take stock" of the "war on terror"? Such a strange beast it is, like one of those mythological creatures that is part goat, part lion, part man. Let us take a moment and identify each of these parts. For if we look closely at its misshapen contours, we can see in the "war on terror":

# Part anti-guerrilla mountain struggle, as in Afghanistan.
# Part shooting-war-cum-occupation-cum-counterinsurgency, as in Iraq.
# Part intelligence, spy v spy covert struggle, fought quietly - "on the dark side", as US Vice President Dick Cheney put it shortly after September 11, 2002, - in a vast territory stretching from the southern Philippines to the Maghreb and the Strait of Gibraltar.
# And finally the "war on terror" is part, perhaps its largest part, virtual war - an ongoing, permanent struggle, and in its ongoing political utility not wholly unlike author George Orwell's famous world war between Eurasia, East Asia and Oceania that is unbounded in space and in time, never ending, always expanding.

Snowflakes drifting down
President George W Bush announced this virtual war three days after September 11, 2001, in the National Cathedral in Washington, appropriately enough, when he told Americans that "our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil".

Astonishing words from a world leader - declaring that he would "rid the world of evil". Just in case anyone thought they might have misheard the sweep of the president's ambition, his national security strategy, issued a few months later, was careful to specify that "the enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism - premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents".

Again, a remarkable statement, as many commentators were quick to point out; for declaring war on "terrorism" - a technique of war, not an identifiable group or target - was simply unprecedented, and, indeed, bewildering in its implications. As one counterinsurgency specialist remarked to me, "Declaring war on terrorism is like declaring war on air power."

Six-and-a-half years later, evil is still with us and so is terrorism. In my search for a starting point in taking stock of those years, I find myself in the sad position of pondering fondly what have become two of the saddest words in the English language: Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary.

Remember him? In late October 2003, when I was in Baghdad watching the launch of the so-called Ramadan Offensive - five simultaneous suicide bombings, beginning with one at the headquarters of the Red Cross, the fiery aftermath of which I witnessed - Rumsfeld was in Washington still denying that an insurgency was underway in Iraq. He was also drafting one of his famous "snowflakes", those late-night memoranda that he used to rain down on his terrorized Pentagon employees.

This particular snowflake, dated October 16, 2003, and entitled "Global war on terrorism", reads almost poignantly now, as the defense secretary gropes to define the war that it has become his lot to fight: "Today we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror," he wrote. "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas [seminaries] and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

Rumsfeld asks the right question, for beyond the obvious metrics like the number of terrorist attacks worldwide - which have gone up steadily and precipitously since 9/11 (for 2006, the last year for which US State Department figures are available, by nearly 29%, to 14,338); and the somewhat subtler ones like the percentage of those in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world who hold unfavorable opinions of the United States (which soared in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and have fallen back just a bit since) - apart from these sorts of numbers which, for various and obvious reasons, are problematic in themselves, the key question is: How do you "take stock" of the "war on terror"?

Ultimately, as Rumsfeld perceived, this is a political judgment, for in its essence it has to do with the evolution of public opinion and the readiness of those with certain political sympathies to move from holding those opinions to taking action in support of them.

What "metrics" do we have to take account of the progress of this "evolution"? Well, none really - but we do have the guarded opinions of intelligence agencies, notably this rather explicit statement from the US government's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of April 2006, entitled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States", which reads in part: "Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision" - those metrics again - "a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although still a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic distribution. If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide."

Dark words, and yet that 2006 report looks positively sanguine when set beside two reports from a year later, both leaked in July 2007. A National Intelligence Estimate entitled "The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland" noted that al-Qaeda had managed - in the summary in the Washington Post - to reestablish "its central organization, training infrastructure and lines of global communication" over the previous two years and had placed the United States in a "heightened threat environment ... The US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years."

This NIE - the combined opinion of the country's major intelligence agencies - only confirmed a report that had been leaked a couple days before from the National Counterterrorism Center, grimly entitled "Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West". This report concluded that al-Qaeda, in the words of one official who briefed its contents to a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, was "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago", "has regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001", and has managed to create "the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives".

Another intelligence official, summarizing the report to the Associated Press, offered a blunt and bleak conclusion: al-Qaeda, he said, is "showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States".

Given these grim results, one must return to one of the more poignant passages in Rumsfeld's "snowflake" released to flutter down on his poor Pentagon subordinates back in those blinkered days of October 2003. Having wondered about the metrics, and what could and could not be measured in the "war on terror", the secretary of defense posed a critical question: "Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?"

For me, the poignancy comes from Rumsfeld's failure to see that, in effect, he and his boss had already "fashioned" the "broad, integrated plan" he was asking for. It was called the Iraq war