‘We are hoping that the cinemas come alive by end-June’ - The Daily Guardian
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‘We are hoping that the cinemas come alive by end-June’

Going to the movies is like a mini-vacation. The Daily Guardian chats with Sanjeev Bijli, Joint Managing Director, PVR Cinemas, to discuss the road ahead for multiplexes, especially in the post-Covid era.

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The big screen cinematic experience is a real thrill. The treat of lying back on a plush, padded recliner, enjoying a Japanese Bento Box, served up by an attentive steward is irreplaceable. Gone are the days of crawling into a nondescript, dark and dank smelling theatre, wolfing down a greasy alu tikki burger with onion and tomato along with pumpkin ketchup! Only to watch Mithun doing his greasy swagger and running around trees with a buxom Ranjeeta. Instead, now when you walk in to watch a thriller like Andhadhun at PVR Luxe, you are assured a few hours of pulsating excitement.

The credits roll in and the movie begins. The film script has very dark and grey undercurrents, with hints of the paranormal. The audience is on edge, watching Tabu smashing the glass table in an underground basement, ready to kill her prey, Ayushmann Khurrana. Only the whirring sound of the air conditioning can be heard, and an earth-shattering scream rips across the theatre. Hackles rise, as Tabu whips out a knife. The high voltage, acutely-engineered sound system accentuates the smell of danger.

An exciting two hours later, you leave the theatre relieved and happy. Now forced into the world of streaming OTT cinema, people are missing this high that PVR is known for. With impressive tableaux of 800 screens, across 170 locations, PVR sets the tone of modern-day cinema viewing. Are we going to be denied this pleasure and for how long? Sanjeev Bijli, Joint Managing Director, PVR Cinemas, talks to The Daily Guardian about his journey so far and what got the brothers—Ajay and Sanjeev—to build the brand PVR. Excerpts:

Q. Tell us how you began the journey with PVR.

A. It all began in the 1990s with Priya Cinema that was a family asset portfolio. Scenario then was of single-screen cinemas, old, dilapidated, infested by rats, with movies like Ganga Jamuna Saraswati playing! I had just finished my undergrad at Manchester where I first experienced watching films at a multiplex theatre and saw an opportunity there.

My elder brother Ajay Bijli and I decided to get into a joint venture with The Village Road Show, an entertainment company based in Australia. I moved to Tasmania for three months where I got trained in the entire gamut of multiple screen cinema management, the scheduling of the films, the decor, the staff management, branding. I even learnt to work the popcorn machine.

Q. Was it tough to convert the Indian audience from the antiquated cinema hall experience to this slick multiplex thrill?

A. Not really. The ancient theatres were dying institutions. Seats were uncomfortable, canteens were badly run, the theatres themselves were ramshackle. Whereas the multiplex promised to bring in a new avatar of cinema, well run, slick. Our first screens were at Anupam that opened in 1997. The first day itself we were overwhelmed with the response. God was kind.

It’s not as if the multiplex cinemas had not already launched in the UK and the US. In a matter of time, they would have come to India as well. We just happen to be the first one to bring it to India. As luck would have it, even the movies started getting better. There was a revival of Hindi cinema. We as youngsters looked down upon Hindi films. Suddenly it became fashionable to watch Shah Rukh Khan do his jig on the silver screen with A.R. Rahman rendering music for films.

Q. How did you judge which film to invest in and which not?

A. We run all films on revenue share and have a complete programming team sit out of Mumbai and work closely with the producers to decide how many shows to select, how many screens. And that is how programming and scheduling of movies works. We follow a few principles. For instance, a movie like Padmaavat will herald 3,000 shows while a smaller movie much lesser. We know the pulse of the people and try and give the viewers enough choice to watch a movie that is bound to be a hit. It’s like carpet warming.

Q. Many impatient filmmakers are releasing their movies on NetFlix and Amazon Prime Video. What is your take on that?

A. This period is unprecedented. We are living in historic times. Even Partition was not that bad because the enemy is invisible. There is so much talk of business and the economy collapsing. My take on that is the world has lost 300,000. What can be worse? If producers have sold their film to an OTT platform, they must have had a massive compulsion.

Otherwise actors, directors, producers do want to see their movies on the silver screen. We cannot stop them; it’s their livelihood and we are all in a pickle. Besides, as Ajay says, you can’t compare a retired player to an active one. We will be back in the reckoning. So many people are living in cramped, living spaces. They want to get out. I am sick of my couch. That is the first thing I will change once the lockdown ends!

Q. Even the Oscars are considering awarding online originals? Do you think this will affect movie theatres?

A. That is nothing new. Last year three online films were nominated. In Hollywood there is a very strong opposition by directors like Steven Spielberg and Cristopher Nolan. India is divided. I see it as yet another platform to watch films. Cinemas have survived many technological invasions. We will continue to coexist. Movies like Avengers can only be seen on the large screen.

Q. Will the audience return to a centrally air-conditioned cinema hall?

A. I think we all have to be smart enough to differentiate facts from myths. This fear-mongering, paranoia does not help the economy. It is the worst pandemic. Who will you believe: The scientists or a WhatsApp from your neighbour? By now we all know the rules: Wear an N95mask, wash your hands often, maintain social distancing, look after your elders, shower once you get home and you will be safe from the virus.

Globally, so many surveys have proved that cinema is one of the few places where you are safer with a mask on, looking straight in front at the screen. The transmission is not as much as when you are face to face in close quarters to someone at a beach or at a party drinking, smoking without your mask on.

Q. What are the measures you will take to keep your audience Covid-safe?

A. We are hoping that the cinemas come alive by end-June. Lockdown 4.0 is almost over. Only malls, hotels and restaurants remain closed. We are members of Global Cinema Federation and we are hoping to relaunch by end-June and gear up for the release of Tenet by 17 July. We have submitted all the safety and precaution protocols to the Ministry of Home Affairs and await its instructions.

Q. How will you ensure the audience is safe from Covid-19?

A. There is a whole protocol in place. We are looking at cashless transactions. The masses must download the PVR app to book their ticket and meals-beverages online. They should download the Aarogya Setu app for their own safety. Thermal temperature screening will be undertaken at the entry point. Cleaning-sanitising of the halls will be ramped up to three times more.

We have brought in a new UV Laser technology that kills bacteria and virus. Doctor-driven physical check-ups of our employees will be done weekly. Sneeze shields will be worn by all the staff. Hand sanitisers that are pedal-based will be deployed everywhere. There will be two set of hygiene protocol maintained at the cinemas: one at the entrance and one before you enter the auditorium.

Q. Your one message to movie buffs.

A. Take care, don’t believe in myths, believe in facts, be safe. We are ready to bounce back and have taken the safest and best steps to welcome you back to the world of experiences, PVR. Let the good times roll. Caption: Sanjeev Bijli, Joint Managing Director of PVR Cinemas.

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FATF SHOULDN’T BRING PAK OUT OF GREY LIST

Joyeeta Basu

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Pakistan is all set to come out of the FATF grey list, according to a report in The Sunday Guardian, the sister newspaper of The Daily Guardian Review. The report suggests that China has been quietly lobbying Pakistan’s case with the Financial Action Task Force, which has put India’s western neighbour on the grey list of countries that require monitoring for money laundering and terror financing. Apparently, the ongoing FATF plenary in Berlin will take a call on Pakistan’s continuation on the list and there is a high probability that Islamabad will be seen to have fulfilled the 27th of the 27 conditions put on it. The last condition is of prosecution of senior leaders, and the 33-year-long term jail term handed to terrorist mastermind Hafiz Saeed will be seen as positive action. It is a different matter that Hafiz Saeed will serve several of these sentences simultaneously and may not be in jail even for five years and if pardoned in certain cases, maybe even less. Even otherwise, we have seen what a farce Pakistani action against its pet terrorists can be. Take the case of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack case. He had untrammelled access to television, mobile phones, internet and several visitors. He was allowed conjugal visits and fathered a child when “in jail”. In fact Hafiz Saeed’s stay at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail last year was a farce because he was found to be at home when a car bomb exploded in front of his house in June 2021. There have been reports about Daniel Pearl’s killer, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, being given home-like facilities at Hyderabad Central Jail, courtesy his closeness to one of then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s men.

Also, given terrorism is state policy for Pakistan, it will be too much to expect it to turn off the tap of terror—which it uses against India and other countries at will—when the international community seems more than eager to believe its case.

As for China, it has a long track record of using non state actors against its adversaries, sometimes through its proxies. More often than not, Pakistan acts as China’s proxy to keep India’s western borders restive. Pakistan and North Korea are anyway the two proxies that China has to keep India and Japan, respectively, on the “nuclear edge”.

Apart from this, supporting terrorism is part of China’s “political” warfare against India. There have been credible reports of Chinese generals establishing contacts with terrorist groups that Pakistan uses against India, including attempting to revive an India-specific group known as Al Badr, which had gone defunct. It was because of China that it took 10 years—from 2009 to 2019—for India to get the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Masood Azhar listed as a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee, and this in spite of India having the support of the other members of the UNSC. China is believed to have paid—or is paying—protection money to terror groups functioning in the Af-Pak area to secure its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, as these groups have stepped up attacks against Chinese interests. If we look at India’s Northeast, China has been funding insurgencies there. Reports are that this has happened in Myanmar and Thailand as well.

China and Pakistan apparently are “iron brothers”, and the deeper a bankrupt Pakistan slips into China’s trap and becomes its client state, it is but natural that to stabilise the situation and complete the Chinese projects, China would want Pakistan out of the FATF grey list. China has sunk billions of dollars in CPEC and that money is stuck, with CPEC not going anywhere at present. So it is in Beijing’s interest that Pakistan comes out of the FATF grey list.

But that will be a major mistake, and no amount of economic difficulties faced by Pakistan justifies taking it out of the grey list. It is hoped that whatever be the pressure from, or lobbying by PRC, the FATF will not forget that Pakistan will never mend its way. It is a terror state and will continue to be a terror state.

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Decoding gender-neutral clothing

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In simple terms, Gender-Neutral clothing or androgynous clothing can be classified as unisex clothing. However, it is much more political than that. To know this, we must understand the difference between gender and sex. Sex is something which is biological and assigned to us by birth, gender however is a social construct. Gender roles are defined and shaped by society, history and social conditioning of the time. Gender Neutrality thus breaks away from this conditioned notion of gender and acquires a more free and inclusive space. Gender Neutrality is a move towards a world that doesn’t distinguish between genders through societal forms like language, colours or even clothing.

NEED OF THE HOUR

Not only gender-neutral clothing is “trendy”, but it is also the need of the hour. Individuals need to feel more free, comfortable, and occupy a safe space without the fear of being judged for any choice that they make. The clothes under gender-neutral clothing don’t come with the label “for men” or “for women”. It is also a move towards the larger ideology that fashion is genderless; it is neither masculine nor feminine. It is for everyone, for every fit, size or body type.

INCLUSIVE FASHION IS ON THE RISE

Fashion has always evolved with people and also can significantly influence them. With the world becoming bold, free, safe and inclusive, it is fair that fashion had to comply. To suit the needs of individuals to be accepted as they are and make choices that are gender fluid, there have to be options available. There are several collections and lines by leading brands which are a move toward a genderless world. The value of self-worth is over everything. Equl store is one of a kind and India’s first complete gender-neutral clothing brand. From sizing to design, everything is very thoughtfully crafted. Their sizes are kept bigger than the usual standard size to promote physical and psychological ease. Their “Feel Good Collection” is crafted to make you feel good, of your choices and also to highlight the fact that they use sustainable fabric.

GENDER-NEUTRAL FASHION IS MORE SUSTAINABLE

Gender Neutrality is not just a fashion trend; rather it’s a fashion revolution for which the world was waiting for. It makes a positive political and sustainable statement. With the same number of options available, there is no need to rebrand the market or fit them separately thereby reducing the burden on the planet.

PROMOTES A POSITIVE BODY IMAGE

Gender-Neutral fashion also promotes a healthy body image. It breaks away from the notion of what is “desirable” and normalises both petite and plus sizes. Each style is available in all sizes promoting that there is no one normal or accepted body size. Fashion and style exist for everyone and there is no play of size in the same. There are brands that are trying to break this notion by basing their entire market positioning on neutral and sustainable clothing.

HELPS YOU OWN YOUR CHOICES

Since gender-neutral clothing doesn’t conform to one gender or one size, it enables an individual to be unapologetically themselves and own their choices. It is a move away from what society or generational conditioning has taught us to be like: Skinny girls should wear fitted clothes, boys shouldn’t wear pink, and people who weigh more should wear loosely fitted clothes. Gender-neutral clothing promotes being unabashedly you. To reinforce this idea, Equl store’s collection name is ‘The Feel Good Collection’ which as its name suggests is made to help you feel good about yourself and also the planet since they use sustainable hemp and cotton fabric. “It also promotes you to be effortlessly bold and expressive. They have curated a contemporary range of clothing that features fits, sizes, and colours that are completely gender-neutral and break away from the conditioning of “Pink is for girls and blue is for boys”. The tagline for the Feel Good collection is ‘Your Voice Can Change The World’ inspired by the famous quote “Be the change you want to see”.

The writer is Managing Partner, EQUL Store.

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NO CUSTODIAL CRIME TO HAPPEN IN TAMIL NADU ANYMORE, SAYS STALIN

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In the wake of the custodial death of Vignesh, who mysteriously died on April 19, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin said, “accused in police custody should not be tortured physically or mentally”.

He assured that there will be no lock up crimes in Tamil Nadu any more. Stalin further said that the government had not hid anything. “We have given required instructions to prevent custodial deaths in future”, the CM said.

Stalin added that those who were arrested should be presented in front of the magistrate following due procedures.

The death of Vignesh who used to offer horse rides as livelihood in Marina beach in Chennai, became a subject of political slugfest between the ruling party and opposition in Tamil Nadu. The 25-year-old suffered multiple injuries and fractures on his body, indicating custodial death due to torture.

The post-mortem report too indicated a foul play. However, the state police claimed that the death was natural.

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Milan awaits its visitors after the pandemic

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Milan is an important centre whose main activities are industry, trade and finance. It covers a total area of 182 square kilometers and has an establish- ished population of over one million nine hundred thousand. The earliest history of Milan dates back to 400 B.C. with the settling of Gallic tribes in the heart of the Po Valley. These tribes mixed with the already existing Insubres, and the Etruscans, whose splendid historical era was about to close. Both the age of foundation and the origin of its name are derived from tradition. Historians base their theories on archeological findings which have been dug up from Milan’s sub-soil. 

The ancient name ” Mediolanium ” might have its origin in the settling of Belloveso and his tribes in the centre of the Plain of Lombardy, that is in the centre of the triangle between the rivers Po, Ticino and Adda. Legend has it that the name is derived from the “ scrofa semi lanuta “, that is half-woollen sow, (from the Latin: medio = semi and lanum=wool), but this seems improbable although the sow may have been used in the coat of-arms. In 222 B.C. the Romans invaded Milan and development has been going on ever since. The once small village grew larger and greater, and out of the original few acres of the early ” Castrum ” it reached the peak of its splendor in the third and fourth centuries. 

The poet Ausonio called it “Roma secunda ” (the second Rome). Massimiano, who shared the empire with Diocleziano, established his residence here, and undertook to embellish it with great new buildings and wider walls. In 313 Constantine proclaimed his famous edict of free worship, here in Milan. In this period the paleochristian basilicas were built. In 374 St. Ambrose was appointed bishop of the diocese, and on his death, in 397, the Milanese Church took up the Ambrosian Rite which is still used today.

The most admired and remarkable remains of the Roman ” Mediolanum ” are the sixteen columns of St. Lorenzo in Corso Ticinese, while the Massimiano walls are partly incorporated could be begun. The castle was victim of more great damage during the bombing of 1943, but alter the war more reconstruction work was clone cn the buildings, the Ancient Arts Museum and the halls of the forts. The front of the castle with its round towers on each side, laces the city, in the centre of the front we can see the Tower of Filarete, rebuilt in 1900 with Beltrami’s refacing.  The interior is divided into the great courtyard or military square, and, looking towards the park, the fort on the left, and the ducal courtyard on the right. Between these two, rises the tower added by Bona of Savoy in 1477. The two massive towers on the park-side corners give it the appearance of a fortress. The north tower houses the Hall of Assi (boards), while the other, called the Castellano Tower or Treasure Hall, contains the remains of Bramante’s fresco painting of Argus.

The Ancient Arts Museum contains varied artistic material, and is interesting to visitors also for its Renaissance period halls. It is world famous for its works by Leonardo and Michelangelo, the greatest artists Italy ever produced. The museum winds through the halls on the ground and first floors of the ducal courtyard, from the Chancellery Hall one can walk along the battlements, through the tower of Bona of Savoy to the fortress hall which houses a collection of ceramics and musical instruments. In the hall once called the Scarlioni Hall because of its decorations, we find the ” Pieta Rondanini ”, Michelangelo’s last — unfinished — work. Among the other sculptures can be seen the lving statue of Gastone of Foix bv Bambaia. In the Hall of Assi, so called because of the panelling which covers the walls, Leonardo created the most prodigious decorations which transform the vault of the ceiling into a dome of extraordinarily beautiful green leaves. One of the halls is dedicated to ancient armourv and houses armoury, halberds, shields, spears, spiked clubs and helmets, most of which were produced bv Milanese armourers. Other rooms are the homes of antique furniture, and the picture gallery is rich in the works of Lombardic painters.  The fourteenth century frescoes in the room which is a reconstruction of a room once lound in the Roccabianca Castle near Parma, are also interesting as they represent the ” Story of Gualtieri and Griselda ”.

Finally, a must-see in Milan is the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, where Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper of Jesus is located. You can see this work in the refectory section of the church with a guide by booking a last supper tour.

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MAKING OUR PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE GOOD

B.K. Atam Prakash

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The present becomes the past after some time, and the future is just a little while away; once we reach there, it will be the present, before it too becomes the past. This play of the past, present and future goes on all the time.

How do we make sure that our past, present and future, all are good? The key is attention to what we are thinking and doing. The past is being created in the present; once the time has passed, we cannot do anything about it. But when we utilise the present prudently, being the best we can be, there is great satisfaction when we look back on it later, knowing that we used our time and other resources well. Do we live in the present in such a way that once it has become the past it is a source of inspiration for others?

Coming to the present, we can make it such that it really is a present—a gift—for everyone who meets us. A gift makes everyone happy—no matter how agitated, sad, or upset someone is, when they receive a present given with genuine love, they experience a wave of happiness. The value of a gift is determined not by the thing that is given but by the love that accompanies it. That is what gives joy to others and brings the giver their blessings and good wishes. The easy method to spread joy and live a life full of blessings is to freely give others presents such as love, cooperation, encouraging words, and good wishes. These are the presents needed the most today by almost everyone, and when we bestow these in the present, our past becomes such that it inspires regard and gratitude in the hearts of others.

What about the future? Our features can give others a glimpse of the future. How? When our eyes, smile, behaviour, and relationships are imbued with peace, love, compassion, and dignity, it shows others that it is possible to live an elevated life in today’s world; it creates a benchmark for them to follow. This is how each one of us can contribute to creating a better future for the human family.

B.K. Atam Prakash is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.

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HEALTHY LIVING, THE HERBAL WAY

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When we talk about Ayurveda, we often take it as a form of medicinal treatment rather than taking it as a lifestyle. Yes, Ayurveda has been a way of lifestyle for centuries and has helped mankind thrive with its effective and timely remedies. It has not only helped us in times of immense disorderly distress but also kept us on the path of a long life that can be happily lived. Ayurveda strongly believes that good health starts with the proper metabolism of food and healthy digestion. It is based on the idea that food, when consumed according to our individual needs, acts as a medicine that balances our bodies and promotes good health. Ayurveda, our ancient medical system, is a life science that comes up with the life tools to stay healthy, energetic, and realise our full human potential. The good habits that add health to your years according to Ayurveda include eating three balanced meals at the same time daily.

There are so many herbal ingredients that have various health benefits. Herbs and spices fight inflammation and reduce damage to our body’s cells as each one is rich in phytochemicals, which are healthful plant chemicals. Herbs like amla, ashwagandha, turmeric, garlic, cumin seeds, black pepper, and so on are not only healthy but also add flavours to our diet. There are other herbal ingredients like Neem which helps fight acne by inhibiting bacterial growth, Tulsi which has beneficial results for respiratory wellness, Guduchi that supports the immune system, Brahmi that improves cognitive performance and a memory enhancer, Coriander that helps with weight loss, and Ashwagandha which ultimately helps cope with mental and physical stress.

Our body is always in an endless battle with bad bacteria, viruses, excess levels of some vitamins, pesticides. Throughout human history, we have been aware of substances that can harm or even kill us; for example, toxins created by burning sugars, fats, protein, or from external sources like medications, drugs, hormone enhancers, food additives, preservatives, food colourings, sweeteners, flavours enhancers, alcohols, volatile organic compounds, fumes, air pollution and so on. All these together adversely impact our health which can reduce the life expectancy rate at a fast pace.

From ancient times, people have relied on nature and natural resources for food and medicine. Herbs are like other plants that we rely on for food. Interestingly, many so-called modern ‘medicines’ are classified as herbs. Generally, herbal medicines are simply medicines that happen to be natural and gentle, when used with knowledge of how they work. Let’s make a conscious choice to live a life full and happiness and good health. Let’s get back to a healthy lifestyle with Ayurveda by embracing a simple lifestyle that includes healthy eating, exercise, and healthy habits.

The writer is Business Unit Head –Sava Herbals & Sava Vet.

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