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Saturday, February 28, 2009

GDP growth at 6-year low

28 Feb 2009

NEW DELHI: The Indian economy is now officially estimated to have grown at 5.3% in the October-December 2008 quarter over the corresponding months of 2007, making it the lowest year-on-year growth for any quarter since January-March 2003.

The lower than expected growth in the third quarter (Q3) of 2008-09 makes it extremely unlikely that the 7.1% growth projected for the full financial year earlier this month will be met. It also is likely to add to pressure on the Reserve Bank of India to take some monetary measures to boost growth for the rest of the year.

The sharp dip in growth in Q3 - from 7.6% for Q2 - was largely due to a 2.2% decline in GDP from agriculture and a 0.2% decline in the manufacturing sector. The dip in agriculture would be particularly worrying for several sectors which were expecting strong rural demand to help in tiding over the impact of a global recession.

For April-December 2008, the first nine months of the current fiscal, the growth rate is now put at 6.9%. That means the economy will have to record a growth of 7.7% in Q4 if the projected 7.1% growth for the full year is to materialise. Given the context of a global recession, that seems an extremely remote possibility.

In fact, most analysts believe that if the growth rate in Q4 were to be even 5%, we should be relieved. One reason for this apparent pessimism despite a series of stimulus packages by the government is that the services sector has continued to grow quite handsomely even in Q3, registering a 9.3% increase over the corresponding period of 2007-08. That trend could be difficult to sustain if industry and agriculture continue to be sluggish. In Q3, for instance, "financial, insurance, real estate and business services" grew by an impressive 9.5% and "community, social & personal services" by a whopping 17.3%.

A rapidly sliding rupee would normally have given reason for hope that exports could pick up as they become globally more competitive, but given the all-pervasive gloom in developed country markets, there may not be much to look forward to on this front.

If such a prognosis turns out to be correct, the full-year growth figure could end up being closer to 6.4% than 7.1%. Either way, 2008-09, it is now clear, will register the lowest growth rate of GDP for any year since 2002-03.

Rupee hits record low of 51.12 against dollar

27 Feb 2009, PTI

MUMBAI: Sliding for the fifth day in a row, the Indian rupee on Friday breached the 51-mark for the first time ever against the greenback as the local currency lost 66 paise on sustained strong demand for the US dollar from foreign banks and oil importers amid weak stock markets.

The US dollar ended sharply higher against the rupee at Rs.51.12/14 per dollar and the Pound Sterling also finished higher at Rs.72.49/51 per pound at the close of the Interbank Foreign Exchange (Forex) market on Friday.

Dealers in foreign exchange said that the stronger dollar abroad gave an opportunity to the foreign banks to buy American currency in the local market and sell it in offshore non-deliverable forward contracts for immediate profits.

In the overseas market, the dollar gained against its major rival euro but slipped against Asian competitor yen.

The rupee on Thursday only set a fresh low record of 50.46 on sudden surge in demand for dollar. The previous low record of the domestic currency was recorded on last December 2 when it touched the intra-day high of 50.60. Including today's fall of 66 paise, the rupee had slumped by a whopping 151 paise or 3.04 per cent in the straight past five sessions.

Continued selling by Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) in equity markets also weighed against the rupee. They have pulled out nearly USD 1.6 billion in the current calender year so far, dealers said. Weakness in equity markets also put pressure on domestic unit, they added.

Zardari is sincere but it should be backed by actions: Pranab

28 Feb 2009, PTI

NEW DELHI: As India continues to push Pakistan to eliminate terrorism, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee has said he believes President Asif Ali Zardari is sincere about ending the menace but underlined that his desire should be backed by actions by Islamabad.

"I would like to say that I believe in his sincerity because he himself is a victim of the terror attack. His wife, one of the tall leaders of the subcontinent fell victim to the senseless brutal terror attack," Mukherjee said.

"I believe he (Zardari) has desire to fight against terrorism," he told in an interview to the news channel, while describing the Pakistan President as a "nice man" and a "gentleman".

At the same time, he added "my belief is not adequate. It must be backed by action taken by the government and authorities of Pakistan".

Mukherjee, who described Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also as gentlemen, made it clear that "it is not a question of individual personalities."

Underlining that the incumbent government of Pakistan has the "responsibility" to act, he said "When we talk, we talk of the incumbent government."

Pak navy chief retracts statement on Kasab

28 Feb 2009, PTI

KARACHI: Adding to flip-flops over the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan's navy chief on Saturday retracted his statement that Ajmal Amir Kasab did not take the sea route and said he backed interior ministry's report that nine terrorists had sailed from Karachi to launch the strikes.

Admiral Noman Bashir, who had on Saturday contended that the navy had no evidence to prove that Kasab took the sea route, said he was not contradicting interior ministry's report on the Mumbai attacks.

"We have not been directly involved in the investigation, which is under the domain of the interior ministry. Therefore they are better equipped, they have better knowledge and information," he said.

Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik had admitted on Feb 12, when Pakistan gave its response to Indian dossier, that the Mumbai attacks were "partly" plotted on Pakistan soil and launched from its shores for which it has arrested six persons. Malik had said nine terrorists had travelled in three boats from Karachi to Mumbai.

"We have no contradictory opinion on the report prepared by them. Whatever evidence they have is correct. I won't contradict it," Admiral Bashir said.

Hawala money in India linked to terror funding: US

28 Feb 2009, PTI

WASHINGTON: Cautioning that the 'hawala' money in India is directly linked to terrorist financing, the US has suggested to New Delhi to strengthen its anti money laundering and counter terrorism-finance legislations.

It also recommended that New Delhi should work towards becoming a full-fledged member of Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body for development of policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.

While noting that the Indian Parliament passed the Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill, early this week, a US State Department report has suggested that India should make necessary legislative amendments to bring its anti money laundering and counter terrorism finance regime in conformity to FATF.

"Given the number of terrorist attacks in India and the fact that in India hawala is directly linked to terrorist financing, India should prioritise cooperation with international initiatives that provide increased transparency in alternative remittance systems," said the report in its section on India related to money laundering.

The report, released by Assistant US Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, David T Johnson, quoted RBI estimates that remittances to India sent through legal, formal channels in 2007-2008 amounted to USD 42.6 billion.

According to Indian observers, the report said funds transferred through the billion dollar hawala market are equal to between 30 to 40 per cent of the formal market.

"In that case the hawala market could amount to between USD 13 billion to USD 17 billion," the report on International Narcotics Control Strategy, said.

Given the large number of expatriates, India continues to retain its position as the leading recipient of remittances, according to the World Bank.

India's strict foreign-exchange laws and transaction reporting requirements, combined with banking industry's due diligence policy, makes it difficult for criminals to use formal channels to launder money, the report said.

However, large portions of illegal proceeds are often laundered through "hawala" or "hundi" networks or other informal money transfer systems.

The report appreciated the steps taken by India post 9/11 with regard to money laundering and its possible use by terrorist network. However, several key steps are still required to be taken by New Delhi, it felt.

Listing out the steps New Delhi still needs to take, the report said India should become a party to the UN Conventions against Transnational Organized Crime and Corruption.

"Also, India should pass the Foreign Contribution Regulation Bill for regulating nongovernmental organisations including charities," it said.

"India should devote more law enforcement and customs resources to curb abuses in the diamond trade. It should also consider the establishment of a Trade Transparency Unit (TTU) that promotes trade transparency; in India, trade is the back door to underground financial systems," the report said.

The hawala system can provide the same remittance service as a bank with little or no documentation, at lower rates and with faster delivery, while providing anonymity and security for its customers, the report said.

According to the report, while most money laundering in India aims to facilitate widespread tax avoidance, criminal activity contributes substantially.

Some common sources of illegal proceeds in India are narcotics trafficking, illegal trade in endangered wildlife, trade in illegal gems (particularly diamonds), smuggling, trafficking in persons, corruption, and income tax evasion, it said.

Antony laid keel of first indigenous aircraft career

Kochi, Feb 28: Defence Minister A.K. Antony laid the keel of the country's first indigenous aircraft carrier at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) here today, which marked a significant upgradation of India's shipbuilding capabilities.

A.K. Antony described the occasion as a 'historic moment for India'. 'It is a crucial milestone and a moment to cherish in the country's maritime history.'

With a displacement of 40,000 tonnes, the carrier will be the first military vessel at CSL. To be launched in 2010, the ship is scheduled to be delivered to the Indian Navy in 2014.

In a press release issued here Friday CSL said it had been selected for the challenging project based on its technical expertise, inherent strength in detailed engineering, capacity to innovate, reputation for on time delivery and modern infrastructure.

The yard commenced the steel cutting for this project in April 2005 and has achieved the keel laying as per schedule, after the government sanctioned the design in January 2003.

The ship, which is 260 metres long and 60 metres wide, will be propelled by two LM2500 gas turbines that will enable it attain speeds in excess of 28 knots.

With two runways and a landing strip equipped with three arrester wires, the ship will carry a maximum of 30 aircraft with adequate hangar capacity.

The design of this prestigious ship has been undertaken by the Directorate of Naval Design (DND) that has experience of over 40 years in successfully designing 17 different classes of warships.

Tough for CPM if Cong, TC form alliance: Basu

28 February 2009

Kolkata: The electoral battle in the coming Lok Sabha elections will be tough for the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) if the Congress and the state's main opposition Trinamool Congress formed an alliance in West Bengal, veteran communist leader Jyoti Basu said here Friday.

"It'll be a tough for us (CPI-M) if there is an alliance," Basu told reporters at the party headquarters at Alimuddin Street here.

He said the CPI-M might lose some seats in the coming Lok Sabha polls if the Congress-Trinamool alliance finally materialised.

Basu came to attend the party's state secretariat meeting Friday. He came at around 10.40 am and stayed inside the party office for nearly 40 minutes.

He had last attended the CPI-M state secretariat meeting last week (Feb 20) at the party headquarters, after a gap of six months.

When asked about the possibility of a CPI-M-Congress coalition at the centre, Basu, would not comment on whether the communists would support the Congress at the centre after Lok Sabha elections.

"No such decision was taken in the party meeting," he added.

Basu was the chief minister of West Bengal from June 1977 to November 2000.

Arun Gawli to contest on BSP ticket

Saturday,28 February 2009
Mumbai: The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Friday announced a merger with former mafia don and Maharashtra legislator Arun Gawli's party Akhil Bharatiya Sena (ABS).

Gawli would also contest the Mumbai North Central Lok Sabha seat on a BSP ticket, BSP state president Vilas Garud said, adding that the ABS chief has already given a letter of consent to merge the two parties.

"It is as good as done. We have also decided to nominate him as the party candidate from Mumbai North Central Lok Sabha constituency in the forthcoming parliamentary elections," Garud told IANS.

The seat is presently represented by Congress' Eknath Gaekwad.

Gawli, presently lodged in jail, was elected to the assembly from Chinchpokli, a south Mumbai constituency, in 2004.

Known as ?Daddy' among his followers, Gawli was sent to custody in September 2008 under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in connection with an extortion case.

A former associate of absconding mafia don Dawood Ibrahim, he is married to a Muslim woman, Asha (formerly Ayesha) and lives in the fortress-like Dagdi Chawl in south-central Mumbai.

Friday, February 27, 2009

India asks Pakistan to speak in one voice over Mumbai attacks

NEW DELHI, Feb. 27 (Xinhua)
India Friday asked Pakistan to speak about the Mumbai attacks in one voice, after Pakistani Navy chief said the attackers who attacked Mumbai last November did not use sea route to reach the Indian financial capital.

"I am sure somebody else will refute him tomorrow," Home Minister P. Chidambaram said at a press conference in reference to Pakistani Navy chief Admiral Noman Bashir's statement that Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving attacker of the Mumbai attacks and his nine fellow attackers had not used sea route to reach Mumbai.

India's Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma also told loca media that Pakistan should speak in one voice over the Mumbai attacks.

"Once having accepted a fact, it is better to take that to its logical conclusion," Sharma said.

Pakistan admitted earlier this month that part of the Mumbai attacks was planned on its soil and that the 10 attackers used three boats to go to Mumbai from Pakistan.

India, Pakistan officials meet after Mumbai raid

Fri Feb 27, 2009 (Reuters)
High-level officials from India and Pakistan have met for the first time since last year's Mumbai attacks, but little progress was made in reviving a peace dialogue that New Delhi put on hold after the raids.

An Indian government official said on Friday that Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and his Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir met late on Thursday during a summit of regional foreign ministers in Colombo.

Both sides have exchanged angry rhetoric since the November attacks, with India saying the gunmen must have had support from official Pakistani agencies. Islamabad has accused New Delhi of indulging in a blame game.

Bashir "reiterated the need to resume the process as soon as possible with a view to promoting substantive engagement", the Pakistan government said in a statement in Colombo. India's state-run Doordarshan television quoted Menon as saying more needed to be done.

"It has to be recognised terrorism infrastructure inside that country has to be dismantled and credible steps towards this should be taken," Menon was quoted as saying.

"As far as resumption of composite dialogue is concerned, we have to see whether there is a real movement forward on (ending) terrorism," he said.

Ten gunmen went on the rampage in the November attacks, killing about 170 people in Mumbai landmarks including two five-star hotels, a Jewish centre and a busy railway station.

Pakistan has acknowledged that the raid had been launched and partly planned from Pakistan. It has detained several Islamist leaders, including some whom India has named as planners of the attack.

Earlier this week, India charged a man they say is the lone surviving gunman from the attacks with "waging war" against India and included two Pakistani soldiers among 37 others in the first charges laid in the case. (Reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Paul Tait)

India rubbishes Pak navy's claims on sea route

27 Feb 2009,
NEW DELHI: India on Friday rubbished Pakistan navy's claims that Ajmal Kasab and other terrorists didn't use sea route to reach Mumbai.

Home minister P Chidambaram took a dig at Pakistan on Friday for its flip-flops on Mumbai terror attacks.

"I am sure somebody else will refute him tomorrow," Chidambaram said at a press conference here when asked to comment on Pakistani navy chief Admiral Noman Bashir's statement that Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone gunman captured during the Nov 26-29, 2008 carnage, and the nine other terrorists who had attacked Mumbai had not used the sea route to reach the port city, IANS reported.

Asked to comment on Bashir's statement that the Mumbai attacks pointed to the failure of the Indian navy in maintaining vigil, Chidambaram said: "I don't need certificates or appreciation from the Pakistani Navy.

The home minister also said the Indian government was formulating answers to Pakistan's queries on the dossier given to it on the 26/11 terror attacks, adding that many of the answers were contained in the chargesheet filed by the Mumbai police, PTI reported.

"The dossier handed over to Pakistan was irrefutable and solid on facts," said Chidambaram at the press conference.

"Pakistan was forced to admit that its territory was used to carry out attacks. It is a signal victory for Indian government that demonstrates its cohesive diplomacy."

Pakistan has posed 30 queries in response to New Delhi's dossier on the Mumbai terror attack.

"We are formulating the answers but many of the queries are addressed in the chargesheet filed by the Mumbai police," the minister said.

"We expect Pakistan to take its probe to its logical conclusion and punish the perpetrators," he added.

Minister of state for external affairs Anand Sharma in a press conference that preceded the home minister’s also slammed Pakistan’s doublespeak saying, "New Delhi is very clear regarding where the attackers came from,”

“Several countries too have supported our findings on 26/11 probe. Pakistan government too had accepted them. Now their navy is belying its own government’s claims,” Sharma added. "Pakistan has often spoken in different voices (on the Mumbai carnage)," he said.

Meanwhile, Indian naval forces told Times Now, "We have enough proof of the fact that the terrorists came from Pakistan via sea. We have their boats and satellite phones."

Earlier, in a stunning denial Pakistan navy on Friday claimed that Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of the Mumbai attacks, and others didn’t sea route to land in Mumbai.

Pak Admiral Norman Bashir on Friday told reporters, "There is no proof behind Indian claims that Kasab landed in Mumbai to carry out attacks using sea route from Pakistan."

“Mumbai terror attacks reflect a complete failure of Indian navy,” Bashir added.

At the same time, he admitted that patrolling the waters on the Pakistani side of the international border off the Gujarat coast was "difficult" due to the dispute over the Sir Creek, IANS reported.

The latest statement by Pakistan navy is in complete contrast to the findings of the interior ministry in the 26/11 terror probe.

Pakistan had earlier this month accepted that part of the Mumbai conspiracy had been planned on its soil. The country's Federal Investigation Agency has also registered cases against eight people, including Kasab who is in the custody of the Mumbai police, for their role in the terror attacks.

Naval chief denies Mumbai gunman entered from Pakistan

KARACHI (AFP) — Pakistan's naval chief Noman Bashir on Friday denied that Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving alleged gunmen in the Mumbai attacks, entered India from Pakistani territorial waters.

New Delhi blamed the attacks, which killed 165 people last November, on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the siege soured a five-year peace process between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

"We have no evidence whatsoever that Ajmal Kasab had gone to India from Pakistani territorial waters," Bashir told reporters in the port city of Karachi.

He was speaking one day after the top foreign ministry civil servants from India and Pakistan met in Colombo for the first time since the Mumbai attacks and agreed to keep the official channels of communication open.

"The Indian navy is much larger than ours and if Ajmal Kasab had gone from here then what were their coastguards doing and why they did not stop the terrorists?" said the naval commander.

Bashir declined to make further comment.

"There are many questions about the Mumbai attacks which need to be answered and until then we cannot make any comment," he said.

Indian police have charged Pakistan's Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman -- also known as Kasab -- with murder and "waging war against India".

Kasab was the only alleged member of the 10-man Islamist commando-style unit captured alive during the November 26-29 siege.

Pakistani foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit said in Islamabad on Thursday that investigators from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were due to visit Pakistan on March 4 to help investigate the Mumbai attacks.

FBI director Robert Mueller will head the team, which Basit hoped would "assist Pakistani officials by providing further intelligence information".

Both LeT and Pakistan have denied any involvement in the attacks but the government in Islamabad admitted this month for the first time that the strikes were partly planned on its soil.

Says IndiaPolice hint at extensive army involvement in rampage

Says IndiaPolice hint at extensive army involvement in rampage

More serving Pakistani army officers may be named as conspirators in the Mumbai terror attacks, according to officials dealing with the case, after an 11,509-page charge sheet identified two high-ranking Pakistani military personnel who directed militants during the three-day killing spree.

Police in India named Colonel R Sadatullah of the Pakistani army's Special Communications Organisation (SCO) as part of the conspiracy to attack India's financial centre – a bloody rampage that left more than 170 people dead. Investigators said his email account was used to set up the "voice over internet" system – which allows calls to be made over the web.

Today Indian television contacted Sadatullah after being given his number by the Pakistani army switchboard. He hung up. Another accused is known as "Major General Sahab", whose title is used repeatedly in the taped conversation between the gunmen and their handlers.

The general manager of the SCO is Major General Muhammad Khalid Rao, an expert on China who joined the corps in 1979. The SCO operates only on the Pakistani side of the Himalayan region of Kashmir – which is claimed by both Pakistan and India.

Brigadier Azmat Ali, Pakistan's army spokesperson, said the "charge sheet does not accurately identify army men allegedly linked to 26/11. There are many Colonel Sadatullahs in the Pakistan army."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, Indian officials said "it was not a good sign to see this kind of response from the Pakistani army … supplementary charge sheets will be added as the investigation progresses and might be many more [Pakistani army] names to add".

Experts said it was significant that the Pakistani army's telecommunications officers had become part of the investigation – pointing out that the militants were guided by phone calls from their handlers in Pakistan.

During the 58-hour siege of Mumbai, a total of 284 calls, running into 995 minutes, were made by the 10 gunmen using mobile phones from the Taj Mahal hotel, Oberoi-Trident and a Jewish centre – where hostages were taken and shot.

Mumbai police point the finger at 38 individuals, 35 of whom are yet to be apprehended. The three who are in police custody include the lone surviving Pakistani gunmen, Ajmal Amir Kasab, and two Indians, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ansari. "The investigation is not over," said the officials.

The two Pakistani army officials are mentioned as accomplices of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamist militant group which India says was behind the attacks. The others charged include the group's founder Hafeez Muhammad Saeed and fellow members Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, Zarar Shah and Abu Hamza.

The Pakistani government, which has a number of men in custody, says it will not allow its nationals to face trial in India.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carnival greets AR Rahman at Chennai

26 Feb 2009, Times Now

CHENNAI: Music maestro A R Rahman, the first Indian to win two Oscars, returned to his home city — Chennai to a rousing welcome by his fans and friends in the wee hours of Thursday (February 26).

The 43-year-old musician, who won the Oscars for Best Original Music and Best Song for his compositions in "Slumdog Millionaire" at the 81st Academy Awards, arrived in Chennai from Dubai by an Emirates Airways flight at around 2.30 am.

A large number of people, who waited at the airport for the 'Mozart of Madras', cheered him up as he emerged out of the international terminal to the beats of drum specialist Sivamani and his troupe.

Kerala's "Kottu Melam" (percussion instrument) artists gave a performance on behalf of the Indian Airlines.

On behalf of the state government, Tamil Nadu information minister Parithi Ilamvazhuthi received Rahman with a bouquet at the airport terminal.

A visibly happy Rahman waved at the crowd acknowledging their support before leaving for his home.

After reaching his home town, the music genius spoke exclusively to times Now and expressed joy and said that there were more things to come, this is just the beginning for him

26/11 calls traced to Pak serving colonel

26 Feb 2009,

MUMBAI: The VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) calls made by the 26/11 terrorists to their handlers have been traced to a serving colonel of the Pakistani army, investigations have revealed.

Although the 11,509-page chargesheet in the 26/11 case filed by the Mumbai police on Wednesday does not spell this out explicitly, it does name the officer as Colonel R Sadatullah from the SCO.

The SCO, army sources say, stands for Special Communications Organization, a telecommunications agency of the Pakistani government which is run by officers from the army's signals corps and operates only in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the conflict-wracked Northern Areas.

During the 58-hour siege of Mumbai, a total of 284 calls, running into 995 minutes, were made by the terrorists using mobile phones from the Taj Mahal hotel, Oberoi-Trident and Nariman House to their handlers in Pakistan. They took the minutest of instructions from their handlers sitting in Pakistan. The Pak-based co-conspirators also gave their agents in Mumbai pep talks to keep them going.

The chargesheet says that the calls which were made over VoIP — a cheap way of making international calls using the net — were traced back to an IP address created with Callphonex, a VoIP service provider based in New Jersey, USA.

The payments for this were made by opening an account in the name of Kharak Singh from India. However, the payments to this account were made on two occasions by wire transfer through MoneyGram and Western Union Money Transfer by two Pakistani nationals, Javed Iqbal and Mohammed Ishtiaq.

These two, while communicating with Callphonex, used the e-mail id This e-mail id was accessed from at least 10 IP addresses, says the chargesheet. One of them,, belongs to Col R Sadatullah whose official address is SCO, Qasim Rd, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Sadatullah's official e-mail id is, which police say is the official e-mail service for all SCO officers.

One of the wanted accused is `Major General sahab' whose name crops up repeatedly in the taped conversation between the terrorists and their handlers. Incidentally, the general manager of SCO happens to be Major General Muhammad Khalid Rao, who joined the Signals Corps in 1979.

Asked about the involvement of the Pakistani army, joint commissioner (crime) Rakesh Maria said, ``We are looking into the involvement of two army personnel, who could be supposedly serving or retired.''

The chargesheet is against 38 persons, 35 of them yet to be apprehended. The three who are in police custody include the lone Pakistani terror operative caught alive, Ajmal Amir Kasab, and two Indians, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ansari.

The 35 wanted accused include high-profile Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives. Kasab was not brought to court because of security concerns. Described as an LeT operative responsible for the conspiracy and the attack on Mumbai, he was charged under nine different laws, including waging war on the government of India under the Indian Penal Code. The other charges are under the Foreigners' Act, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Railways Protection Act, the Explosives Act, the Explosive Substances Act, the Arms Act, the Bombay Police Act and the Customs Act.

Charges filed against Mumbai terror suspectStory Highlights

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab charged with attempted murder

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- The only surviving suspect accused of taking part in the deadly terror attacks in Mumbai, India, was formally charged Wednesday with attempted murder and damage to public property, a prosecutor said.

Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam (left) holds the case file outside the court.

Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told reporters that Mohammed Ajmal Kasab did not attend the court session because of security reasons.

Nikam, speaking outside Qila Court in Mumbai, said Kasab will face other charges. The next hearing is set for March 9.

Also charged Wednesday were two men, Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed, accused of helping to plan the terror spree, according to the prosecutor.

More than 160 people died in three days of violence that began November 26.

Kasab, a 21-year-old Pakistani, was one of 10 men accused of participating in the coordinated attacks on buildings including the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and Oberoi-Trident hotels, Mumbai's historic Victoria Terminus train station and the Jewish cultural center, Chabad House.

The attacks ended with Indian forces killing nine of the terrorists who had caused carnage across Mumbai.

The Indian government blamed the attacks on Lashkar-e-Tayyiba -- a Pakistan-based terror group allied with al Qaeda.

Authorities said Kasab was trained by the organization, which was banned in Pakistan in 2002 after an attack on India's parliament. The group denied responsibility.

Nikam said the 11,000-word file that describes the charges against Kasab also contains the names of 35 other suspects being sought in the crimes, many of whom are believed to be members of LeT.

The prosecutor said his office hopes to finish the trial for Kasab in three to six months. He has been in police custody since November 28.

Also Wednesday, an Indian official said the government has adopted some U.S. anti-terror mechanisms as part of its preparedness against terrorism attacks.

Home minister P. Chidambaram told the Indian parliament that India has studied measures the United States took after the September 11, 2001, terror strikes.

"We have taken whatever elements are relevant and germane to the Indian situation," he said. He said India is using the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center as a case study in the aftermath of the Mumbai siege.

"Notwithstanding some financial constraints, we have tried to replicate the NCTC through our MAC (Multi-Agency Center), which is now the nodal center for counterterrorism. We should spend some more money. But more money has been made available in 2009-10," he remarked.

India charges Mumbai gunman

MUMBAI, India (AP) -- Investigators charged the lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks with 12 crimes on Wednesday, including murder and waging war against India.

Pakistani Mohammed Ajmal Kasab has been held by the police since he was captured in the early hours of the attacks, but had not been formally charged. Nine other attackers were killed during the three-day siege, which left 164 people dead and targeted luxury hotels, a Jewish center and other sites across the city.

Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said he expected the trial to begin in the coming weeks and conclude in three to six months.

The charges -- which are detailed in a document more than 10,000 pages long -- also included Kasab's confession, accounts from 150 witnesses and closed circuit television footage that shows him and his accomplice walking into Mumbai's crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji train station and spraying it with bullets, Mumbai police's main investigator Rakesh Maria had said earlier.

Indian law requires that charges be filed against a suspect within 90 days of arrest. Kasab was formally arrested November 28.

Kasab has been given a copy of the police charge sheet, Nikam said Wednesday. He also said that at least 35 other suspects in the attacks had "absconded" and authorities would continue investigating. He declined to list their names or nationalities.

If convicted on the two most critical charges -- murder and waging war against India -- the 21-year-old Kasab will likely face the death penalty.

India has blamed the attack on Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist militant group widely believed created by Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 1980s to fight India rule in the divided Kashmir region.

India has also said that all 10 attackers were from Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Pakistani officials acknowledged that the Mumbai attacks were partly plotted on its soil and announced criminal proceedings against eight suspects

Mumbai terror attacks: Chronology

Press Trust of India
Following is the chronology of the Mumbai terror attacks, which took place on November 26, 2008 last year leading to the filing of the chargesheet on Wednesday.

November 26, 2008: Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman Qasab arrested by security forces after Mumbai is attacked by 10 terrorists. Qasab is accused of killing six policemen including ATS chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte and Inspector Vijay Salaskar near Cama hospital.

November 29, 2008: NSG clears all three terror attack sites -- Hotel Taj, Oberoi-Trident hotel and Nariman house -- of terrorists nearly three days after it launches massive operation.

November 30, 2008: Shivraj Patil resigns as Home Minister owning moral responsibility for Mumbai terror attacks. P Chidambaram replaces Patil.

December 11, 2008: Qasab remanded to police custody till December 24 by a court in Mumbai. Home Minister P Chidambaram says the needle of suspicion behind attacks "unmistakably" points to Pakistan and the origin of all the 10 terrorists who entered the country have been established conclusively.

December 14, 2008: FBI and other western investigating agencies take DNA samples of all nine Lashkar-e-Taiba militants killed in Mumbai attacks to ascertain if they had any Afghan or other terror links.

December 15, 2008: Union Cabinet approves amendments to the law to provide for a tough legal framework and the setting up of a National Investigating Agency (NIA) to combat terror.

December 16, 2008: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee says Islamabad should follow up its promise to the global community with action.

December 16, 2008: Government introduces two bills providing for setting up NIA to probe terror cases across the country and to provide for deterrent provisions like detention without bail for up to 180 days and enhanced penalty to life imprisonment for those involved in terror acts.

December 21, 2008: Maharashtra's Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam says state police will club all the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack cases together.

December 22, 2008: Terming terror infrastructure in Pakistan as the "greatest danger" to the entire world, India says efforts made by international community to deal with the situation are "not enough" and New Delhi will use "all measures" necessary to tackle the problem.

December 22, 2008: A five-member Interpol team meets Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria and seeks details of Qasab.

December 23, 2008: FBI completes probe in India and finds evidence of Pakistan security establishment being involved in the carnage. Pakistan claims it has no record of Qasab.

December 26, 2008: India impresses on US and Pakistan's two key allies China and Saudi Arabia to pressurise Islamabad to take concrete action against those behind Mumbai attacks.

December 27, 2008: Mumbai police shifts Qasab to Arthur Road jail in central Mumbai for identification parade.

December 29, 2008: Qasab brought back to Crime Branch lock-up.

January 5, 2009: India hands over to Pakistan evidence linking that country to Mumbai attacks. Shares evidence related to involvement of Pakistan-based elements in the attacks with China.

January 6, 2009: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accuses Pakistan of utilizing terrorism as a state policy and says given the "sophistication and military precision" of Mumbai attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in that country.

Pakistan says it is "examining" the evidence handed over by India in connection with Mumbai attack.

India gives Pakistan a list of "handlers" who are based in that country and were in touch with the terrorists during the attacks.

January 7, 2009: Six terrorists, part of a Pakistani group which struck in Mumbai, sent to Kashmir for "some operations", according to the dossier India handed over to Pakistan.

India slams Pakistan for rejecting within 24 hours the evidence provided to it on Mumbai attacks, saying Islamabad has resorted to the "previous patterns of denial of facts, evidence and reality".

January 9, 2009: The United States says it is determined to work "non-stop" and "as long as it takes" to ensure that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks are brought to justice.

January 17, 2009: France asks Pakistan to extend "full cooperation" to ensure that those behind the carnage are punished in the "most severe way".

January 19, 2009: Qasab remanded in police custody till February 2 in the CST firing case.

India says the civilian government in Pakistan was "not strong enough" to act against terror on its own.

January 22, 2009: The Mumbai carnage could not have been carried out without indirect support from "professional organisations" in Pakistan: Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta.

Germany, which lost three of its citizens in Mumbai strikes, says it felt that Lashkar-e-Taiba was responsible for the attacks but cannot hazard a guess on other groups that could be linked to al-Qaeda being behind it.

January 27, 2009: India says it will not be satisfied until Pakistan fulfils its international obligation to act sternly against the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks and dismantle terror infrastructure existing on its soil.

February 2, 2009: Qasab remanded in police custody till February 13 for murdering the captain of a Gujarat-based fishing vessel.

February 17, 2009: FBI hands over all the crucial evidence, linking the perpetrators of Mumbai terrorists to Pakistan, to a team of Mumbai Police in Washington.

February 20, 2009: Police remand of Qasab shifted to judicial custody.

February 23, 2009: India's approach of "cohesive diplomacy" has "forced" Pakistan to admit that its soil was used for launching Mumbai attacks, Home Minister P Chidamabaram says.

February 25, 2009: Mumbai police files 11,000-page chargesheet in the 26/11 terror attacks before metropolitan magistrate M J Mirza.

India files murder charges against suspect in Mumbai attacks

February 25, 2009

Ajmal Amir Kasab, dubbed the 'smiling assassin,' could face the death penalty if convicted in the terrorism that killed more than 170.

Reporting from New Delhi -- Authorities on Wednesday filed charges of murder and "waging war" on India against what they say is the lone known surviving gunman in the Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 170 people in November.

If convicted, 21-year-old Ajmal Amir Kasab, dubbed the "smiling assassin" by Indian media for the facial expression seen on closed-circuit video during the attack on the Mumbai railway station, could face the death penalty. Nine other gunmen were killed in the 60-hour siege, which also targeted luxury hotels, a Jewish center and other sites.

Complete coverage of the Mumbai attacksAlso implicated in the 11,000-page charge sheet were at least 35 suspects believed to be based in Pakistan who allegedly helped the attackers or had a role in planning the attacks. Separately, police accused two Indians of involvement.

Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told reporters that he hoped to wrap up the trial within six months, a rapid turnaround given that cases here can drag on for years. The massive document, part of which Nikam waved during the news conference, reportedly contains accounts by more than 2,000 witnesses as well as evidence provided by the FBI, which assisted Indian police.

The others charged include two Pakistani soldiers and Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India says was behind the attacks, as well as senior Lashkar members Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, Zarar Shah and Abu Hamza.

The gravity of the charges against Kasab, who India says is from Gipal Pura in Pakistan, suggest there is little chance he will be extradited to Pakistan, legal experts said, a step Islamabad has requested.

It is also unlikely that Pakistan will allow any of the dozens of other nationals charged Wednesday to face trial in India. Islamabad has argued that India should instead hand over any evidence so suspects can be tried in Pakistan.

In addition to being charged with waging war against India, various others were accused Wednesday of murder, illegal entry into India, damaging public property and related offenses under the nation's arms and explosives act.

"The filing of charges is good as far as it goes, but Kasab is a foot soldier, and the colonels and generals are elsewhere," said G. Parthasarathy, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan and now a security analyst with New Delhi's Center for Policy Research.

"There's something of a charade in Pakistan with regard to a trial," he added. "Unless you have independent observers and family members there, it's going to be a farce."

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, said Pakistan's track record on trying militants isn't very good, nor is extradition likely given the political implications.

"The civilian government in Pakistan is weak, and if they did turn the suspects over, they would be attacked as selling out," he said.

Wednesday's report, which has a picture from the Mumbai attacks on its cover, includes accounts of guns and grenades used by the assailants that police said bear markings linked to Pakistani arms companies. Police also say they have a list of items left by the attackers that were manufactured in Pakistan, including detergent, toilet paper and toothpaste.

Kasab was captured after fleeing the railway station in a stolen car.

Pakistan announced last month that it had arrested 71 leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba and detained 124 more in an effort to crack down on the group. But some Indian analysts said Pakistan had a long history of quietly letting suspects go a few weeks after their arrest.

Analysts said India had little leverage over Pakistan short of declaring war. That option would be extremely risky given that both nations have nuclear weapons.

In the long term, I think the only way for this to be resolved is for India and Pakistan to work together to curb terrorism," Hoodbhoy said. "In the meantime, India's best option is to work through legal means and continue trying to build international pressure.

'Global Meltdown reduced tourist arrival'

24 February 2009
New Delhi: The global meltdown, coupled with the Mumbai terror attacks, considerably impacted the foreign tourist arrivals in India and their number rose only 5.56 percent last year against the expected growth of 14.56 percent, the Rajya Sabha was informed Tuesday.

"The global meltdown has affected those countries that are our primary source of tourist arrivals. There have been cancellations but I would like to point out that a growth rate of 5.56 percent is way above the global average of two percent," Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said during question hour.

"The Mumbai attacks also contributed to the dip in arrivals," she added.

"Till August-September, we had very high growth rates. Then came the global meltdown and the Mumbai attacks," she said, adding that in spite of the dip in arrivals, foreign exchange earnings last year rose 14.4 percent.

"This is because we receive a number of high-end travellers and those who spend a lot of money," Soni explained.

The minister vehemently denied suggestions that efforts to encourage foreign tourist arrivals were being made at the cost of domestic tourism.

"Any steps to encourage foreign tourist arrivals is not at the cost of domestic tourism," she said, adding that 560 million Indians travelled within the country last year.

"When I became a minister, the prime minister had clearly said that domestic tourism was a priority. Thus, we have been able to increase the number of domestic tourists from 320 million to 560 million (last year)."

Detailing the steps her ministry had taken to promote domestic tourism, Soni said Rs.378 crore (Rs.3.78 billion) had been sanctioned for 16 mega projects in the country, while another six were in the pipeline.

"Under this scheme, Rs.25 crore (Rs.250 million) is given for destination development and Rs.50 crore for circuit development," Soni said, adding that the projects were coming up in places like Amritsar, Ajmer, Pushkar, Goa and Tirupathi.

This apart, the government had identified 139 spots for promoting rural tourism and was providing Rs.50 lakh (Rs.5 million) at each place for infrastructure development and Rs.20 lakh for capacity building.

Soni also sought to allay apprehensions that the regional media were being ignored for advertisements for the tourism ministry's "Incredible India" campaign.

"A special committee decides where the advertisements are to be placed. I want to make it very clear that from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala, from east to west, no language is left untouched. At the same time, we cannot give advertisements to each and every newspaper," Soni pointed out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brand aid for India

In the days to come, there will be widespread discussion on Slumdog Millionaire and whether it reflects the true worth of India and is indeed a representation of life in India. There will be many who will suddenly change their stance, now that the film has won eight Oscars. There will be silly marketing managers who will try and devise strategies as to how Jamal Malik can now endorse brands for all things Indian.

For me, personally, the Oscar ceremony on February 22 at the Kodak Theatre was more than just about a film set in Bombay. It was about recognising the true worth of soft power and its role in building a brand: in this case, Brand India and I believe for that and that alone, we need to be grateful to Danny Boyle. The film could easily have been set in Africa. We may have missed A.R. Rahman’s music, but I am sure the treatment would not have been so dramatically different.

In today’s challenging times, soft power is increasingly becoming a critical virtue of both retaining interest in a nation as also in seeing it move forward. The Oscar wins for Slumdog were not about rewarding a film: they were about the Resul Pookuttys, the A.R. Rahmans and the Gulzars. They were about the latent talent that has existed in India but has not gotten its due share on a global stage. The Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles provided the global canvas to Indian soft power, and the ceremony will go a long way in redefining Brand India, especially in the US — a country not known for its awareness of geography.

In many ways, Slumdog is a film which hits the right notes and, most critically, at the right time. America is going through its worst crisis – both an economic one as also one in values. This film is not just about meeting aspirations, it is also not just a rags-to-riches story but instead a story that is fundamentally mired in hope. In a strange way, just about a month separated the Kodak Theatre from Washington, when Barack Obama — the brand beacon of hope — was sworn in. Slumdog Millionaire, like Obama, operates (and creates lasting value and benefits) at many layers.

In times like these, hope is a powerful healer of myriad woes, much like the film. The film is not about a slum dog alone. It is about a community that can perceive achievement no matter how short-lived; can celebrate the success of one of its own as if it belonged to the entire community and in a strange way this is what is happening across India. Every Indian is celebrating this Oscar success but in a very tangential way, we are also celebrating our Indianness and have the maturity to come to terms with the fact that our slums will co-exist with our spanking chrome and glass buildings. For many, the Kodak Theatre was a way of establishing our own little circles of influence and pride and this is what I believe the film has enabled us to do.

Will one film change the way a nation thinks? Perhaps not. But it will, at least for some time, give us a reason to celebrate and smile. Will it help re-engineer Brand India in the minds of many? I guess it will and for that we must laud Danny Boyle’s choice of location.

In the ultimate analysis, it is not about a film but a lasting impact. It is about seeing Rubina and Azharuddin in their gowns and suits: pitch-forked from Dharavi to Los Angeles. That transition and symbolism is inspirational. It is about ‘Jai Ho’ being sung on a global stage, replacing rap and rhythm and blues — it was the language of India, the expression of our culture and the heartbeat of a nation that was showcased before the world.

That is how a brand’s soft power is built and this is what Slumdog has done for us. So let’s cut out the moral debate; stop quibbling about the ownership and nationality of the film and instead hail and celebrate what it has already achieved and what it will do for Brand India. Beyond just cinema.

Modi says Rahul 'aquarium fish'

23 February 2009
Panaji: The war of words between Narendra Modi and the Congress grew shriller Sunday. The Gujarat chief minister likened Congress MP Rahul Gandhi to a "small fish" in an aquarium, and the Congress promptly described Modi as a "piranha who devours human beings".

Modi, addressing a poll rally in Goa, said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders like him and his counterparts in states ruled by the party are like "ocean fish" who weather big storms, unlike those "floating around in aquariums".

In an obvious dig at Rahul Gandhi, the 38-year-old Congress general secretary who is being projected as a youth icon by the Congress, Modi said: "We are not small fish floating around in the comfort of aquariums, but we weather huge storms to win."

"We are not flowers cultivated by gardeners of the rich. We have grown up in the forests on our own," Modi said, asking: "Which young people are they talking about?"

He continued: "Aren't there young people living in the slums and in the homes of poor? But they are not considered young, for their fathers are not rich, because their fathers were not prime ministers or their mothers are not big people."

Modi, who is in-charge of the BJP in Goa for upcoming Lok Sabha elections, claimed that compared to the Congress, his party had younger chief ministers.

The Congress reacted sharply to Modi's "fish" remarks, with spokesperson Manish Tewari saying in New Delhi: "If Rahul is a fish in the aquarium, then Modi is a piranha who devours human beings."

He said Modi had no right to speak about the poor, for unlike Rahul Gandhi, he had never spent a day in a Dalit's shanty. "The chief minister of Gujarat has lost it completely," remarked Tewari.

He said the "Congress party has a history of empowering the youth; it is not a new development."

Modi, addressing a party rally in Mapusa, 12 km from Panaji, said for the first time in independent India's political history, chiefs of armed forces had been forced to indulge in war rhetoric before the media.

"It is unprecedented. This is nothing but a ploy to appease their minority vote bank. Despite 26/11, the Congress does not want to act tough against Pakistan," Modi said.

Raising the pitch further, the Gujarat chief minister said that with the 26/11 terror-strikes in Mumbai, Pakistan had initiated war and India should have responded accordingly.

"Instead, the Indian government went and begged before the US, pleading with them to lean on Pakistan."

Claiming that the Congress-led coalition government had failed miserably vis-?is security and progress, Modi said the Congress had made India weak-kneed in face of growing terrorism.

"Why is Afzal Guru not being hanged, despite being pronounced guilty? Why is he being kept alive, as if he is in a museum," he said.

Modi addressed BJP party workers meetings in the two Lok Sabha constituencies during his two-day visit to Goa.

While sitting MP Shripad Naik will contest the North Goa seat, the BJP has introduced a new face for the South Goa seat in Narendra Savoikar.

Gunmen attack BJP leader's house in Orissa

Bhubaneswar: A group of masked gunmen Sunday evening attacked the house of a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Orissa, the police and the politician said.

Over a dozen of men carrying guns rushed to the house of Jual Oram, a sitting MP, at Kendudihi village in the district of Sundergarh, some 350 km from here, at about 8 p.m. and terrorised the family members for nearly half an hour, the police said.

They fired several rounds in the air and escaped in a Bolero vehicle when hundreds of villagers rushed to the spot, the police said.

Oram, who is in the state capital Bhubaneswar, told IANS that the gunmen snatched gold ornaments from some of his family members.

"Police forces have been sent to the village. Security has been beefed up around his house," said Santosh Bala, district superintendent of police. Oram suspected that the attackers could be Maoists, but Bala said the police were not sure.

Monday,23 February 2009

Mayawati to be next Indian PM: pollster

The coming Indian general elections are likely to lead to a Left-leaning government led by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and supported from the outside by either the Congress or the BJP, a leading pollster predicted Monday.

Yashwant Deshmukh, who runs the Team Cvoter polling firm and has covered more than 100 state and national elections in India, will tell leading British politicians this week that neither the Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be able to win a majority in elections to the Lok Sabha.

In fact, he believes that both parties will see their number of seats dramatically reduced.

"I am looking at the possibility of Mayawati leading a government of an assortment of political parties, barring the Samajwadi Party," he said ahead of Wednesday's House of Commons briefing for British MPs, members of thinktanks and businessmen and investors.

"This government would be formed with either inside- or outside-support from the Left parties. But it will need the support of either the Congress or the BJP from the outside.

"In the current scenario either of them will do it because no one wants to be seen as trying to stop a Dalit woman from becoming prime minister. Coming in her way would be committing political harakiri."

Deshmukh said the post-election scenario was less clear than in previous years, but predicted: "This time round the Congress party will be the loser and the BJP will be the even bigger loser. Both will all need to give away a lot of power if they're going to even come close to a majority."

Vikas Pota, managing director of the public relations firm Saffron Chase, which is organising the briefing, said the elections were expected to lead to a slowdown in the process of liberalisation in India.

"It seems that the current world recession is leading to protectionist language from all nations. It will be difficult to grow the insurance, retail and banking sectors as a result," he told The Guardian newspaper.

'Global Meltdown reduced tourist arrival'

24 February 2009
New Delhi: The global meltdown, coupled with the Mumbai terror attacks, considerably impacted the foreign tourist arrivals in India and their number rose only 5.56 percent last year against the expected growth of 14.56 percent, the Rajya Sabha was informed Tuesday.

"The global meltdown has affected those countries that are our primary source of tourist arrivals. There have been cancellations but I would like to point out that a growth rate of 5.56 percent is way above the global average of two percent," Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said during question hour.

"The Mumbai attacks also contributed to the dip in arrivals," she added.

"Till August-September, we had very high growth rates. Then came the global meltdown and the Mumbai attacks," she said, adding that in spite of the dip in arrivals, foreign exchange earnings last year rose 14.4 percent.

"This is because we receive a number of high-end travellers and those who spend a lot of money," Soni explained.

The minister vehemently denied suggestions that efforts to encourage foreign tourist arrivals were being made at the cost of domestic tourism.

"Any steps to encourage foreign tourist arrivals is not at the cost of domestic tourism," she said, adding that 560 million Indians travelled within the country last year.

"When I became a minister, the prime minister had clearly said that domestic tourism was a priority. Thus, we have been able to increase the number of domestic tourists from 320 million to 560 million (last year)."

Detailing the steps her ministry had taken to promote domestic tourism, Soni said Rs.378 crore (Rs.3.78 billion) had been sanctioned for 16 mega projects in the country, while another six were in the pipeline.

"Under this scheme, Rs.25 crore (Rs.250 million) is given for destination development and Rs.50 crore for circuit development," Soni said, adding that the projects were coming up in places like Amritsar, Ajmer, Pushkar, Goa and Tirupathi.

This apart, the government had identified 139 spots for promoting rural tourism and was providing Rs.50 lakh (Rs.5 million) at each place for infrastructure development and Rs.20 lakh for capacity building.

Soni also sought to allay apprehensions that the regional media were being ignored for advertisements for the tourism ministry's "Incredible India" campaign.

"A special committee decides where the advertisements are to be placed. I want to make it very clear that from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala, from east to west, no language is left untouched. At the same time, we cannot give advertisements to each and every newspaper," Soni pointed out.

Monday, February 23, 2009

India Celebrates a Hollywood Victory

NEW DELHI — Its depictions of filth and brutality fueled angry blogging and stray street protests. It drew unusually intense scrutiny, for everything from how much its child actors were paid to what the composer A. R. Rahman would wear to the Oscars. But on Monday, as India woke up to news of the spectacular wins by “Slumdog Millionaire” at the Academy Awards, this movie-mad country went “Jai Ho.”

The movie’s victory was embraced as India’s own.

“What a day it has been for India!” gushed a television news anchor midmorning. The story dominated television news throughout the day. News of a hepatitis B outbreak in western Gujarat State and a southern politician’s threatened hunger strike seemed minor by comparison.

“We rocked the world,” an Indian percussionist named Sivamani declared.

Never mind that “Slumdog” tells a story of stunted, shafted slum children, precisely the kind of story promoters of the New India have sought to obscure with tales of prosperity. India seized on its Oscar wins as a sign of its arrival on the world stage.

Indian television showed Indian dancers in spangly skirts onstage at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles and Mr. Rahman, eyes closed, singing his winning song, “Jai Ho” — its title an exuberant Hindi phrase that literally translates as “Let there be victory.” Mr. Rahman thanked God and his mother. Resul Pookutty, who shared the prize for sound mixing, dedicated it to his country. In his small town in south India, neighbors and kin were shown passing a big plate of sweets and crying tears of joy.

“India has made a clean sweep here,” Anil Kapoor, the Indian actor who played the game-show host in “Slumdog,” declared in an interview with NDTV, a private television station.

On Monday even the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, congratulated the “Slumdog” team, along with the makers of another winning film, “Smile Pinki,” a short documentary about a village girl with a cleft palate. “The winners have done India proud,” Mr. Singh’s office said in a statement.

The last time an Indian won an Oscar was for the costume design of the 1982 biographical film “Gandhi,” directed by Richard Attenborough. Many Indians were peeved at the time that a known Indian actor had not been cast to play the father of their nation. Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi, is of partly Indian descent. (In 1992 the Indian director Satyajit Ray was awarded the Oscar for lifetime achievement.)

“Slumdog,” of course, is not an Indian film. It was backed by two American studios. The director, Danny Boyle, is British, as are its screenwriter, who adapted the script from a book by an Indian diplomat, and its producer.

But “Slumdog” has an almost entirely Indian cast, along with a British actor of Indian descent, Dev Patel, who plays the teenage lead, Jamal. It was shot on the streets of Mumbai, unlike most Indian films. And about a third of the dialogue is in Hindi.

It has several key Indian crew members, including the co-director, Loveleen Tandan, and of course Mr. Rahman, whose compositions weave sounds from all over the world with a deeply Indian sensibility.

Most important, “Slumdog” picks up on key motifs of the classic Bollywood fairy tale: the plucky underdog hero, sibling rivalry, ghetto gangsters and a beautiful damsel needing a rescue.

Small bursts of outrage greeted the film when it opened in India recently, including a protest several weeks ago in front of Mr. Kapoor’s house, where children held up placards that read “Don’t call me dog.” In the current issue of India Today, a weekly magazine, a filmmaker named Priyadarshan called it “absolute and intentional exploitation of India.”

But the newspaper columnist Vir Sanghvi, writing in his blog on Monday, said he was “thrilled” by the film’s victory and the sight of so many Indians onstage at the Academy Awards. “Even when ‘Gandhi’ won the Oscar for best picture all those years ago, we never felt that it was India’s victory,” he wrote. “I don’t know if this is a breakthrough for India, or whether we will be able to follow it up. But some things seem clear. Anil Kapoor is now the world’s most famous Bollywood actor — and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Nobody will be able to talk about world music without including Rahman as its leading star.”

A more sobering response came on Monday from Dilbur Parakh, who heads a charity-run school where two of the film’s youngest stars, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, and Rubina Ali Qureshi, 9, are enrolled. The children still live in a sprawling shantytown whose name, Garib Nagar, literally means the enclave of the poor. The filmmakers pay their school fees.

To Ms. Parakh, the story of “Slumdog” echoed the stories of hundreds of Indian children she had met. “This is the way it really is,” she said. “We can’t ignore it. We have to face it. I mean Indians as a whole.”

That a Briton made the film did not much matter to her. “It really is an Indian story,” said Ms. Parakh, who is also the chairwoman of Aseema, the nonprofit organization in Mumbai that runs the school.

Munni Qureishi, 28, Rubina’s mother, said the people of Garib Nagar had stayed up much of the night in anticipation, then greeted the victory on Monday morning with firecrackers and boisterous handmade drums. Mrs. Qureishi, who has worked as a housemaid since childhood, said she looked forward to welcoming her daughter home with flowers and her favorite food: Chinese-style noodles.

“She has crossed the ocean,” Mrs. Qureishi said. “With God’s blessing she will return.”

India rules out joint probe, says will respond to Pak's queries

New Delhi : Ruling out a joint probe into the Mumbai carnage, India on Monday promised to respond to Pakistan's queries related to the attacks but made it clear that the exchange of information can only take place through official channels.

"Whatever information we get from Pakistan, we will respond to it. But information must be made available through official channels and not through the media," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters here.

India is ready to cooperate with Pakistan "as and when it is necessary" in its investigation into the Mumbai attacks, Mukherjee said while referring to the material provided to Islamabad about Pakistani linkages to the Mumbai terror attacks.

"As far as joint investigation is concerned, I have told you we are having investigation," he said.

Mukherjee's remarks come amid speculation that a team of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency will visit India to pursue leads in the Mumbai atrocity that will help them to prosecute Pakistanis involved in the attacks.

Pakistan admitted Feb 12 that a part of the Mumbai conspiracy was hatched and executed by its nationals and arrested six Pakistani suspects. But Islamabad also raised 30 questions it wants India to answer to firm up evidence for prosecuting the suspects.

India has already made it clear that it is examining questions raised by Pakistan and will provide whatever information is possible.

The two sides discussed developments related to the Mumbai mayhem when Pakistan's High Commissioner Shahid Malik met Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon here Monday. The high commissioner assured India that Pakistan will continue to cooperate to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice, official sources said.

Slumdog Millionaire, Bollywood billionaires?

February 24, 2009
Eight Oscars open this Rs 11,000-crore industry to larger global audiences.

Bollywood’s big boys expect the success of Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Oscars at the Academy Awards ceremony today, to give film production houses a big opportunity to carve a niche market for films with Indian actors, stories, music and style that appeal to a larger audience in the US, instead of just the Indian diaspora.

Films with Indian actors, story and director, like Namesake, Monsoon Wedding and Bend it Like Beckham, were cross-over movies that won critical acclaim but did not make a dent with larger US audiences. That has changed overnight with Slumdog’s Oscar sweep. “Slumdog is a Bollywood movie told in typical Bollywood style, with Indian actors and shot in India, which has appealed to an audience that goes beyond the Indian diaspora,” said Rajesh Sawhney, president of Reliance Entertainment, which recently announced a multi-million dollar collaboration deal with maverick director Steven Spielberg. “Until now, Bollywood movies only addressed Indians in the US. We hope this is not a one-off and there are more films that follow this experimentation,” he added.

His company, for instance, is producing Kites, which has a Mexican heroine, Barbara Mori, and Indian star Hrithik Roshan and is shot in Los Angeles with an international audience in mind.

Sawhney said the Chinese have already made a dent in the US mass market with films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which won an Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2000 and also became a box office success in the US in its own right.

Other producers said the success of the movie will not change Bollywood. But it will make producers in Hollywood realise that a new opportunity has emerged. “Bollywood movies are meant for Indian audiences. Slumdog was made for western audiences. But its success shows that there is an opportunity for Hollywood to take up Indian themes, cast and technicians and make a movie that is of world standard and which works,” said film producer Bobby Bedi.

Many entertainment companies expect that the big movie studios like Sony (which made Saawariya), Fox Entertainment and Warner Brothers (which made Chandni Chowk to China) that have been cautious in investing in Bollywood films might just change their mind after Slumdog.

“India and China are the two emerging markets with a large audience base and their markets are stagnating. China has rules that don’t allow Hollywood studios easy entry. So this might be an opportunity for the studios to put in more money in India,” said Sawhney.

There are, of course, immediate beneficiaries from the movie’s success — the technicians, and musicians like A R Rahman from India who have now entered the global centrestage. “The Oscar for the original music score puts India on the music map of the world. Earlier, the West identified Indian music with Ravi Shankar. It’s a good thing the award has gone to music that is popular. It will give recognition to musicians here,” said Ehsaan Noorani (of the music director trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy).

Industry experts reckon that Rahman’s price (he is the most expensive and charges around Rs 5 crore) would go up at least 50 per cent, if not more, after he has bagged the Oscar for the best original score.

Freida Pinto, the girl-next-door in Slumdog, has become an instant Hollywood celebrity and is commanding big bucks already. Her endorsement fees have shot up from a mere Rs 20 lakh before the movies to Rs 1.3 crore.

“Freida has received a very big Hollywood offer that is likely to be announced soon and will dramatically increase her endorsement fees,” said Anirban Das Blah, chief executive of Globosports, a celebrity management firm handling her endorsement contracts.

Multiplexes in talks for Slumdog's re-release

NEW DELHI: Now that Slumdog Millionaire has swept the Oscars, its rights holders and multiplexes back home are looking to pick up some of the gold dust left in its trail.

While multiplex players are in talks with Fox Star Studios for the movie’s re-release, rights holders are eyeing higher revenues through non-theatrical revenue streams.

Slumdog Millionaire and its Hindi version Slumdog Crorepati, which was released on January 23, earned an estimated Rs 22 crore in two weeks till February 2. In the first three days alone, the movie garnered Rs 13.5 crore, as per data available with Fox Star India. The movie, released a month late in India, lost theatrical revenues to pirated versions.

With no other movie lined up for release in the next two weeks, the players believe a re-release makes commercial sense. Fox Star Studios head-marketing Vivek Krishnani said the company had set up a team that was in talks with multiplex players.

Reliance Big Cinemas COO Tushar Dhingra said the multiplex chain was in talks with the Fox team for a re-release, with the Oscars generating renewed interest among movie-goers. He added, however, that the company was also evaluating whether there was potential for a repeat audience, considering the film is accessible on DTH and will soon be available on DVDs.

PVR Cinemas will be running the movie next week for a day as part of the Oscar movie festival. Said PVR Cinemas COO Gautam Dutta, “We are screening all the movies nominated at the Oscars and one evening will be dedicated to screening Slumdog Millionaire.”

Meanwhile, Fox Star Studios and the companies that have bought the home video and broadcasting rights are looking at making the best of the post-Oscars opportunity. The studio had sold the home video rights to Shemaroo and the satellite rights to Sony Entertainment Television. The studio had also struck a three-day deal with DTH player Tata Sky to screen the movie through video on demand, which is now expected to go to other DTH companies.

According to a senior executive with a media company, both Sony and Shemaroo may pay Fox a minimum guarantee for the rights of the movie. This apart, the two will also have to share revenue earned through the rights with Fox.

Slumdog makes franchisees Crorepati

February 24, 2009

It's not just about the Oscars, Golden Globe and millions of dollars that Slumdog Millionaire has grossed globally, many Indian companies too are raking in big money from this Hollywood movie.

Fox Star Studio India, the distributor of Slumdog Millionaire in the country, has managed to gross around Rs 40 crore from the markets, surpassing collections of some of the biggest Bollywood hits of last year such as Rock On.

From theatrical collections alone, Slumdog Millionaire and its Hindi version Slumdog Crorepati have managed to get over Rs 30 crore. "It's a commercial hit for us, considering that it was not a typical Bollywood film. It has made Rs 30 crore at the box office, two-thirds of which have come from its Hindi avtaar," says Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star India.

From the sale of its TV rights (cable and satellite) to Sony Entertainment channel for three years, Fox Star has reportedly made another Rs 5 crore, a huge amount considering that Slumdog has already been watched by a large number of viewers either on DVDs, pirated CDs or in theatres, according to industry sources.

Currently, Fox Star is working on thee-four Bollywood projects and is also in talks with producers for acquisition of script-driven films like Slumdog.

TataSky, the second largest direct-to-home (DTH) services provider that made available Slumdog Millionaire on a pay-per-view basis, is said to have made over Rs 32 lakh within three days after paying a minimum guarantee fee of Rs 5 lakh to Fox. TataSky consumers paid Rs 25 for accessing the movie on the DTH platform.

"We got orders for Slumdog Millionaire from about 1.5 lakh TataSky customers. This is by far the best response received for a movie, considering it was available only for 3 days," says a senior TataSky executive.

Industry sources say that even Star Movies, the host broadcasters for the 81st Academy Awards, got high viewership from India even though the live telecast started at 6:30 am on Monday.

Star Network's Executive Vice-President (Sales) Kevin Vaz expects about 40 per cent increase in the advertising revenue from the Oscar coverage compared to the previous years. "Compared with last year, we have registered a 30-40 per cent increase in advertising revenues from the Oscars this year," said Vaz, attributing the increase in the channel revenue to the rave reviews generated by the film in media.

The special Oscars coverage, according to Vaz, has recorded a total of eleven sponsors, including LG, Religare, Hyundai, Hewlett Packard, Coke, Hindustan Unilever's Axe Deodourant and Dove, ICICI Bank and Cisco among others. According to the TAM data for 2006-08, the Oscar coverage on Star Movies did not generate more than 0.06 per cent ratings on an average.

Slumdog win seen as big boost to Brand India

‘Great endorsement for Indian talent’.

Mumbai, Feb. 23 Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Oscars in Los Angeles on Sunday evening, has redefined the image of India on the international film map. Or has it really?

After all, other films dwelling on the India theme and its belly of mass poverty, be it Salaam Bombay or City of Joy, did not capture the fancy of the world as Slumdog Millionaire did.

Mr Anand Mahindra, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Mahindra & Mahindra, has a view on this. “A great film holds a mirror to its times. Slumdog Millionaire won not only because it was a good film, or because it was about Mumbai and India, but because it reflected the zeitgeist: the overwhelming desire for optimism and hope,” he says.

Mr Mahindra, a Film major of Harvard College, is passionate about cinema. His observations on Slumdog Millionaire, sociologists say, make sense in the context of the global slowdown that has literally ripped people of not only their jobs but also self-confidence. To that extent, the film epitomises the ‘great American dream’.

What Slumdog has definitely done is catapult its composer, A.R. Rahman, who won two Oscars, to the centre-stage of global cinema. It is very likely that he will be sought after in the coming days for his expertise in the bigger Hollywood landscape.

“Rahman joins a list of global Indians who are recognised, admired and, sometimes, even revered. This list includes the likes of Ratan Tata, Lakshmi Mittal, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwariya Rai, Sachin Tendulkar and Vishwanathan Anand,” says Mr R.L. Ravichandran, Chief Executive Officer of the cult brand Royal Enfield Motorcycles. He believes that the sky is now the limit for Rahman.

Mr Philip George, Chief Manager-Sales (South India & Asia Pacific), Saregama, says: “Rahman has provided the right platform for Indian cinema to be taken more seriously. This is a major, major boost to the music, not of any particular language or State, but to Indian music as a whole. Rahman will become the icon of the Indian music industry.”

Big for technicians

“This win and publicity definitely adds more charm and variety in brand India. More than Indian films having a global audience, the Oscars will open doors to Indian technicians such as Resul Pookutty, and to Rahman’s music,” said Mr Madhukar Kamath, Managing Director and CEO of Mudra Communications.

“This is a great endorsement for all technicians in our country. It just proves that Indian sound engineers, musicians and cameramen are world class. This will encourage Indian filmmakers to have international aspirations,” adds Mr Madhu Mantena, producer of the recent Hindi blockbuster Ghajini.

Would Slumdog have clicked had it been released in happier times? Would it then have been dismissed as yet another Indian film? Incidentally, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi also won eight Oscars and, like Slumdog, was an Indian theme made by a British filmmaker.

“Slumdog is not actually an Indian film. It is made with foreign currency. Though it will put India in the limelight, it will detract tourists from visiting poverty-stricken areas.

The movie does little to market the image of India. It is just a heart-warming film with high entertainment value,” reiterates Mr Alyque Padamsee, Chairman of the London Institute of Personality.

Ms Lynn d’Souza, chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of Lintas Media group, concurs with this view. “At the end of the day, this is a British production. But with Rahman and Resul Pookutty winning the award, the international market will look at India for its technical strengths.”

However, Mr Sam Balsara, Chairman and Managing Director of Madison, is clearly more upbeat. “This is good news. After being known for our trade and commerce, we will be now recognised for our creativity. This will definitely generate more interest in Indian cinema, which would mean a direct advantage to talent here,” he says.

Real slumdogs clamours for a piece of the actionRhys Blakely in Mumbai

The TimesFebruary 24, 2009
With its mounds of burning refuse and throngs of filthy, giggling, half-naked children, rubbish-munching goats and stray dogs, Garib Nagar hardly boasted the glamour quotient of the average Oscars party. But yesterday hundreds of residents of this Mumbai slum crowded around its few television sets to follow the Academy Awards with bated breath.

The town is where the British director Danny Boyle discovered Azharuddin Mohammed, 10, and Rubina Ali Quereshi, 9, the actors who play the youngest incarnations of the lead characters of Slumdog Millionaire. Among their neighbours, each of the film’s eight Oscars was met with whoops of joy and Bollywood-style dancing more raucous than anything witnessed among the glitterati assembled at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, 9,000 miles away.

“We are so proud,” a smiling Rafiq Asghar Ali Quereshi, Rubina’s father, told The Times as he stood astride the oozing open sewer that runs past the tiny family home. “My family and our neighbours watched every moment of the ceremony, from 3.30am. Our daughter has made all of India proud.”

Rubina, who was flown to Los Angeles for the ceremony, had been awed by the spectacle of Hollywood in full party mode, but loved the frock she was given by “Danny Uncle” to attend the show, Mr Quereshi said. She and Azharuddin will return to their slum in a couple of days, after a visit to Disney World.

Inside their tiny, pink-painted shack, the Quereshis fed each other sticky sweets to toast Slumdog’s success.

Amid the carnival atmosphere, some local people hoped that Slumdog’s success would lift the area’s fortunes. Abdul Sheikh, a neighbour of Azharuddin’s family, said: “We prayed to the Almighty that the movie would do well at the Oscars. Now we hope it will brighten the future of these children.”

But there are also fears that the child actors will suffer when their fame passes. Boyle has said that he almost did not cast slum children after asking himself whether it would distort their lives too much.

Mr Quereshi said that Boyle had promised to buy his family a better home. The money his daughter had earned from the film had seemed a large sum, “but having seen its success,” he said, “now I’m not sure.”

'Slumdog Millionaire' wins Oscars' triple crown

It stands to reason that, if Oscar voters believe a film is the best of the year, they think it's the best directed and written too. So we should not be surprised that "Slumdog Millionaire" won all three of those races at the Oscars. After all, "No Country for Old Men" did just that at last year's Oscars as did "The Departed" the year before. However, only half of the last 20 best picture Oscar winners have pulled off the same feat. Besides those two most recent champs, they were:

While the best pic prize has historically lined up with best director, five of the last 20 winners were not helmed by the best in the business according to Oscar.

"Crash" (2005): Paul Haggis may have won an Oscar for his script but DGA champ Ang Lee took the best director award for "Brokeback Mountain."

"Chicago" (2002): DGA winner Rob Marshall lost to Roman Polanski ("The Pianist").

"Gladiator" (2000): Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") watched double nominee Steven Soderbergh win for helming "Traffic."

"Shakespeare in Love" (1998): John Madden lost to DGA winner Steven Spielberg ("Saving Private Ryan").

"Driving Miss Daisy" (1989): Bruce Beresford wasn't even nominated and DGA champ Oliver Stone won for helming "Born on the Fourth of July."

Only 13 of the last 20 best pictures won Oscars for their screenplays, though four of the seven that lost their script race did manage to win best director:

"Million Dollar Baby" (2004) lost adapted screenplay to "Sideways."

"The English Patient" (1996) lost adapted screenplay to "Sling Blade"

"Braveheart" (1995) lost original screenplay to "The Usual Suspects"

"Unforgiven" (1992) lost original screenplay to "The Crying Game"

Even though "Titanic" swept the Oscars in 1997, James Cameron did not even rate a nod for his original screenplay with the Oscar going to "Good Will Hunting."

And in a special class of dubious distinction are two best pictures that lost both directing and screenplay races:

"Chicago" (2002) lost adapted screenplay to "The Pianist"

"Gladiator" (2000) lost original screenplay to "Almost Famous"

A R Rahman wins two, Slumdog gets 8 Oscars

23 Feb 2009,
LOS ANGELES: Slumdog Millionaire took the best-picture Academy Award and seven other Oscars, including director for Danny Boyle
A story of hope amid squalor in Mumbai, Slumdog Millionaire came in with 10 nominations, its eight wins including adapted screenplay, cinematography, editing and both music Oscars (score and song).

“Just to say to Mumbai, all of you who helped us make the film and all of those of you who didn’t thank you very much. You dwarf even this guy,'' Boyle said, holding up his directing Oscar.

The filmmakers accepted the best-picture trophy surrounded by both the adult professional actors who appeared among the cast of relative unknowns and some of the children the British director cast from the slums of Mumbai.

Boyle's hit film not only won the Oscars for best picture and best director at Sunday night's annual Academy Awards ceremony at Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, but also for six others including two for A R Rahman.

Rahman, the third Indian to win the coveted golden statuette, picked up the awards for his best original score as also the best original song "Jai ho" from the film with lyrics by Gulzar and Sukhwinder Singh as the lead singer.

"God is great!" Rahman exclaimed in Tamil as he picked up the awards, saying he was as excited and terrified before coming here as he was at his marriage.

Competing with "Jai ho" for the second Oscar was another song composed by Rahman, "O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire", with its lyrics too written by him with Maya Arulpragasam (MIA). He also sang the song with Maya, the British singer of Sri Lankan origin.

The film follows the travails and triumphs of Jamal, an orphan who artfully dodges a criminal gang that mutilates children to make them more pitiable beggars. Jamal witnesses his mother's violent death, endures police torture and struggles with betrayal by his brother, while single-mindedly hoping to reunite with the lost love of his childhood.

Fate rewards Jamal, whose story unfolds through flashbacks as he recalls how he came to know the answers that made him a champion on India's version of the TV game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?''

Slumdog Millionaire went into the evening after a run of prizes from earlier film honors.

The film nearly got lost in the shuffle as Warner Bros. folded its art-house banner, Warner Independent, which had been slated to distribute “Slumdog Millionaire.'' It was rescued from the direct-to-video scrap heap when Fox Searchlight stepped in to release the film.

Oscar-winner 'Slumdog' a millionaire beneficiary

LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Slumdog Millionaire" hauled in the most Oscars but it also received the biggest bounce at the box office of the best-picture nominees.

The rags-to-riches tale brought in an extra $54 million domestically since its nomination Jan. 22 — more than doubling its gross since its November premiere, to $98 million to date.

The lift for the winner of eight Oscars on Sunday, including best picture and director, was more than all of the four other best-picture nominees combined, according to tracking firm Media By Numbers LLC.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," the next biggest beneficiary from the post-nomination period and the winner of three Oscars, added just $20.6 million to its $124.2 million total.

The sometime disconnect between critical acclaim and box-office success was given a humorous nod by host Hugh Jackman in his opening number.

"'The Reader,' I haven't seen 'The Reader.' I know I need to see 'The Reader,'" Jackman sang, referring the Holocaust-themed drama, for which Kate Winslet won the best actress award. "I ran out of time."

The worsening economy almost sank "Slumdog" as Time Warner Inc. announced it would shut down Warner Independent, which had bought its North American distribution rights. The movie was headed for a direct-to-DVD release when News Corp.'s Fox Searchlight stepped in to distribute it, eventually showing it in 1,600 theaters nationwide.

Flush with success, director Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson said they hoped the big win would convince studios to continue to take chances on smaller films.

"Even the studios will note that we made this for 7 million pounds ($10 million), and it's going to cross $100 million in the U.S. Tuesday or Wednesday. That's good business for them," Colson said, clutching his statuette backstage.

He hoped the success would convince studios to fund independent-style films that "don't tick all the boxes" of criteria for marketing success.

"If the best of those can get made and our film helps that to happen, well I'm even prouder of these," he said.

Boyle nodded to best supporting actor winner Heath Ledger, and said small films are what give fledgling actors and directors their start.

"Heath started small as well. He started in small films. Everybody does," Boyle said. "You've got to protect them. It's difficult because the studios are under pressure, but the studios have to protect them as well."

Despite its troubled start, the uplifting story about a downtrodden boy and girl falling in love through tough times turned out to be exactly what audiences wanted to see.

"Actually it's a film that says there are more important things than money," said Simon Beaufoy, who took home an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, to reporters backstage. "That struck a chord."

Still, the win comes at a troubling time for major studios, which have announced restructuring plans as well as smaller film slates going forward to mitigate risk in a tough economy.

Several niche labels have recently shut down or been folded into their parents, including Warner Bros.' Warner Independent, Picturehouse and New Line Cinema brands, Paramount's Paramount Vantage, and Capitol Films' THINKFilm.

Among the other best-picture nominees, Universal Pictures' "Frost/Nixon" nearly doubled its post-nomination gross by $8.6 million to $17.4 million; The Weinstein Co.'s "The Reader," gained $15.3 million to $23.2 million; and "Milk," by Universal's Focus Features added $7.6 million to $28.2 million.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Slumdog is king with 8 Oscars, Pinki smiles too

February 23, 2009 (Los Angeles)

It was the day of the Slumdog at the Oscars!

Out of the ten Oscars that it was nominated for, Slumdog Millionaire swept eight Oscars, which included two Oscars for music maestro A R Rahman, Best Director for Danny Boyle and Best Sound Mixing for India's Resul Pookutty.

The film opened its Oscar account by winning in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for Simon Beaufoy.

After that, there was no looking back as the film went on a dream run to win awards in Film Editing for Chris Dickens, Best Cinematography for Anthony Dod Mantle and Sound Mixing for India's Resul Pookutty.

36-year-old Resul Pookutty created history by becoming the first Indian to bag the Oscar for Best Sound mixing. Pookutty shared the Oscar with Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke for their collaborative work for the film

"This is unbelievable. I share this stage with two magicians...I dedicate this award to my country," Pookutty said while accepting the award.

The biggest success for India came with a double Oscar treat for Rahman for Best Original Music Score and Best Song (Jai Ho).

The composer was overwhelmed and interspersed his speech with Hindi as well as Tamil on receiving the coveted trophy here Sunday.

"There is a dialogue from an old Hindi film - "Mere paas ma hai" - which means I have nothing but a mother. My mother is here, I have her blessings. I am glad she could be here," said Rahman.

He ended the acceptance speech by saying "God is great" in Tamil, something he says after winning every award.

He shared the second Oscar for best original song for the film's theme number Jai Ho with noted Indian lyricist Gulzar.

"All my life I had a choice between hate and love. I chose love and I am here," said Rahman after receiving his second golden statuette.

British filmmaker Danny Boyle won the Best Director award. Boyle was visibly excited and overwhelmed as he said "I want to thank my dad, my sisters and my wife... one person we haven't thanked is the choreographer who directed the last song in the film - Longines. I want to thank him too," said Boyle after receiving the award.

The film also won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture. The announcement for Best Picture saw a jubilant cast and crew of the film, celebrating together on the stage

PM congratulates Slumdog Millionaire team

Press Trust of India
February 23, 2009 (New Delhi)

With Slumdog Millionaire creating history at the Oscars, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the entire team of the film including musician A R Rahman has done India proud.

The Prime Minister "congratulates A R Rahman, Resul Pookutty (sound engineer), Gulzar (lyricist), and entire Slumdog Millionaire team for the success at the Oscars," a PMO spokesperson said. Singh said "they have done India proud".

Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee also congratulated the Slumdog team on bringing laurels to India by winning the Oscars.

The film bagged eight awards including two Oscars for Rahman for Best Original Score and Best Song for the song Jai Ho, which was penned by lyricist Gulzar.

Pookutty, a sound technician from Kerala, won the Oscar in the Sound Mixing category. The movie also won the award for Best Film, Best Director for Danny Boyle and Best Adapted Screenplay for Simon Beaufoy.

Resul Pookutty dedicates Oscar to India

Press Trust of India
Monday, February 23, 2009 (Los Angeles)

Sound engineer Resul Pookutty became the third Indian to bring Oscar glory for India by winning the award for sound mixing in Slumdog Millionaire.

"I dedicate this award to my country. This is not just a sound award but a piece of history that has been handed over to me," a beaming and emotional Pookutty said while dedicating the trophy to a billion Indians.

"I come from a country and civilisation that gave the world the word that precedes silence and is followed by more silence. That word is 'Om'. So I dedicate this award to my country," said Kerala-born sound technician.

Pookutty shared the honours with colleagues Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke.

"This is unbelievable. I share the stage with two magicians, who captured the noise and cacophony of Mumbai to create the soul stirring artful sound of Slumdog Millionaire," he said.

Pookutty has won a BAFTA and a more recent Cinema Audio Society (CAS) awards for best sound mixing. He is the first Indian to win the CAS award.

India has made a clean sweep: Anil Kapoor

Monday, February 23, 2009 (New Delhi)

It's been a fairy-tale run for Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars this year. But more importantly, it is a never-before focus on India at the most prestigious film awards in the world.

With Rahman winning two Oscars and Slumdog, that has almost an all-Indian cast and crew, sweeping the Oscars, India is on everyone's mind.

Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor who was at the ceremony, and who even went on to the stage with the entire team when Slumdog won Best Motion Picture - the final award of the day - was most enthusiastic after the ceremony was over.

In an exclusive interview to NDTVMovies from L.A, Kapoor said, "I am very excited. I have never been so excited ever in my life. It's time for me, the whole team of slumdog and every India to cheer and celebrate. We are having an ecstatic moment here in LA. I can only say that India has made a clean sweep here."

He contrinued, "I can't speak too much on phone because there are lot of calls and wishes from every where. I have just spoken to my wife and everyone is extremely happy. I want to say thanks to everyone. It's the support and love of every Indian which has made this dream come true. It's an amazing feeling. I don't know how to express it. We are wishing and exchanging greetings. Thanks a ton. At the moment I can only say 'Jai ho Hindustan, jai ho India jai ho Mumbai, jai Maharashra.'"

Even Irrfan was present at the ceremony and said most gracious things about Rahman. "I am extremely happy for Rahman. Today almost every house here in LA listens to his Jai ho and O saya. I am feeling very proud to see that at the award venue his song is being played. I am really thrilled to see an Indian song being played at the Oscars. It's a great moment for Bollywood and Indian music. "

Slumdog Millionaire won eight award out of the 10 it was nominated for.