Reel Ferangi

first_imgI gave my credit card to the hotel receptionist, knowing there remained only £50 that was reasonably useable, some credit, but it would buy me one night’s sleep in air conditioned bliss 10 floors up and overlooking the Bharati-Disneyland that comprises Ramoji Film City near Hyderabad.I had been cast as the ‘Maitre d’ Hotel’ in an action flick by U.S. producers. The director, a doppelganger of Steven Speilberg with greyer hair, all manic, but focused energy; his assistant, a glamor model and recovering coke addict, so the English production designer told me. He was a broad set tattoed shaman who moved stateside to Los Angeles many years ago. He never looked back, he said, but had been warned by his spiritual guides not to come to India. I assume they were here to make the movie on the cheap, low labor costs, no union trouble, who quite knows. I had been sleeping in the shared rooms of a hostel with the multifarious others who made up the extra list of foreigners as “junior artistes,” making their way around India and happy to be in a fillum for some small remuneration – hippies, yoga-bunglers, travellers, ashramites, the confused, the possessed and the dispossessed. For myself, I was living the life of a Hemingwayed near-vagabond poet on the east coast near Pondicherry and was happy to accept the invitation of a trip to Neverland and help tell a story, embody the myth or explain a dream. I’ve not had a credit card since. Perhaps in that, as British author Arthur Koestler posits, “there are no co-incidences.”As the bell boy drops my rucksack by the bed, he turns on the television set, the first I’ve seen in months. An aeroplane is crashing into one of the Twin Towers in The Big Apple. A worm in the heart of a fruit? The bell boy yelps with glee “Great action-movie!” With some difficulty in my broken Tamil cum Teleguese I try to explain the calamitous real time events as a ticker-tape runs an eastern standard time commentary underneath the astonishing images. I offer my profuse apologies to an American film-producer, checking out in the lobby downstairs, frantically trying to re-arrange a flight back to New York via Canada, “Whadda ya apologisin’ for? Your coun-tree is the Motha and Fatha of my coun-tree!” I acknowledge the gravity of his remark with some incredulity and although English by nativity, I am happy I am home in India at this time.Lucky is the man who has not lived in someone else’s Empire at some point in history. My being a foreign actor in Bollywood, Colly, Tolly and Mollywood is what I suspect it was like for an actor of Afro-Carribean or Asian descent in “the west” during the 1960s or 1970s – there just ‘aint the parts. Even here in Mumbai, with its sea of daily arrivals, I will ever be foreign and never an immigrant or migrant. As life imitates art, so film mirrors India and her myriad villages. On a commercial film-shoot recently in Mumbai, the visiting crew of Bangalorians collectively asked for Bombay’s famous vada-pav for lunch; the local Mumbaikers wanted pizza from Domino’s. I can’t begin to extrapolate the sociological dimensions of that scene. Sometimes I feel I have as much in common with a Tamilian Brahmin as he does with an apple farmer in Himachal Pradesh. The village is a common humanity – that and KFC. Pursuing my burgeoning Bollywood career after a spat in publishing, I am resigned to portraying cameo roles in Saas Baahu soap-operas: as the visiting American Dot.Com millionaire enticing the top desi-IIT’ian to cross the Atlantic with offers of work in Silicon Valley, earning mega-bucks to remit back home to the family; a foreign professor offering a place at a prestigious college overseas; a phoren man on a train; ferangi man at a party; a ferang doctor or a foreign tourist. You should have seen me as Sherlock Holmes or Spaceman and that time I fought Ahmed in a bar with a knife.Abishek Bachchan stood over my blood stained body and asked me how it felt now I had chosen to be an actor. It felt like I had been lying in a pool of blood for four hours waiting for the stunt-director to get the rope trick right. How was he to know I’d given up the mantle of experimental theatre-director “as vehicle for social change,” for this playful lack of responsibility? No socially relevant message to hang on Shakespeare for an audience. Only to profer help to Priyanka “Piggy Chops” as “Steve the Baker” to save AB from the hands of the evil dark-forces on a cave-like film-set in a hangar at Film-City. A classically trained Czech actress of some repute, who the producers have flown in to play a kindly nun for the shot, is astonished at this country, “this this, everything,” having fought through a revolution or two to find herself here in the exasperating heat.Ah, my many avatars, how are you? I have been killed three times in my last three films and am expecting another death at the hands of the Mallayalam superstar Mammooty(ka) next month, clad in a scarlet uniform and sporting the appropriate moustache and side-burns. Of course, I shall kill a few natives before that, hang a few period freedom-fighters and laugh with my colonial accomplices who are also eeking out a living in Mumbai when not dressed as oppressors or penguins and the like. Luckily, I am not oppressed, though it sometimes feels like it, sitting on my backside for 14 hours dressed in scarlet body-hugging uniform in tropical heat waiting for a shot that might last a minute or so.The number of foreign actors waiting patiently by their cell-phones hereabouts can be counted on one hand and a small foot. The rest of those you spy in Hindi dance sequences gyrating their hearts out, are mostly coke-snorting Colaba-hostelled tourists following the Lonely Planet guide for a vacation experience in Bollywood. So come on over boys and girls, plenty to see here, if you can live in Mumbai and its attendant paradox. And bring a panacea. Donned in the uniform of a Muscovite police commandant, during a gun-shooting sequence in the middle of a post harvest paddy field in Tamil Nadu, set-dressed to look like the Siberian bad-lands, I am acting with a couple of Tamil stars whose names I cannot recall. We were not introduced, it was a stand-off and we all killed one another, blood bags exploding in our chests from a small electrical charge. I was holding a revolver which backfired, wounding the knuckle of my thumb. The director instructed me not to move from my death position as the camera man changed his shooting angle. Underneath the mid-afternoon sun, expecting someone with antiseptic wipes to clean my wound, I only find a make-up man adding fake blood to my own to exaggerate the bleeding, for the authenticity of the shot. “Vil make look bettera!” says the make-up man with a smile as demure as a dentist’s advertising campaign. Staring up at the blue sky from my prostrate position amidst the rice stubble, I wonder, fingers tingling, maybe that day job behind a desk is not such an horrific option after all?Some unscrupulous film co-ordinators often send an actor to an audition merely to collect a payment per attendant model from a producer, knowing that the model is unsuitable for the part and wholly unlikely to be cast. Standing in line for six hours amongst 80 young Indian hopefuls, preening themselves with oil, getting that perfect hairstyle and the like in full length mirrors for the part of a cricket umpire is not my idea of cricket. When I was asked to audition for the part of the head of the CIA for a film, no one could explain to me at the time, but my only commensurate local competitors were Gary, Harry, James, Brandon, Simon and Alex. Sorry boys. The two emaciated young Russian men, resembling rough sleepers from the streets of Goregoan (or had they fallen out of the Gulag that we have all forgotten existed), failed the assistant director’s obligatory “look test.” But, maybe undercover CIA? They stare at me walking through the doors of the producer’s office and the less hungry-looking of the two exclaims “Ah, zo you vant to be vamous Bollievood movie ztar too, huh?” Casually feigning indifference, I brush them aside with a “Whaddya mean, wanna be? I am.” Oh, the trappings and conceit of Bollywood bit-parters.“What’s the fillum?” I ask the young man trying to size me up with his video camera, “It’s a fantasy rooted in the global reality of terrorism, post 9/11. Do you carry your photographs?” he says. Like, that is it. Each of us embodies the myth that gives scant regard to geography.Two months later, long after I had forgotten the experience, I was in a rickshaw on a Sunday morning travelling to an abandoned cotton mill in the middle of the city, to meet The President. Unusually I had been given a couple of days notice. The President is called Brent, recently flown in from Kansas City for the gig. “Ah yoused ter be in cohn-struh-cshion,” he will tell me later as we sit in an air-conditioned vanity van rehearsing our repartee for the President’s office aboard a mock-up of Airforce One.At the gate I notice a small barber shop and decide to get an American crew cut worthy of the Secret Services. A small Muslim man in a vest and lunghi greets me at the door and sends his errand boy off to fetch a milk rich chai. He gestures to my head with a pair of scissors in a question only meant to mean “How would you like it sahr. Short, krew cutta,” and he’s clipping away with an exactitude I have only found in India. Afterwards he douses my neck with talcum powder and we exchange “Asallams” and a small amount of money. I feel American.Standing on a train station platform in suburban Mumbai, returning home after an audition to play a blond haired German gentleman in an auction house – don’t mention the war – an apparently frail, but what seemed similar old man, sporting a long wiry white beard dressed in white kurta, pyjamas and skull cap turned, looked up to me quizzically and asked “You Ah-merrikan or You-roh-pean?” “Neither,” I answered, “English.”With that and a rare sparkle in his eyes he began to dance a little jig. Merrily like a bingo-winning dwarf tripping out on a psychotropic substance, singing “Ah-hee, divide and rhule! Ahh-hee, dee-vide and rhule…” As the train pulled out of the station, the old man still jigging on the platform to the amazement of the gathered crowd, I wondered if it was history jabbing my side or just the density of the packed train, bodies crammed beyond capacity. Ah-heeeee…The “fantasy rooted in the global reality of terrorism,” the director explains to the press, in what must be the beginning of a relentless world-wide promotional campaign, is set: “…in a world where Osama bin Laden is the rock star of terrorism. The pace is relentless and the action, mind boggling.”Rock stars of terrorism eh? Bono wielding an AK 47, Bowie blowing holes in the United Nations? Simple minds doing things with semtex. It all seems a very long way from the dereliction of post-industrial Mumbai in the cotton mill.Brent sweating his proverbials off exclaiming, “Ah diddun thank there’d be so murch poverdee here hiv yoh seeyen the sdreeds?”Thirty eastern European turquoise panti-clad dancing girlies are running around from the set next door arguing with a smiling artists’ co-ordinator about the lack of suitable drinking water. On film, I am explaining to The President (he looks extraordinarily like the real thing on the playback images) that “the Turkey siduashion” is not to do with a Thanksgiving bird shortage, more a “country thing” and he’s having a really difficult time pronouncing the name of the Indian Prime Minister, “Mahn, moh, harn Seengh? Coord ah git a glahss o’ wahder?”We must have travelled some distance from that time in Hyderabad, yet perhaps no distance at all, if instead of reacting to images flickering real-time on our television screens we are now portraying them on that silver screen. I hope that somehow we are making history and putting it somewhere in the past where we can watch it in fiction in a darkened room. The chips on both my balanced shoulders tell me to doubt it. As my friend Anne says, each generation will try again to live the dream, save the planet, ease the suffering and bring love and peace to the world. Until they discover what is happening is the dream. For me, I’ll certainly keep dreaming. That – and pay the rent.Peter Handley Evans is an English writer actor and theatre director. He will be seen later this year in Goldie Behl’s Drona, Ketan Mehta’s, Colours of Passion, Apoorva Lakhia’s Mission Istanbul and Hariharan’s Mallayalam magnum opus Pazhassi Raja. Related Itemslast_img read more

As OPEC Meets, Sizing Up Its Power and Its Politics

first_imgOn Thursday, more than 200 oil industry representatives, financial analysts and journalists are expected to crowd into a basement auditorium at the headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It is a tricky time for OPEC at its twice-yearly gathering, and, more important, for the oil industry and consumers who depend on the world’s most abundant energy source.Oil prices have been volatile in recent months. West Texas Intermediate crude rose to $76 a barrel in early October, the highest level since 2014, before plunging 35 percent to below $50 a barrel last Thursday, and then rising again Monday to about $53 a barrel.Adding to the uncertainty, any steps OPEC takes to curb production or raise prices may anger President Donald Trump, who has tried to influence the oil markets in more obvious ways than any of his predecessors. Trump was ready with a tweet that landed midafternoon Wednesday in Vienna, putting the crowd on notice that he was watching.“Hopefully OPEC will be keeping oil flows as is, not restricted,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “The World does not want to see, or need, higher oil prices!”As OPEC prepares to meet, here is a checklist to help understand its power and its political sway.Why does OPEC draw a crowd?The 15-member organization produces about 40 percent of the world’s oil, and the group has a history of adjusting production to guide the market. OPEC is seen as a kind of oracle, especially when markets are jittery.It is a gathering where an official like Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Khalid al-Falih, who speaks for around 12 percent of world oil output, can hold an informal news conference in a hotel lobby. “At the end of the day they are the closest thing to a regulator or central bank of the oil markets,” said Helima Croft, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank.How does OPEC work?OPEC is a different organization than it was before a notorious meeting four years ago — Thanksgiving Day 2014 — when the Saudis declined to intervene in the markets and sent oil prices crashing. Since then, Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, has coordinated with Russia, once a rival, and both have benefited.Other oil-producing countries are too small or hamstrung by political constraints to control the conversation. During the last two years, the Saudis, the world’s largest exporters, and Russia, which has been producing about 12 percent of world output, have called the shots.A high-five between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G-20 summit meeting in Argentina last week was a sign of how closely their interests are aligned.“We call it OPEC, but it is a whole different system now. The managing committee is just two countries,” said Bhushan Bahree, an OPEC analyst at IHS Markit, a research firm.Last summer, for instance, Saudi Arabia and Russia opened up the taps — in response to complaints about rising prices from the United States and other producers — leading to price declines and now-present worries about oversupply. The move brought complaints from other members, notably from Iran, that the Saudis run OPEC for their own benefit.What is likely to happen?Most analysts say that the oil producers have little choice but to announce a substantial cut in production of at least 1 million barrels a day, or around 1 percent of world oil supplies. Otherwise, prices could slide into the $40-a-barrel range or lower, squeezing the oil-dependent economies of member countries.The purpose of cuts is to reduce supplies, to bolster prices and also to change market psychology.“They need to cut because otherwise there will be a massive oversupply next year,” said Ann-Louise Hittle, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a market research firm.What does Qatar’s announcement that it will leave OPEC mean?Qatar, like Iran, appears to be fed up with Saudi Arabia’s dominance of OPEC. The minister of state for energy affairs, Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, explained the decision on Monday by saying that the oil business was “controlled by an organization managed by a country,” apparently referring to the Saudis. Qatar will leave next year.Some analysts think that mutual interest in propping up prices may override discontent in the organization. “Most of the countries want someone to do some cutting,” said Bill Farren-Price, a director of RS Energy Group, a research firm. “They just don’t want to do it themselves.”Can OPEC stop the price drops?In the short term, yes. Al-Falih has been traveling the world, lobbying for cuts. On Saturday he scored a big victory when Putin said at the G-20 meeting that Moscow was ready to once again cooperate on market management. Predictably, oil prices jumped.Over the longer term, though, what happens in the markets depends on several questions — likely to be answered in the next few months. First of all, how much oil will the Russians, whose companies are enjoying their country’s highest output ever, actually cut?Another uncertainty is how much Iranian oil will the Trump administration’s sanctions take off the market. Sanctions went into effect in November but not as robustly as might have been expected. Washington’s granting of waivers to some of Tehran’s best customers, including China, Japan and India, led traders to suspect that the administration was not as committed to drying up Iranian crude sales as it earlier appeared.Iranian exports, though, now appear headed downward. Alex Booth, an analyst at Kpler, a firm in Paris that tracks tanker movements by satellite, said Tehran’s exports fell to about 1 million barrels a day in November compared with an average of 2.7 million barrels a day in the three months from April to June.The surging global demand that had been helping to prop up prices is also beginning to look wobbly. Wood Mackenzie, the energy consultancy, has forecast that demand will grow by about 1.1 million barrels a day this year and next year. That is a 20 percent deceleration from 2017, linked to a slowing world economy.Has Saudi Arabia lost credibility?Analysts say there are doubts about how much room Saudi Arabia has to maneuver.Al-Falih is believed to be guided by analyses of the oil markets and, perhaps more significantly, by the demands of Crown Prince Mohammed, who has been embroiled in a scandal over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.Traders also worry that Saudi oil policy will be influenced by Washington. The Trump administration has pushed Riyadh, through presidential tweets and other channels, to keep production high to tamp down prices for American consumers and to buffer the new sanctions against Iran.“The Saudis are already finding that their ability to impact the markets through messaging and signals has diminished as a result of their challenging domestic politics,” Farren-Price said.What role does the United States play?The most potent force in the oil markets may be the third global oil leader, a surprise player that won’t be in the room on Thursday.Oil production from the United States has been stronger than even some of the best-informed people in the industry expected. For instance, Saudi Arabia and Russia together increased production by just over a combined 1 million barrels a day from May to October. In that period the United States, benefiting from shale production, pumped up output by even more — 1.2 million barrels a day — according to statistics from the International Energy Agency.By cutting output and raising prices, OPEC risks encouraging more investment by the shale oil producers in the United States and, in turn, losing market share.“The United States is the prime agent of transformation” in the oil markets, analysts at IHS Markit wrote in October in a note to clients. “In turn, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the leaders of a global response team,” reacting largely to shock waves set off by the United States.In other words, the United States is roiling the market — whether through booming domestic production or by curbing other countries’ exports through sanctions or by leaning on the Saudis to influence their oil decisions.c.2018 New York Times News Service Related Itemslast_img read more