issue 206 - April 1990
Film industry reels before video invasion
Photo: Dexter Tiranti
The video and TV explosion in India is fast plunging the world's biggest film industry into ruin. Producer Amit Khanna puts it starkly: 'Film-makers are facing the apocalypse.'
An industry in Bombay which once produced 900 films a year and kept the cash registers jingling is for the first time tasting unexpected bankruptcy. The long ticket queues at all hours for urban cinemas are a thing of the past. Now owners consider themselves lucky if their theatres are half full.
Of the country's 13,000 cinemas dozens have closed already and many more are expected to follow. Star actors like Amitab Bachchan, Anil Kapoor and Vinod Khanna, who once worked on 30 films at a time, are now sitting idle. Bombay film studios that used to be booked for months in advance for shootings can be hired at any time.
The TV and video boom of the 1980s, which started when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched a project to expand the visual media, is to blame. Today 192 transmitters and 176 stations beam TV programmes across the country. TV sets have become licence-free. Major TV programmes are produced in Bombay and New Delhi and beamed via Insat IB, India's domestic satellite.
The number of video recorders in India is increasing by 35,000 every month, and there are more than 100,000 quasi-legal video parlours. They stay open round the clock and it costs less than half the price of a cinema ticket to see a feature film. There are about 30,000 video libraries and piracy has become big business, generating an estimated $700 million a year.
To circumvent broadcasting law private entrepreneurs are providing cable TV to some five million people living in blocks or clusters of buildings in the cities. For Rs15O (about nine dollars) a month subscribers get six to ten hours of video a day from a control room in the basement of a block. As a result, out of 126 Hindi films released in 1988 only 17 paid for themselves. Producers are desperately trying to persuade actors and actresses to scale down their pay. Amitab Bachchan charges $600,000 a picture. New marketing techniques are being tried to sell films to Indians living in the US, Britain, Canada and Singapore. Whether these moves will infuse new life into the moribund industry remains to be seen.
Atiya Singh / Gemini
Low-tech solution for Colombia's poor
Photo: Emma Robson
Jerusalem is one of the sprawling new settlements formed by the relentless climb of poverty up the hills around Bogota, the Colombian capital. It poses the same problems of low income, overcrowding, ill health and poor diet as many other slum areas around the cities of Latin America. Yet some of these are now being overcome by a revolutionary new scheme.
Tito Lopez is one of many residents of Jerusalem now using simple, low-cost technology to grow fresh vegetables on the only available space - his roof. As part of a UN-sponsored pilot project he has raised the family income by 15 per cent. 'And we've probably improved our diet by 30 per cent,' he says. 'Before we only ate cabbage, onions, bananas, rice and flour. Now we have Swiss chard, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, celery and carrots.'
The system he uses is the brainchild of Las Gaviotas Centre, a non-governmental organization specializing in low-cost technologies. The project uses donated rubbish - rice bran from a mill and wooden crates from an autoparts shop - and recycled polythene.
A seed bed is covered with a sheet of black polythene then topped with a thin layer of soil and any porous substance like sand, charcoal or bran. The bed is given a daily sprinkle with a solution containing all the trace elements required for growth. It is delivered either through a watering can or via a simple irrigation system developed by Gaviotas which uses recycled plastic tubes.
The method uses little precious water, costs five dollars per square metre to set up and under nine dollars a year to maintain. Surpluses are sold at guaranteed prices to a newly-established neighbourhood co-operative. The co-op now sells more than three tonnes of vegetables a month. Suppliers of seeds, feeding solution and polythene have sprung up to meet rising demand.
It takes Tito Lopez only two hours a day to tend his plants. Ana Rita Laguna, another Jerusalem resident using the scheme, says she can now do things she couldn't before. 'I can buy so much material that I am making clothes not just for my six children, but for anyone in Jerusalem who asks.'
The project is part of a United Nations Development Programme initiative aimed at reducing extreme poverty in 16 Latin American countries. The challenge now is to persuade Latin America's governments to accept the concept and to help to promote it.
Emma Robson / World Development.
Entertaining education for Malaysians
Gay groups around the world continue to take the lead in the battle against AIDS. They are finding fresh ways of getting across the urgent message about safer sex, linking entertainment to education and practical forms of help.
In Malaysia, to mark World AIDS Day on 1 December 1989, the counselling organization Pink Triangle held a three-day exhibition in the Central Market of Kuala Lumpur. This was easily the largest event in the country, attracting between 7,000 and 10,000 members of the public. Pink Triangle has been in 'show-biz' ever since it started in 1987. It realized that to be effective, especially with young people, AIDS education had to be entertaining. It started its own Drama Troupe who now stage variety shows in discotheques in Kuala Lumpur. But the basis of all Pink Triangle's work is its counselling service. There are currently 32 counsellors, most of them young, who go through Pink Triangle's own training course and three months probation before being designated counsellors.
A core group of more highly trained counsellors, called the AIDS Action Group, deals with the deeper AIDS calls, takes people for the blood test and provides counselling for those who have AIDS and their families.
Reflecting Malaysia's polyglot community, Pink Triangle offers counselling services in 13 languages.
Inevitably there are problems because of Pink Triangle's closeness to the gay community. Behind the scenes there is a good rapport with the Health Ministry. But sadly the Ministry is not allowed to advocate the use of condoms. The Government tends to suggest that AIDS is a foreigners' disease.
A prominent actor-entertainer recently died of AIDS in Kuala Lumpur. There was no mention of AIDS in the obituaries. But as more and more people die 'after a short illness' the truth will eventually have to be acknowledged. Meanwhile the show goes on, as Pink Triangle's dramatists bedazzle, entertain and educate their audiences.
High hopes for the biggest demo ever
On 22 April at least 100 million people are expected to take part in what could be the largest demonstration of all time: Earth Day 1990. In thousands of communities around the world there will be events drawing attention to the threat to our global environment.
In the Philippines there will be a consultation on bio-diversity and in Costa Rica a North-South conference on the disappearance of tropical rainforests. Residents of Seattle will demonstrate against pollution in Puget Sound. Schoolchildren in Mauritius will plant trees. A team of climbers from the US, the Soviet Union and China intends to reach the summit of Mount Everest and clean up the debris left by previous expeditions.
The first Earth Day took place in the US on 22 April 1970. It mobilized more than 20 million Americans demanding action on pollution and environmental legislation. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act and a host of pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth emerged as a result.
This time the event will be international - a response to the fact that environmental threats are global in scope. More than 100 countries from Czechoslovakia to Bangladesh are planning activities.
In the UK both environment and development groups are collaborating to publicize how the burden of debt contributes to the destruction of the environment, particularly the rainforests. The 14 countries with rapid loss of rainforests are amongst the 17 most heavily indebted countries. A major focus of the campaign is the demand that banks accept responsibility for over-lending and reduce or cancel the debts of the world's poorest countries.
It remains to be seen whether politicians over the next decade will follow the example set by their citizens and co-operate to defend the endangered Earth.
Zimbabwe says ivory trading should go on
On the face of it, the international ban on trade in ivory that came into effect in January is the best way to protect the elephant, which in parts of Africa is threatened with extinction. But five Southern African countries, led by Zimbabwe, oppose the ban, saying that they have more elephants than their environment can sustain. The argument raises basic questions about the relationship between people and wildlife.
Zimbabwe stands to lose some six million dollars a year from the closure of traditional ivory markets; at least 30 per cent of the 800 people employed in the industry face the immediate loss of their livelihood.
Rowan Martin, of the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management, believes that Zimbabwe has a successful wildlife conservation strategy. 'Unless natural resources have a very high value placed on them, they tend to be displaced by other developments in the country,' he says. 'We've been very successful so far in extending that philosophy into all the rural areas of Zimbabwe, and our wildlife is continually increasing.'
Put simply, if wildlife has the same value for peasant farmers as their domestic livestock, they will look after it. When asked by a Western journalist if she had any qualms about wearing an ivory necklace, Zimbabwe's outspoken Minister of Tourism and Natural Resources, Victoria Chitepo, retorted: 'Do you have qualms about wearing shoes?'
Compared with East African countries, where animals have been fenced off and poached indiscriminately, Zimbabwe has 61,000 head of elephant - about twice the country's ideal carrying capacity. Now, with the ivory ban reducing the value of elephants, conservationists fear that more - not fewer - elephants are going to be killed. According to Rowan Martin, 'people are simply not prepared to have elephants on their property when it is a large, valueless animal that eats their crop.'
Martin says wildlife should not be considered an international resource. 'It belongs to the people who pay the cost of its upkeep, in the country where it lives. We regard our wildlife in much the same way as our domestic livestock. And no one thinks of cows and sheep as belonging to the world at large.
Either way, the future of the African elephant in the wild is now in doubt.
Colleen Lowe Morna / Panos