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FILE PHOTO: A man uses his mobile phone to take photographs of a poster of the upcoming film
FILE PHOTO: A man uses his mobile phone to take photographs of a poster of the upcoming film “PM Narendra Modi” during the launch of its poster in Mumbai, India, January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File photo

April 10, 2019

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Nivedita Bhattacharjee

MUMBAI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Early this year, a dozen of Bollywood’s biggest names took a private jet from India’s film capital of Mumbai to New Delhi for a private audience with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Subsequently, actor Ranveer Singh, who has nearly 22 million followers on Instagram, posted a smiling picture of himself hugging Modi, with a caption expressing his “joy” at the encounter, drawing more than 3 million likes.

Bollywood is playing a lead role in Modi’s campaign for a second term, endorsing him on-screen and off, in both subtle and obvious ways, in a marked shift from the more transactional relationship Indian film stars previously had with politicians.

Modi asked filmmakers and stars to “talk about patriotism, and Indian culture and values,” in their films, said film producer Mahaveer Jain, who organized the Jan. 10 meeting.

“He recognizes the soft power of Bollywood, and the impact it can have.”

As people younger than 35 form nearly two-thirds of India’s population of about 1.3 billion, with more than 15 million voting for the first time in general elections that begin on Thursday, approval from the leading stars could be key.

Modi swept to victory in 2014, but this time, rural distress and concern about a lack of jobs threaten to make it tougher for his party to triumph in elections spread over a month, with counting set for May 23.

In recent months, Modi has met privately at least four times with several of Bollywood’s biggest personalities, most of whom have posted selfies with him on social media, accompanied by glowing captions.

“Together we would love to inspire and ignite positive changes toward a transformative India,” read a caption on director Karan Johar’s Instagram post of a star-studded group selfie with Modi that won more than 1 million likes. He thanked the government for cutting taxes on movie tickets.

“There is perhaps no politician in the history of Indian politics who has been able to create a celebrity outreach program like Narendra Modi,” said Joyojeet Pal, a University of Michigan professor who has analyzed Modi’s social media feed since 2009.

A BJP spokesman did not respond to Reuters’ repeated requests for comment.

(For video, click on https://reut.tv/2Gc7ooq)

Bollywood’s move to largely embrace Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party contrasts with the United States, where Hollywood has typically taken up liberal-left causes and backed the Democrats, more lately lampooning President Donald Trump and the right-wing Republican Party.


Beyond social media, Bollywood has released three movies with lead actors in prime ministerial roles this year.

One, “Uri – The Surgical Strike” proved the year’s biggest hit, pulling in a gross of more than $35 million at the Indian box office.

In speeches, Modi and his ministers have repeatedly evoked the film, which indirectly lauds the prime minister and his national security adviser for planning a 2016 attack that India says hit terrorist camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

But it has no political leanings, says director Aditya Dhar. “My film is a dedication to the Indian Army,” Dhar told Reuters in January https://in.reuters.com/article/interview-aditya-dhar-uri/qa-aditya-dhar-on-uri-the-surgical-strike-idINKCN1P50J3. “It is about the sacrifices they make for their countrymen.”

The film released the same weekend as “The Accidental Prime Minister”, based on an unauthorized biography of Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh.

That film, which did not succeed at the box office, projected open contempt for Singh, painting him as ineffective and forced to bow to the whims of the Gandhi family, which heads India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress.

“You can clearly say some of these films are propaganda films,” said influential film critic Rajeev Masand. “There is no confusion on the agenda there.”

A biopic titled “PM Narendra Modi” is set for release on Thursday, when the first votes are to be cast in the seven-phase election, and it follows a 10-episode web series on Modi’s life.


Not everyone is jumping on the Modi bandwagon.

More than 800 theater artists, actors and film makers urged voters not to back Modi last week, but barring a few, most were independent and documentary film makers lacking the reach of Bollywood’s A-listers.

“The man portrayed as the savior of the nation five years ago has destroyed the livelihoods of millions through his policies,” they said on the website Artists Unite.

“We appeal to our fellow citizens to vote for love and compassion, for equality and social justice, and to defeat the forces of darkness and barbarism.”

The main opposition Congress party has also sought to woo Bollywood and a separate source said filmmakers were invited to meet its leader, Rahul Gandhi.

The agenda for that meeting is unknown and Gandhi’s office did not respond to calls seeking comment.

“My Name is RaGa,” a less publicized movie about Gandhi, is also set for release this month.

Traditionally, Bollywood stars functioned as crowd-pullers at the odd election rally, often for remuneration. Though many later took the plunge into politics, no political party has deployed them as subliminal brand ambassadors before.

“This is alarming because Indian cinema is a huge influencer,” said Sandeep Chatterjee, professor of direction and screenplay at the Film and Television Institute of India.

“One can say people have a right to decide what they watch, but you cannot discount the influence Indian cinema has on people at large, especially young people.”

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Nivedita Bhattacharjee; Additional reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Martin Howell and Clarence Fernandez)

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FILE PHOTO: Grauman's Egyptian theatre is seen as preparations continue for the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
FILE PHOTO: Grauman’s Egyptian theatre is seen as preparations continue for the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

April 9, 2019

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Netflix Inc is in discussions to buy the Egyptian Theatre, a historic movie house in the heart of Hollywood, a source with knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.

The world’s dominant streaming service would use the Los Angeles venue to host film premieres and other industry events, the source said. There are no current plans to sell tickets to the public.

Netflix has been at odds with many theater owners because it has resisted the traditional industry practice of showing films exclusively in cinemas for roughly 90 days. Instead, Netflix sends theatrical releases to its online service on the same day or just a few weeks after they hit the big screen.

The Egyptian Theatre opened in 1922 with the first-ever movie premiere, a screening of “Robin Hood” starring Douglas Fairbanks.

The current owner is the non-profit American Cinematheque, which hosts screenings of classic films and would still offer programming on weekends, according to the source.

American Cinematheque did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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FILE PHOTO: Actor Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli leave the federal courthouse in Boston
FILE PHOTO: Actor Lori Loughlin, and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, leave the federal courthouse after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

April 9, 2019

BOSTON (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors filed fresh conspiracy and money laundering charges on Tuesday against 16 parents charged with paying bribes to secure their children seats in elite universities in the largest college admissions scam uncovered in U.S. history.

Parents including “Full House” actor Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli had already been charged with racketeering conspiracy for their alleged role in the scheme, in which parents paid some $25 million in bribes to secure their offspring places at universities including Yale, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.

Fourteen parents, including “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, on Monday pleaded guilty to taking part in the scam, masterminded by California college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer.

Singer last month pleaded guilty to facilitating the cheating scam and bribing coaches to present the parents’ children as fake athletic recruits.

Prosecutors have not yet charged any applicants and said that in some cases the parents involved took steps to try to prevent their children from realizing they were benefiting from fraud.

Colleges have begun revoking the admissions and pursuing expulsion of students who obtained their seats as a result of the fraud.

(Reporting by Scott Malone, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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FILE PHOTO: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss arrive for the premiere of the final season of
FILE PHOTO: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss arrive for the premiere of the final season of “Game of Thrones” at Radio City Music Hall in New York, U.S., April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/File Photo

April 9, 2019

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The creators of global smash television series “Game of Thrones” say they knew how they would end the show five years ago, and are anxious that fans will like it.

“We want people to love it. It matters a lot to us,” said D.B. Weiss, who along with David Benioff created the series that is based on the novels of George R.R. Martin.

“We also know that no matter what we do, even if it’s the optimal version, that a certain number of people will hate the best of all possible versions,” Weiss told Entertainment Weekly in an interview that was published on Tuesday.

The final six episodes of HBO’s award-winning medieval fantasy series set among warring families in the fictional kingdom of Westeros launches on Sunday and concludes on May 19.

Weiss said he and Benioff had “known the major beats for at least five years” of how the show would end.

Season 7, which was broadcast in 2017, saw the characters head toward a great battle over the Iron Throne while a zombie army of White Walkers, led by the undead Night King, march south to destroy humanity.

The two executive producers said it has grown harder and harder to keep details of the plots secret. Although based on Martin’s series of novels “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the show has long gone beyond Martin’s books.

“We won’t be relieved until the final episode airs without a leak. We’re certainly happy we got through production without a leak. But there have been issues that have happened in post-production, or a week before an episode airs. So we’re entering the most dangerous time,” Benioff told Entertainment Weekly.

Weiss and Benioff said they plan to go offline when the finale is aired in May.

“We’ll be in an undisclosed location, turning off our phones and opening various bottles,” said Weiss.

“I plan to be very drunk and very far from the internet,” added Benioff.

“Game of Thrones” has won multiple Emmy awards and is HBO’s biggest hit ever with some 30 million viewers in the United States and an army of devoted fans worldwide.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Singer Gloria Estefan poses for a photograph at the London Coliseum theatre where her
Singer Gloria Estefan poses for a photograph at the London Coliseum theatre where her “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan” musical will start in June in London, Britain April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

April 9, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – A musical depicting the love story between singer Gloria Estefan, the Cuban-American pop star, and her music producer husband Emilio, opens in London in June.

“On Your Feet!” will feature some of her most famous hits such as “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, and “Don’t Want to Lose You Now” and will track the couple’s childhoods in Cuba, their meeting in Miami and path to worldwide fame.

“It’s a love story not just between him and I, it’s a love story to music and a love story to both our nations, the ones where we were born, Cuba, and the United States, that opened its arms to us,” the 61-year-old singer told Reuters.

“Music is the core. It got us, both Emilio and I, through our most difficult moments and it continues to enrich our lives.

She and Emilio have been married for 40 years.

The part of Gloria will be played by Christie Prades.

“You’re going to get the hits that people know here,” she said, but there will also be lesser-known songs that match the scenes, she added.

Working on the musical has seen her relive some painful, intense moments.

“I got so emotional, I looked to my husband for support. He was crying like a baby already and I go, ‘God, are we going to do this? How are we going to do this?’”

“I have cried more in the last five years than in my entire lifetime because emotionally, you know, you just keep reliving things.”

Gloria Estefan has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and is the most successful Latin crossover performer in the history of pop music. She and her husband have won 26 Grammy awards between them.

The show will run at the London Coliseum from June 14 to Aug. 31, and before that for seven dates at Curve, Leicester.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Elton John performs during his
FILE PHOTO – Elton John performs during his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” final tour at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, U.S. January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

April 9, 2019

By Stephanie Nebehay

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) – Elton John is the big draw at this summer’s Montreux Jazz Festival, part of an eclectic line-up packed with big names that also features Sting, Janet Jackson, Chick Corea and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.

The former The Police singer will open the 53rd edition of one of Europe’s most celebrated summer music festivals on June 28, while veteran producer Quincy Jones will host the closing concert – an orchestral soundtrack of his 80s hits – on July 13.

In between, Sir Elton, Anita Baker and Joan Baez will appear as part of their respective farewell tours.

The English singer-songwriter was initially booked for two nights, but those appearances have been merged into single show for 15,000 fans on June 29 at Saussaz stadium, a new venue for Montreux.

It will be the first ever open-air performance at the festival, better known for the intimacy and superb sound quality of its concert hall settings.

Janet Jackson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, will perform days after the 10th anniversary of her brother Michael’s death from an overdose of an anesthetic he used as a sleep agent.

For jazz purists, multiple Grammy winner Corea brings a flamenco flavor with his Spanish Heart Band, while New Orleans trumpeters Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and Terence Blanchard will open for drummer Billy Cobham, celebrating his 75th birthday.

“When you see the strong personalities booked at (the main) Stravinski Auditorium, maybe that is the guiding principle of this year … – all artists who marked a moment in music,” festival director Mathieu Jaton told Reuters.

“There is an equilibrium between legends, returning acts, (and) the young stars.”

The latter include Canadian Jessie Reyez and U.S. rapper Lizzo, in the charts with her third single “Juice” and opening for actress and singer Janelle Monae – returning after a Grammy album of the year nomination for “Dirty Computer”.

Melody Gardot is making her first appearance in the cabaret 600-seat Club. “Shotgun” singer George Ezra, who won the British Male Solo Artist at the BRIT Awards in February, moves to the main stage.

Lauryn Hill is expected to revisit Nina Simone classics and her own R&B hits.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by John Stonestreet)

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FILE PHOTO: Madonna performs
FILE PHOTO: Madonna performs “Nothing Compares 2 U” during her tribute to Prince at the 2016 Billboard Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

April 8, 2019

(Reuters) – Pop superstar Madonna will make a guest appearance at the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel next month, her representatives said on Monday.

Concert promoters Live Nation Israel and the singer’s U.S. representatives confirmed reports in Israeli media that Madonna will perform two songs in Tel Aviv during the three-day Eurovsion competition in May, which features musicians from more than 40 nations.

Israel was chosen to host the contest after local singer Netta Barzilai won last year in Portugal with “Toy”, propelling her to international stardom. The winning country customarily hosts the following year.

The Israeli venue has already prompted calls for a boycott by pro-Palestinian activists who are campaigning for companies, performers and governments to disengage from Israel.

In January some 50 British celebrities, including singers Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel, wrote a letter calling on the BBC to press for the 2019 Eurovision contest to be relocated.

Madonna took her world tours to Israel in 2009 and 2012 and has been a follower of the mystical form of Judaism called Kabbalah.

She has been working on an untitled new album for the last several months.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Actor Felicity Huffman leaves the federal courthouse after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston
Actor Felicity Huffman leaves the federal courthouse after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl

April 8, 2019

BOSTON (Reuters) – Actress Felicity Huffman and 13 other people have agreed to plead guilty to participating in what prosecutors call the largest college admissions scam uncovered in U.S. history, federal prosecutors said on Monday.

The 14 are among 50 people accused by federal prosecutors in Boston of engaging in schemes that involved cheating on college entrance exams and paying $25 million in bribes to secure their children admission at well-known universities.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

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Actress Allison Mack departs the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse after facing charges regarding sex trafficking and racketeering related to the Nxivm cult case in New York
Actress Allison Mack departs the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse after facing charges regarding sex trafficking and racketeering related to the Nxivm cult case in New York, U.S., April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

April 8, 2019

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – “Smallville” actress Allison Mack on Monday pleaded guilty to blackmailing two women as part of an alleged New York sex cult that prosecutors called a racketeering operation that carried out sex trafficking and other crimes.

Mack, 36, entered her plea to racketeering and conspiracy charges before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn federal court, admitting that she coerced the two unnamed women unto performing services by threatening to release damaging information about them.

Fighting back tears, Mack said she had joined the organization, led by self-described spiritual guide Keith Raniere, a decade ago to find purpose in life.

“Through it all, I believed that Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people,” she said. “I was wrong. I now realize that I and others engaged in criminal conduct.”

There was no mention at the plea hearing of any agreement by Mack to cooperate with prosecutors against Raniere, who is expected to go on trial later this month. Her lawyers declined to provide any further details about her plea deal.

Raniere, 58, was arrested on sex trafficking charges in March 2018, and is being held without bail. Mack was arrested the following month.

Prosecutors accused Raniere of running a cult-like secret society within his organization, Nxivm (pronounced “Nexium”), in which women were branded with his initials, put on extremely restrictive diets and forced to have sex with him.

Last month, prosecutors unsealed new charges accusing Raniere of sexually exploiting a minor and coercing her to produce child pornography.

Raniere has pleaded not guilty. Marc Agnifilo, one of his lawyers, declined to comment on the case after Monday’s hearing. Agnifilo has previously said that his client’s sexual encounters with women in the organization were consensual, and denied the child pornography charges.

Nxivm on its website calls itself “a community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human.”

“Smallville,” a television series that ran from 2001 to 2011, featured a young Clark Kent before he became famous as Superman. Mack played Chloe Sullivan, a close friend of the future Superman whose romantic feelings were not reciprocated.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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Oprah Winfrey talks on stage during a taping of her TV show in the Manhattan borough of New York City
FILE PHOTO: Oprah Winfrey talks on stage during a taping of her TV show in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

April 8, 2019

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Oprah Winfrey is donating $2 million to help rebuild Puerto Rico and support arts and cultural programs after the devastating 2017 hurricane.

The Hispanic Federation and the Flamboyan Arts Fund said in a statement on Monday that $1 million would go to support long-term needs after Hurricane Maria, and a further $1 million would be devoted to arts and culture programs on the island.

Winfrey, one of the most influential media moguls in the United States, said she was inspired by the efforts of musical theater creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who took his hit stage show “Hamilton” to the island for a limited run in January.

“I was so moved by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s commitment to bring ‘Hamilton’ to Puerto Rico and support the community that served him growing up that I wanted to join in the revitalization efforts of an island so rich in culture, beauty and heritage,” Winfrey said in a statement.

Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, killed an estimated 3,000 people in the U.S. territory, destroyed homes and infrastructure, and left much of the island without drinking water or electricity for months.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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