June    2023

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  • Country's first liquid mirror telescope comes up in Uttarakhand

    New Delhi, June 2 (IANS) The first liquid mirror telescope in the country and the largest in Asia - commissioned atop Devasthal, a hill in Uttarakhand - will now keep a watch on the overhead sky to identify transient or variable objects such as supernovae, gravitational lenses, space debris, and asteroids. The Indian Liquid Mirror Telescope (ILMT) will help in surveying the sky, making it possible to observe several galaxies and other astronomical sources just by staring at the strip of sky that passes overhead. Built by astronomers from India, Belgium and Canada, the novel instrument employs a 4-meter-diameter rotating mirror made up of a thin film of liquid mercury to collect and focus light. It is located at an altitude of 2,450 metres at the Devasthal Observatory campus of Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India in Nainital district, Uttarakhand. The scientists from the three countries spun a pool of mercury, which is a reflective liquid, so that the surface curved into a parabolic shape. It is ideal for focusing light. A thin transparent film of mylar protects the mercury from wind. The reflected light passes through a sophisticated multi-lens optical corrector that produces sharp images over a wide field of view. A large-format electronic camera located at the focus records the images. Paul Hickson from the University of British Columbia, Canada, an expert on liquid mirror technology, said, "The rotation of the earth causes the images to drift across the camera, but this motion is compensated electronically by the camera. This mode of operation increases observing efficiency and makes the telescope particularly sensitive to faint and diffuse objects." "ILMT is the first liquid-mirror telescope designed exclusively for astronomical observations installed at the Devasthal Observatory of ARIES," said Dipankar Banerjee, Director, ARIES. Devasthal Observatory now hosts two four-meter class telescopes - the ILMT and the Devasthal Optical Telescope (DOT). The telescope was designed and built by the Advanced Mechanical and Optical Systems (AMOS) Corporation and the Centre Spatial de Liege in Belgium. The ILMT collaboration includes researchers from ARIES in India; the University of Liege and the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Belgium; Poznan Observatory in Poland; Ulugh Beg Astronomical Institute in Uzbek, Academy of Sciences and National University of Uzbekistan; University of British Columbia, Laval University, University of Montreal, University of Toronto, York University and University of Victoria, all in Canada. ians

  • Hindi film industry: Always rudderless

    Film folk, especially those in the Hindi film industry, have always protested and decried decisions taken by the authorities at the central, state or local levels, but never picked a fight. It just suffers like an old-fashioned bahu or a widow. A line from a song can put in its true perspective: "Uthaye ja unke sitam, aur jiye ja...". The essence of the problem lies in the fact that the Hindi film industry has no unity. Imagine, the filmmakers in western India alone have as many as four producers' associations to safeguard their members' interests. Now, why do you need four associations? No explanation, so no sense talking about it. This anomaly of having four associations can be tackled if, at least, one of the four had a strong leader. But that, unfortunately, has never happened. And, if ever, the members of a particular association choose someone they thought would prove to be a strong leader, he has betrayed them. Here, the betrayal of the members by a leader has been the norm. And when one talks of a leader, he is an association leader usually because he is a person with a successful track record who is held in high esteem. How can you expect members of a filmmakers' association to be united when each association has its own Manuvaad (caste system)? For example, there is the Film & Television Producers' Guild of India, which is kind of meant only for the elite of the industry. Only the nabobs of the fraternity are allowed in and that too by invitation. You just can't go and enroll yourself in it because you make or aspire to make films! Then there is the parent association, Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association (IMPPA), from where the other associations sprang out over a period. IMPPA was established in 1937. Some of its members, feeling more equal than others, decided to branch out and form their own elite body, the Film & Television Producers Guild (simply known as the Guild). The names of the members read like the Who's Who of the filmmaking business. Normally, if you enter any enterprise, you want to become a member of your respective business association to feel safe and be a part of the industry. That is how it worked in the IMPPA. But with the Guild, it is different. You have to prove yourself to be as equal as those who are more equal which, in other words, means hugely successful. Then there were some who thought that the Guild was too elite and they had no say in it, while the IMPPA was too downmarket for them. So, they formed another association, Association of Motion Pictures & TV Programme Producers (AMPTPP), which has since been renamed Indian Film & Television Producers Council (IFTPC). And, of course, there was one more: the Western India Film Producers Association (WIFPA), a poor man's refuge. Its membership consists mainly of newcomer producers, ex-producers and regional film makers, its USP being cheaper membership fees! Now, how can one expect unity in an industry that is so divided? The film industry has this peculiarity. Nobody wishes another filmmaker's film to be a success. So, when a producer releases his new film on a particular Friday, the rest of his fraternity wishes that his film flops. And if it flops, some even celebrate! That is something which has remained a constant even with the changing generations. Who leads these associations and how is he chosen, because he is not elected? At IMPPA, the one with money power is the chosen one. Throw a couple of open-to-all cocktail parties, pay up membership fees for the defunct or defaulting filmmakers, and there you are. The latest such example was IMPPA's immediate past president, T.P. Agarwal. He was running a few educational institutions in Delhi and then he was obviously glamour struck, so he made a few irrelevant films and led the association for as many as 16 years (2006 to 2022)! At the Guild, the leadership is by rotation and every big-time maker gets his turn. Then there is the WIFPA, where the earlier president was Gajanan Shirke, a Shiv Sena leader whose film production credits started and ended with one or two Marathi films. After his demise, his son, Sangram Shirke, inherited the presidency. What has happened is that because there is no unity, there is no unified lobbying effort by the industry. Let alone unity, there is no fighting spirit either. No wonder, this industry did not count for much to any government, not even at the Centre. They just followed the rules, arbitrary as they may be, and paid multiple taxes and renewed numerous licenses. Film exhibition being a state subject, the laws and taxes varied from state to state, but the suffering of the people in the trade did not. Many times, the filmmakers' bodies decided not to cooperate or participate in government events. There were occasions when the producers' bodies resolved to stop dealing with certain circuit distributors because of their high-handed business practices. Who let the film industry and association members down the most? Its leaders, mainly the prominent film personalities. There was some issue with the Centre and the industry decided not to participate in one of the important events due in Delhi (I think it was the National Awards) where the film folk are invited as props though they have no say. But, next evening, at the event, one sees the stalwart of the industry and a leader, G P Sippy, all there solely representing his people! Once the filmmakers decided on an embargo on the Delhi-UP circuit for a number of reasons. No films were offered for release in these parts. In those days, films did not release simultaneously all over the country like they do now. Veteran and much respected producer-director B.R. Chopra's film 'Karm' was released all over, except in Delhi and UP, and failed miserably. The Delhi-UP distributor would never have honoured his commitment for a flop film. The Chopra banner therefore broke the film folk's resolve and delivered the film to the distributor, who wished to take advantage of the embargo and cash in on 'Karm'. IMPPA was the producers' association that mattered since it had on its roster the highest number of active producers. Sreeram Bohra was the president of this body and under him, the trade magazine, 'Trade Guide', was banned because of its frank stand and bold reviews. The ban lasted for some months and, for a trade magazine, surviving on the business and subscribers and advertisers from the film industry alone, it was getting tough to survive. Guess what? Bohra produced a costly period drama, 'Thief of Baghdad', and needed to promote it with the distributors and exhibitors, something that needed a trade paper to do. So, the ban imposed by him and his members on 'Trade Guide' was forgotten and a coloured cover page ad issued! This association business was odd, because whether a producers' association banned a distributor or the distributors' association banned a producer (often for flimsy reasons, for they knew that a producer had no holding power), it was the producer who suffered. It was his film that was at stake! This issue has gained currency recently because a 2015 link of a Mukesh Bhatt interview has surfaced on social media. In this interview to a prominent newspaper, Bhatt laments how a producer is forced to shell out huge sums per day of shooting for the star's retinue. Rs 1 lakh for the makeup man and the rest for the star's driver, dress man, Man Friday and so on! He added up the total of such exploitative charges to more than Rs 2 crore per film (and that was in 2015)! Now, it is strange for Bhatt to complain about this extortion because when he gave this interview he was the President of the Film Producers Guild (2012-16). So, why did he not do something about this? Who will bell the cat? Even the president of a powerful association would not dare! Then these associations are dominated by one individual for a long time. Sreeram Bohra ruled IMPPA for more than 11 years. Sajid Nadiadwala is the head of IFTPC for eight years now. And the most curious case is that of the WIFPA. Sangram Shirke has been heading it for 22 years! This puts even a political party hierarchy to shame. The associations are more disgruntled about each other than with the government. Now, one job left with the producers associations is to register film titles so that there is no duplication nor disputes. The whole thing about this association business is that nobody takes them seriously, including their members, least of all, the distributors or the exhibitors. Because, in any dispute, if someone is going to suffer, it is the producer. The leaders went and did what suited them, the associations be damned. These bodies had no standing in the past and little, if any, now. All shots are called by people other than the filmmakers.   ians

  • SCO anti-terror meet begins in Delhi

    New Delhi, May 16 The meeting of the Regional Anti-Terror structure (RATS) began here on Monday with an eye on curbing terror activities. Delegations from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries are participating in the meeting. The RATS is a permanent anti-terror unit under the ambit of the SCO-based in Uzbekistan. The main aim is to promote cooperation among the member countries against terrorism. SCO chairmanship is by rotation for a year between the member states. India is currently heading the executive council as the chairman. It is expected that discussion will be on the security situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban has used violence and it is feared that it could become a terror launch pad and drug smuggling hub, sources indicated. Anti-terror teams from China, Pakistan, Russia and other Asian countries are participating in the meet from May 16 to 19.   ians

  • First Indian woman to climb five 8000+ peaks, Priyanka Mohite wants to go on and on

    Mumbai, May 8 It was a challenge that Priyanka Mohite took up in 2013. It finally got fulfilled in May 2022 -- nine difficult years in which the 30-year-old mountaineer from Maharashtra constantly worked, planned and dreamt of completing a challenge no Indian woman has ever achieved -- climbing five mountains of 8000 metre and above height. In 1975 when Junko Tabei of Japan became the first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest, she conquered what was till then a male bastion -- a challenge considered too tough for the weaker of the sexes. Since then, many women have climbed Mount Everest and many similar peaks, conquering male bastions in mountaineering -- and other fields too. This week Priyanka, the woman climber from Satara district in Maharashtra, fulfilled her dream of becoming the first Indian woman to climb five mountains of 8000m and above height. Priyanka, who works for a pharmaceutical research company in Bengaluru, climbed Mount Kanchenjunga, at 8,586 metres above sea level, the third highest mountain on earth, on Thursday (May 5) at around 4.52 PM. Many hurdles along the way Priyanka, a recipient of the prestigious Tenzing Norgay Adventure Award in 2020, set the record by climbing Mount Everest in 2013, Mount Lhotse in 2018, and Mount Makalu in 2019, Annapurna 1 in 2021, and completed the monumental challenge by summitting Mount Kanchenjunga on May 5, 2022. She is the first Indian woman to climb Annapurna 1 and Makalu. For most people not well-versed with the world of mountaineering, these were only five mountains. But for those really in the know, Priyanka had to cross many more mountains on the way -- hurdles that may not be as high but not insignificant either. She was thwarted by the natural disaster in Nepal in 2014-15, the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022, financial hardship due to lack of sponsors and societal pressures that women face every day. But she was determined enough to conquer all and also the five 8000ers. Start of the dream The dream to summit the five 8000 metres and above mountains started one fine day in 2013, soon after Priyanka Mohite had climbed Mount Everest. She took up the challenge because there were very few from India that have attempted the feat. "There are 14 8000m-plus height mountains in the world -- seven in Nepal, two in China and five in Pakistan. As Indians, we can't climb in Pakistan. In 2013, I climbed Mount Everest, at that time I decided that I would go for these tough 8000 metres mountains because there are very few mountaineers from India who have done this. Nowadays women are also climbing but very few of them are taking this challenge," Priyanka told IANS in an exclusive interview after returning to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal from Kanchenjunga. Although she started the project in 2013, she could not take the next step till 2018 because of the snowstorm that devastated Nepal in 2014. The next year, it was the earthquake that devastated the country, pushing Priyanka's plans further. "In 2014-15, I can say I was unlucky because of the natural disasters in Nepal. I was at the base camp to climb the fourth tallest mountain, exactly near Everest, called Mount Lhotse. But I was not able to climb," she said. Natural disasters delay her For the next two years, Priyanka took a break from mountaineering, pursuing her career and raising funds for her next expedition. "In 2018 I summitted Mt Lhotse, the fourth tallest and I was like 'yeah, that's one more for me'." in 2018, she also climbed Mount Makalu, which is the fifth highest mountain on the planet. Three down and two more to go for Priyanka. "In 2019, I saw Kanchenjunga and I wanted to do it in 2020 but could not because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We all know that happened, everything got cancelled," says Priyanka. According to Priyanka, Kanchenjunga was the toughest of the five peaks and needed a lot of teamwork and preparation. She wanted to do that soon after things opened up in 2021 but could not as not many mountaineers were ready to team up for the challenge. "It's huge teamwork actually, we need a big team because the routes are very long, we need to fix the route and everything. So, in 2021 there were very few climbers who wanted to climb Kanchenjunga, so we dropped the plan," says Priyanka. Instead, she summitted Mount Annapurna 1, the 10th tallest peak in the world and considered the toughest among the peaks. "In 2021, I climbed Annapurna 1, which is one of the trickiest among the top mountains and I became the first Indian woman to climb that. Even Makalu, I am the only Indian woman to climb it," says Priyanka of her proud achievements. Dedicated to frontline workers She decided that 2022 was the year that she had to finally do Mount Kanchenjunga and complete another dream of her -- dedicate something to the frontline workers of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. "In 2020, I wanted to climb this and dedicate it to our frontline workers because I also belong to the pharmaceutical industry. I work for a research firm called Aurigene Discovery Technologies in Bengaluru." Priyanka finally surmounted the challenge of India's highest mountain and the world's third tallest peak to honour the frontline workers, who had worked tirelessly during the pandemic to save numerous lives. The final challenge Priyanka's preparations to climb Mount Kanchenjunga lasted nearly a year as she would wake up at 5 a.m. daily to work on her physicals, build her strength and stamina, and gear up for the rigours of climbing the highest mountain of the country. "I practiced a lot. It was really a big struggle for me to get the sponsorship for that. I remember that I got it on April 1 that one sponsor, who was not related to (mountaineering) said they were ready to sponsor it. So, I was really lucky to get it," says Priyanka. With the mountain climbing season towards the end, she had to take a lot of tough decisions -- like flying directly to the base camp. "I started around April 15 -- from Mumbai to Kathmandu. It is not a good idea to directly fly to the base camp but as I had a very short time, I really flew from Kathmandu to the base camp, which is at around 5,500 metres. It is really huge and next time I will definitely not do it." The big challenge was to get acclimatised to the conditions because Priyanka was coming from Mumbai, where the temperatures in April were around 40 degrees, whereas Kanchenjunga was experiencing snowfall and the temperatures were in the minus. "Within two days, I went to 6000m and came back to acclimatise. We did another rotation -- camp to 6200m and then to 6500 for acclimatisation work, and then we found out that May 5th was really good weather, we were checking the weather constantly." So, they climbed from base camp to Camp 2 on May 2 and then Camp 2 to 3 on the 3rd and from Camp 3 to 4 on May 4. Camp 4 is the final stop before they made a push for the summit. It is also the most difficult part of the climb on Kanchenjunga because of the rocks, big and small, that make climbing very, very tough. "On the night of May 4 around 8.00-8.30, we started for the summit. There was bad weather, there was around 15-16 cm snowfall, so we had to fix the rope very hard. It takes around 30 hours to go to the top and come back to the camp. "We fixed the rope till the top, it was a huge challenge for us to fix the rope till the top, it was the very difficult part, very difficult to fix the rope on the rocks, small rocks, big rocks and it's very hard to climb on those rocks, with the clamp on, the shoes, which have spikes to be stable on ice but not on the rocks," Priyanka eventually managed to reach the summit at around 4.52 p.m. on May 5. "It was a really very technical mountain and it was very tough. But it was a very beautiful one -- you can see Nepal and India because you are at the top," says Priyanka. Now that her dream is fulfilled, Priyanka does not want to stop and continue adding more than 8000 metres and above peaks to her mountaineering resume. There are many more challenges and Priyanka says she will continue to pursue them as long as she can. "Fortunately, I have a family that has supported me wholeheartedly. Never stopped me from pursuing things I wanted to. Marriage and family will come when it is time for that but I want to continue mountaineering even after that. I want to marry someone who would support my dreams," says Priyanka. She knows that mountaineering is a dangerous, risky and deadly pursuit and she has seen it from close quarters as an Indian climber, who was part of the Kanchenjunga expedition died this week, just a few hundred metres from the peak. But Priyanka wants to dream on, adding more 8000ers to her record tally. A mountain is no limit for her.   ians

  • Modi inaugurates Prime Ministers' museum, buys first ticket

    New Delhi, April 14 Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday dedicated to the nation "Pradhanmantri Sanghralaya" (Prime Ministers' museum) which will provide information regarding all the previous prime ministers of the country and their contribution in nation building. Modi also bought the first ticket of the museum. Starting from the displays on freedom struggle and the framing of the Constitution, the museum tells the story of how our Prime Ministers navigated the nation through various challenges and ensured the all-round progress of the country, the PMO had said earlier. Guided by the vision of Modi to honour the contribution of all the Prime Ministers of India towards nation building, the museum is a tribute to every Prime Minister of India since Independence, irrespective of their ideology or tenure in office. It is aimed at sensitising and inspiring the younger generation about the leadership, vision and achievements of all our Prime Ministers. The design of the museum building is inspired by the story of rising India, shaped and moulded by the hands of its leaders. The design incorporates sustainable and energy conservation practices. No tree has been felled or transplanted during the course of work on the project. The logo of the museum represents the hands of the people of India holding the 'Dharma Chakra' symbolising the nation and democracy. Representing a seamless blend of the old and the new, the museum integrates the erstwhile Teen Murti Bhawan designated as Block I, with the newly constructed building designated as Block II. The total area of the two blocks is over 15,600 square metres. There are a total of 43 galleries in the museum. Information for the museum was collected through resources / repositories with institutions such as Prasar Bharati, Doordarshan, Films Division, Sansad TV, Ministry of Defence, Media Houses (Indian and foreign), Foreign News Agencies, etc. Appropriate use of Archives (Collected Works and other literary works, important correspondences), some Personal items, Gifts & Memorabilia (Felicitations, Honours, Medals conferred, commemorative stamps, coins, etc.), speeches of Prime Ministers and anecdotal representation of ideologies and different aspects of the lives of Prime Ministers have been reflected in a thematic format. The museum has employed cutting-edge technology-based interfaces to encompass heterogeneity in content and frequent rotation of display. Holograms, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Multi-touch, Multimedia, interactive kiosks, computerised kinetic sculptures, smartphone applications, interactive screens, experiential installations, etc., enable the exhibition content to become highly interactive and engaging.   ians

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