Pathaan and the king of cinema blast Bollywood out of the doldrums

Millions flock to see return of actor Shah Rukh Khan, despite rightwing calls for a boycott

For Ganesh Lokhande, an usher at the Regal Cinema in Mumbai’s southern tip of Colaba, it’s been a quiet few years in the job. That was, until last week.

Pathaan, a new Bollywood action thriller starring Shah Rukh Khan – an actor whose superstardom has elevated him to be known in India as “the king” – has been released in cinemas, triggering excitement across the country. Long queues formed outside theatres as millions flocked to catch a glimpse of Khan’s return to the screen after four years away, now aged 57 but still playing the ravishing muscular hero.

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Bollywood is obsessed with Pakistan. We’d be flattered if it weren’t so nasty

Try as the industry might, Modi’s quasi-fascist politics cannot be set to jaunty music and helicopter stunts

If recent Bollywood films are any indication, it is fair to say that India’s film industry is obsessed with Pakistan. Obsessed. Like standing outside your apartment and trying to peek through your windows at night with binoculars obsessed.

If the films were smarter or more daring, Pakistan might be flattered. Instead, we are beginning to be mildly confused by all the attention.

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‘Who are you to stop me?’: the hip-hop group speaking up for India’s women

Rappers Wild Wild Women use their searing lyrics to highlight the treatment of their sisters in a socially conservative country

It’s not easy being a wild woman in India – as members of what is believed to be the country’s first female rap group can testify.

The eight members of the Wild Wild Women collective have had to deal with knockbacks from the men who dominate the music industry and press. They have had to cajole and fight their parents for permission to play and travel to gigs – once they’ve convinced them that hip-hop is suitable for women to perform. And they have to juggle full-time jobs with their music.

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World of Warcraft to go offline in China, leaving millions of gamers bereft

Popular role-playing game is being cut off due to a dispute between US developer and its Chinese partner

Millions of Chinese players of the roleplaying epic World of Warcraft (WoW) will bid a sad farewell to the land of Azeroth, with the game set to go offline after a dispute between the US developer Blizzard and its local partner NetEase.

Massively popular worldwide, particularly in the 2000s, WoW is an online multiplayer role-playing game set in a fantasy medieval world. It is known for being immersive and addictive, and players can rack up hundreds of hours of game time.

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Three children among six killed during Indian kite-flying festival

Victims reportedly bled to death when glass-coated strings were entangled around their necks

Six people, including three children, have died after their throats were cut by glass-coated kite strings during an annual kite-flying festival in India.

Hundreds flocked to terraces and rooftops to unfurl their kites towards the sky at the Uttarayan festival in the western Indian state of Gujarat over the weekend.

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Army veterans criticise Prince Harry’s claim he killed 25 Taliban in Afghanistan

Col Tim Collins says ‘we don’t do notches on rifle butt’ and kill-count talk could increase Harry’s personal security risk

High-profile British veterans have criticised the Duke of Sussex’s claim he had killed 25 Taliban soldiers while serving with the British army in Afghanistan and warned the high-profile admission could increase the risk to his personal security.

The retired army veteran Col Tim Collins, best known for delivering a rousing speech before the start of the Iraq war in 2003, said the prince’s kill-count talk was crass and “we don’t do notches on the rifle butt”.

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Legacy of Japan’s Nagakin Capsule Tower lives on in restored pods

One of Tokyo’s most famous buildings was dismantled in April due to asbestos fears. Now 23 of the capsules have been saved for posterity

Tatsuyuki Maeda had more reason than most to feel a pang of regret as he joined admirers and passing office workers to watch Nakagin Capsule Tower being dismantled.

The building was not just one of Tokyo’s most famous structures; for more than a decade it had been Maeda’s occasional home – a pied-à-terre in the heart of the city he had coveted since he first set eyes on it from his nearby workplace.

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Pepper changed the world – but how many people know that? | Anna Sulan Masing

Colonialism was born from the greed for spices and led to today’s globalised world. I know because it’s my family’s story

In 1603, James Lancaster arrived back in London after several years in pursuit of riches, bringing ships laden with peppercorns. He was in command of the first British East India Company fleet, an entity that was granted a royal charter by Elizabeth I in 1600, and had travelled to south Asia and back.

Pepper is believed to be originally from Kerala and specifically the Western Ghats, a humid and wet stretch of mountains on the western coast of India. It was known throughout antiquity and particularly loved by the Romans, and was well established in England by the 1100s, when the Guild of Pepperers was formed in London. (This guild went on to become the Company of Grocers, which is still in existence today.)

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‘Our identity lies in these songs’: saving the music of India’s Biate

Forgotten Songs Collective aims to preserve ancient hill tribe’s music by bringing it to a global audience

It was five years ago, as he sat around a fire lit deep in the forests covering the hills of Dima Hasao in Assam, that a shadow of sadness came into the eyes of Lallura Darnei. Now in his seventies, Darnei was one of the oldest members of the Biate community, an ancient hill tribe living in north-east India. The songs he sang around the flames that night, speaking of great floods and the birds that flap their wings at sunset, dated back so many generations the tribe said they were as old as time.

But, said Darnei, when he died these songs would probably die with him, and with it the history, the knowledge, culture of the Biate, would be gone for ever. The younger generation of the tribe had fallen in love with guitar music and K-pop and had not learned the traditional songs. They could not pick up the ancient melodies and he was the last of the Biate who knew how to play and make the siranda, the tribe’s traditional violin crafted from wood and the dried skin of an iguana.

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Wrestling tigers and hurling motorcycles: how SS Rajamouli’s RRR cast a spell over the world

The Indian director was as surprised as anyone that his astonishingly larger than life, logic-defying action film has found a huge global audience. So is Hollywood on the horizon?

Looking at the box-office numbers when RRR first opened in the US in March, director SS Rajamouli couldn’t believe the film was really breaking through to non-Indian audiences. “We thought, OK, this might be [American] friends who the Indians had dragged along to see the movie,” he says. “But as the numbers started increasing, and appreciation started coming from celebrities, critics, influencers, gamers, from people of repute, I think it gradually dawned on us that this had the capacity to become much bigger than any other Indian film that has gone before.”

Everything about RRR – the story of two freedom fighters in British-ruled 1920s India – is larger than life. Not just because of the box-office numbers (it is currently the third-highest grossing film ever in India; Rajamouli’s 2017 action film Baahubali 2 is the highest), the budget (at $69m, India’s most expensive film ever) or the length of the shoot (320 days over three years, with Covid interruptions), but also the epic tenor of the movie’s action. Men wrestle tigers and hurl motorcycles, entire armies are single-handedly subdued, the dance scenes are supercharged. Stylised, CGI-heavy, logic-defying, yet ingeniously choreographed and meticulously composed, it feels like something fresh and invigorating, especially compared to Hollywood’s samey output.

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Superheroes, jazz, queer art: how Pakistan’s transgressive pop culture went global

Freed from the shadow of 9/11, the country’s artists are building on a rich heritage – to international acclaim

In August, Pakistan’s three censor boards cleared Saim Sadiq’s award-winning film Joyland for release. Shot in Lahore, the film is about a young married man from a conservative family who finds work at a dance theatre and falls in love with a trans woman struggling to land her moment on stage. It was the first Pakistani film to screen at Cannes and it won the Un Certain Regard prize, receiving a standing ovation nearly10 minutes long.

Even though the film was then subject to various bans in Pakistan, after being accused of pushing an LGTBQ+ agenda and misrepresenting Pakistani culture, it finally appeared in Pakistani cinemas in November, with Malala Yousafzai signing on as executive producer.

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Nalini Malani: ‘Trump and Bolsonaro are totally phallic people – but there are men inclined to feminist thought’

The 76-year-old Indian artist reflects on the sectarian violence and misogyny that has inspired her work, including the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl

Indian artist Nalini Malani had been looking forward to flying to Adelaide to see her first Australian survey open at the Art Gallery of South Australia – but she wasn’t be able to. Just as she was leaving India for the opening of an exhibition in the UK – one of five major international projects she is opening over a five-month period – the Australian High Commission informed her that she had applied for the wrong visa.

“I said, ‘I’m not going for business; I’m going for a cultural purpose. I’m not going for a job or anything’,” the 76-year-old artist says, from her second home in Amsterdam that she shares with her husband, Dutch art historian Johan Pijnappel. “They refused to shift it. They said, ‘Now you have to apply all over again’.”

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Winnie the Pooh joins Chinese Covid lockdown protests

Disney merchandise shows frowning bear looking at blank sheet of paper – a symbol of opposition to censorship

Years after he became character non grata in China, Winnie the Pooh is exacting quiet revenge against the country’s government in the form of Disney souvenirs.

In what appears to be a case of incidental resistance, Disney stores in Japan are selling a line of merchandise featuring a frowning Pooh looking at a blank sheet of white paper – a symbol of ongoing protests in China against censorship and Covid-19 restrictions.

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What does this year’s double Booker win mean for south Asian literature?

With Sri Lanka’s Shehan Karunatilaka and India’s Geetanjali Shree taking home two of publishing’s biggest prizes, what next for one of the world’s most overlooked literary regions?

Why isn’t more south Asian fiction published outside the subcontinent? And is the tide now turning? As this year has shown, it’s prizeworthy stuff. In October, Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida took home the 2022 Booker prize, with Indian writer Geetanjali Shree and her translator Daisy Rockwell winning the International Booker prize for Tomb of Sand. The latter novel, which has also recently joint-won the Warwick prize for women in translation, was translated from Hindi, and was the first south Asian book to be awarded the £50,000 translation prize. For south Asian writers to win both Bookers in the same year was unexpected indeed.

Of course, as Rockwell says, such patterns in prizes are “sometimes flukes”, and it is not as if recognition of south Asian writers has sprung from nowhere. Last year, for example, Sri Lankan Anuk Arudpragasam was shortlisted for the Booker with A Passage North. But Manasi Subramaniam, the editor and publisher of the Indian editions of Karunatilaka’s and Shree’s books, thinks what is happening now is something bigger, “a reframing of the global south in the wider literary narrative”. She clarifies that several changes over the last few decades – “diasporic writing, brave independent publishers, a steady shifting of the gaze, translators who have quietly chipped away at excavation projects to expand our collective oeuvre” – have contributed to the current moment. Still, the work is slow, and often the weight rests on the shoulders of individuals and small presses.

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The Kashmir Files: Israeli director sparks outrage in India over ‘vulgar movie’ remarks

Nadav Lapid, chair of the International film festival India, spoke out against work that critics say is anti-Muslim propaganda

A row has erupted in India after an Israeli director described a controversial film about Kashmir as propaganda and a “vulgar movie”, prompting the Israeli ambassador to issue an apology.

Nadav Lapid, who was chair of this year’s panel of the international film festival of India (IFFI), spoke out against the inclusion of The Kashmir Files at the event.

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