Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Item numbers" eat up dollars

A report the other day appeared a little weird in the context of a veritable financial emergency with uncontrolled current account deficit and the rupee heavily losing against the dollar. It said that Sonaxi Sinha, a film actress, was contracted for six crores for an “item number” by a producer of a Hindi film. “Item
Deepika Padukone in an "Item number"
numbers” are raunchy dance numbers with a skimpily dressed lead female dancer supported by many other women wearing similar, if not skimpier, dresses. Sonaxi Sinha’s contract was not worrisome; what was, however, worrying was the producer’s intention of hiring 600 dancers from abroad (presumably white women) to accompany Sonaxi in the dance number. (One wonders how the choreographer is going to fit them within the frame.) This suggested total unconcern for the current pathetic economic situation of the country. Dollars are scarce and the government is trying to control the import of oil and gold, the two commodities on which the country has been heavily spending in dollars, with a view to checking their outgo.

One might argue that Bollywood has tremendous following abroad and the Indian Diaspora just loves it making it a substantial dollar-earner. In 2006 its earnings were reckoned as $1.75 billion which was estimated to rise in 2010 to $3.4 billion. The amount is substantial but some, if not most, of it is not repatriated to the country. Financing in Bollywood is mostly shady, coming largely from unorganised sector like a few moneybags, jewellers and even the underworld. Whatever a film earns in dollars is mostly kept by financiers abroad. There is very little for the government in it.There is little for the viewers too barring some titillation and yet the film makers are able to fill their coffers.

 Maybe, the most of the payments for the 600 dancers for dancing along with Sonaxi will be met out of whatever has been parked abroad from previous earnings.The mechanics of the payment to the 600 dancers is not known. Whether they would be brought to India and paid in rupees (which is highly unlikely) or paid abroad in dollars is not known. In either case, there is
Another "item number" in progress
going to be a substantial outgo of dollars. In addition, there will be other necessary incidental expenses which will also have to be met in dollars. The film producer is surely going to seek substantial amounts of dollars from the government very little of which is going to earn any returns for it, putting pressure on its dollar reserves.

Such unconcern for the precarious finances of the country is deplorable. Mismanagement of our forex reserves, as we have seen, has put enormous pressure on the country’s economy causing all round rise in prices. This affects everyone – you, me and the next man who may not be able afford even otherwise a square meal. With soaring prices things have become impossible. And, worse, there is no end to it in sight in the short term.

It is true that the government is entirely responsible for the mess But the current situation is kind of fait accompli. Yet,m the country has to come out of it and everyone has to lend a helping hand. One, therefore, feels that such thoughtless actions of some of our people need to be condemned in strongest possible terms.

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