In the Heart of Mumbai’s Dharavi Slum, a Music School For Kids

In the heart of India’s financial capital Mumbai, lies one of the largest slums in the world – Dharavi. A group of under privileged children from Dharavi is making their bridge to the world outside their slum. By using one of the most common items in their modest homes, the children create beautiful sounds. VOA’s Ritul Joshi reports from Mumbai.

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Ugandan Pop Star-Politician Performs First Show Since Jailing

Ugandan pop star and opposition politician Bobi Wine performed his first concert since he was charged with treason and jailed, a show of defiance Saturday punctuated by anti-government slogans and barbs aimed at the long-time president he is challenging.

Thousands of Ugandans attended the lakeside event held outside the capital, Kampala, many of them clad in red outfits symbolizing their allegiance to the “People Power” movement led by Wine, a rookie legislator whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.

Ssentamu staged the show at his private beach after he was denied permission to hold the concert at the national stadium.

“Blocked three times by the state but on the (fourth) attempt there is a mammoth turnout,” his attorney Nicholas Opiyo said on Twitter.

The opening acts also played music protesting the government before Wine, putting on his trademark red beret, came onstage and electrified the crowd.

With a heavy deployment of security forces near the show venue, Wine thanked the police officers and men wearing military fatigues for their “unusual” services. Then he started singing the songs that made him a celebrity in Uganda long before he became a politician, with a loyal following among young people disenchanted by joblessness and rampant corruption.

“Tell Bosco,” the revelers sang, “that this Uganda belongs to us.”

Bosco is President Yoweri Museveni’s latest nickname, based on a clumsy character in a popular TV ad.

Ssentamu was arrested and charged with treason in August over an incident in which the president’s convoy was pelted with stones in the aftermath of a political rally. After he was released from detention, Ssentamu sought specialist care in the United States for injuries he said he sustained during alleged torture by state agents.

The government vehemently denies Ssentamu was tortured. He has said the criminal charges against him are false and politically motivated. Court proceedings in the case have not started.

Ssentamu won a seat in the national assembly last year as an independent candidate without the backing of a major political party. He now says he is fighting for freedom from oppression and wants Museveni to retire at the end of his fifth term.

He has refused to say if he will run for president in 2021, even as his supporters urge him to do so.

Museveni has accused opposition figures like Ssentamu of trying to lure young people into rioting.

Ssentamu’s arrest sparked riots by demonstrators demanding his release and a violent response by security forces to stop the protests in Kampala. Dozens of musicians from around the world condemned his treatment and the European Union parliament and some U.S. senators have urged Ugandan authorities to respect basic human rights.

Museveni, a key U.S. ally on regional security, took power by force in 1986. Although he has campaigned on his record of establishing peace and stability, some worry those gains are being eroded the longer he remains in office. 

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Stars Join Thousands Waiting to Learn Wildfire’s Damage Toll

Rich or not, famous or not, there was no reprieve Saturday from the California wildfires sweeping through towns as different as the star-filled oceanside enclave of Malibu and the modest communities nearby and in the state’s north.

Lady Gaga, Martin Sheen and Kim Kardashian West were among the celebrities who joined thousands of others in evacuating from the affluent coastal city that is as well-known as its residents. The stars went online to share their own distress and dismay for others as the fate of many properties remained unknown Saturday.

“I am thinking so deeply for everyone who is suffering today from these abominable fires & grieving the loss of their homes or loved ones,” Lady Gaga tweeted. “I’m sitting here with many of you wondering if my home will burst into flames. All we can do is pray together & for each other. God Bless You.”

There were shout-outs as well to the firefighters struggling to contain the fires in what were described as especially difficult conditions.

“These guys are heroes,” filmmaker Guillermo del Toro posted on Twitter. His so-called “Bleak House,” which contains his collection of items too scary to be kept in the family home, was endangered.

Shannen Doherty, who’d been out of town when the fire broke out, said online that friends staying at her Malibu house evacuated safely with her dogs. It’s likely her house burned, she said, but she expressed gratitude to firefighters “putting their lives on the line for all of us” and sympathy for others affected by the fire.

Sheen (“The West Wing,” “Apocalypse Now”), interviewed by a TV station on the beach Friday night after fleeing his home, said the fire was the worst he’s ever seen. He said he expects his house was destroyed.

​The interview occurred after his son, actor Charlie Sheen, tweeted that he’d been unable to contact his father, and the Los Angeles Fox affiliate KTTV tracked him down. Martin Sheen gave a shoutout to his family to let them know he and his wife, Janet, were safe and planned to sleep in their car by the beach.

The status of Martin Sheen’s home was unknown Saturday morning.

“Beverly Hills, 90210” star Doherty said her “heart is ripped apart” by the loss of a Malibu home where she and husband Kurt Iswarienko were married in 2011, posting on Instagram a wedding-day photo of the smiling couple on a tree-lined path at the property apparently owned by a friend.

She’d previously found refuge in the house when her father died in 2010, Doherty wrote.

“It’s the place I felt my dad with me. It’s gone. Fire has taken it away. I’m devastated by all that’s happening,” she said.

The blaze started Thursday night and by Friday had pushed toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean, prompting evacuations in Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and other nearby areas. Authorities said Saturday that two people were found dead in the fire zone and at least 150 homes burned .

In Northern California, the small inland town of Paradise was virtually wiped out by a fast-moving blaze that destroyed more than 6,700 buildings and claimed nine lives as of Saturday.

Although the fatalities overshadowed the loss of property, Malibu’s fame inevitably called attention to the status of its multimillion-dollar homes, including one made famous in ABC’s reality dating series “The Bachelor.”

The show’s producers said in a statement Saturday that, with the area closed to traffic, they didn’t know the condition of what is primarily a private residence. They said their main concern “is with the family who has been displaced, their neighbors, and all the communities impacted by this tragic fire.”

Alyssa Milano, who on Friday tweeted that her house was “in jeopardy” but she had gotten needed help to evacuate her horses and that her children were safe, posted Saturday that she was waiting to hear of her home’s fate.

“There are no words for this kind of devastation. I’m so sorry and my heart is with each of those who are impacted by this awful disaster,” she tweeted Saturday.

Also left waiting was Caitlyn Jenner, whose hilltop home appeared intact when it was shot by a photographer for The Associated Press on Saturday morning. Jenner’s representative noted that the Olympic gold medalist wouldn’t know the extent of any damage to the home until she was allowed to return to it.

Even outside the evacuation zone, the impact of the fire was being felt by others in the entertainment industry.

“The world is literally on fire right now. And unfortunately it’s becoming more and more common here in California,” actress Natalie Portman said Friday night in Hollywood at an American Film Institute Fest premiere of her film “Vox Lux.”

She said she was hoping for the best for friends and everyone else affected by the blaze. She said she’d spoken to her own two children about the fires because “they need to feel safe” and also understand that there are broad regional effects, like poor air quality.

Kardashian West posted video on Instagram of an area on fire with a message “Pray for Calabasas.” She said she landed back home, spent one hour packing and evacuated shortly afterward.

In addition to dozens of homes destroyed, Paramount Ranch’s “Western Town,” a landmark film location that included a jail, hotel and saloon, had burned to the ground.

The ranch served as a location for productions ranging from 1938’s “The Adventures of Marco Polo” to TV shows “The Mentalist” and “Weeds” and current series “Westworld.” The set in the mountains west of Los Angeles dates to 1927 when Paramount Pictures leased the ranch and began making films there.

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Spectacular Autumn Leaves Peak in the Washington Area

It is almost mid-November, and the fall leaves are finally showing off their beautiful colors in the Washington area and elsewhere on the U.S. East Coast. With higher than average temperatures in September and October in Washington, it took longer for the brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange to come out. This year the trees are putting on quite a display, as VOA’s Deborah Block shows us.

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‘The Happy Prince,’ ‘Boy Erased,’ Two films on Gay Exclusion

Conversion therapy and social exile for being gay is the subject of two award-winning independent films this season. “The Happy Prince” by Rupert Everett and “Boy Erased” by Joel Edgerton are based on real life stories of gay men treated as pariahs by their communities. VOA’s Penelope Poulou spoke with the filmmakers and authors of the stories about the challenges gays and lesbians continue to face.

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Films Take on Sexual Conversion Therapy, Social Exile

Conversion therapy and social exile for being gay are the subjects of two award-winning independent films this season. The Happy Prince by Rupert Everett and Boy Erased by Joel Edgerton are based on real life stories of gay men treated as pariahs by their communities.

‘The Happy Prince’

In 1897, literary giant Oscar Wilde has fallen from grace for his openly romantic homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. After a two-year prison sentence, Wilde emerges, a human wreck, impoverished and ostracized from society.

Rupert Everett, an openly gay director, script writer and actor, directed and scripted the film and interprets Wilde. He says he wanted to show that in 19th century England, no man, not even a recognized figure such as Wilde, was impervious to social rejection for being homosexual.


WATCH: ‘The Happy Prince,’ ‘Boy Erased,’ Two films on Gay Exclusion

Everett told VOA that although the film harkens to a different era, it serves as a reminder that despite progress in the West, gays around the world still face discrimination and persecution. He points to the fact that even forward thinking England decriminalized homosexuality as late as 1975 and notes in the epilogue of his film that as late as last year, under what is known as Turing’s Law, England pardoned Wilde for “homosexual crimes.”

“Yes, it’s very shocking and also the fact that they decided to pardon as opposed to apologize because pardon obviously infers to a crime to start with and we agree that homosexuality is not a crime,” Everett said. “It’s a good reminder what can happen even in our countries with the waves of populism that are kind of rolling over us. So, I feel it really is a film for Trump’s America in a way, I hope.”

​‘Boy Erased’

American gay author Garrard Conley, who wrote the memoir-turned-movie Boy Erased about being forced to undergo gay conversion therapy after coming out to his conservative Baptist family in Arkansas, echoes Everett’s warning. He tells VOA that many American communities have a very conservative view of the LGBTQ community.

“This rather insidious idea that was implanted in us from basically birth, which was that to be openly LGBTQ meant that you were either a predator or you were going to be beaten or you were going to end up dying of AIDS. And those were the stories that we were told,” he said.

The only child of a Baptist pastor father and a hairdresser mother, at the age of 19, Conley was sent to a sexual conversion facility in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2004. There, he had to surrender his personal belongings and cut off any communication with friends and family until he abandoned his gay identity. Conley describes the emotional harm he and others endured while attending the program.

Actor and filmmaker Joel Edgerton tells VOA he was captivated by Conley’s memoir and was deeply disturbed by Conley’s loss of freedom because of his sexual identity. He decided to direct the story for the large screen. Actors Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe interpret Conley’s parents, and Lucas Hedges interprets Conley’s character. Edgerton plays Victor Sykes, a conversion therapist, who uses pseudo science, shaming and torture to “treat” his patients.

Edgerton says he made Boy Erased to bring to light the mistreatment and dehumanization young people encounter in these conversion programs. 

“I challenge people who are running these programs — and there are a large percentage of people who work as staff in these programs, who identify as ex-gay and knowing that the reason they are there is because they are trying to help repress their own sexuality — is to really tune in to the fact that, is it really working for themselves, and why if it is not inherently working for themselves, are they then trying to push these ideas onto kids?”

Despite the film showing Conley’s family as unaccepting and responsible for subjecting him to conversion therapy, it does not vilify the parents but rather presents them as victims of the mindset of a fundamentalist community and the trappings of charlatans.

“The film is about dismantling misconceptions and helping young gay people find their voice,” Conley tells VOA. “And this is why we play the long game, with not making easy villains because it’s a longer battle. These kids that are currently either in conversion therapy or going through it or some way about to go through it, are surrounded by family members, pastors, people in the community, who are deciding their faith for them.

“So, our jobs in many ways is to educate those people and maybe, they are not on the right side yet, but they can at least agree on one thing, which is: this is torture. So, if we get them to agree on that, we can save lives,” Conley said.

“At the day’s end,” the author added, “we got to choose how we love, when we love, what we do with our lives and no one gets to tell you how to do that.”

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Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair Sells for Nearly $400,000

A wheelchair used by the late British physicist Stephen Hawking has sold at auction for almost $400,000, with the money going to charity.

The motorized wheelchair, which was used by Hawking after he was paralyzed with motor neuron disease, had been expected to sell for around $20,000 in the online auction organized by Christie’s.

A copy of Hawking’s doctoral thesis, called “Properties of expanding universes” from 1965 sold for $767,000, much more than the estimate of $200,000.

Proceeds from the auction will go to two charities, the Stephen Hawking Foundation and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at age 22 and given just a few years to live. However, he lived to the age of 76, dying in March.

Hawking explored the origins of the universe, expanding scientific thinking about black holes and became a well-known figure in pop culture.

A script from one of his appearances on the television series “The Simpsons” was one of the 22 items in the auction, selling for more than $8,000.

Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, said the sale gave “admirers of his work the chance to acquire a memento of our father’s extraordinary life in the shape of a small selection of evocative and fascinating items.”

Other items sold at the auction included an early edition of Hawking’s best-selling book, “A Brief History of Time,” marked with a thumbprint, a collection of his medals and awards, and essays.

In total, the auction raised $1.8 million for charity. Hawking’s family is donating other items from Hawking’s archive to the British government in lieu of paying inheritance tax.

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Japanese TV Cancels BTS Show Over A-Bomb Shirt

A Japanese broadcaster canceled a live TV appearance of the Korean band BTS after a photo went viral of a band member wearing a T-shirt showing an atomic bombing juxtaposed with the celebration of Korea’s liberation from Japan after World War II.

Japanese social media was filled with chatter over the photo of Jimin wearing the shirt with an image of a mushroom cloud with the English words “patriotism” and “Korea.”

TV Asahi said it had talked with the band’s recording company to try to learn why he wore the T-shirt. The broadcaster’s statement also apologized to viewers who had looked forward to the band’s appearance, which had been scheduled for Friday.

Company spokesman Shinya Matsuki declined further comment.

Universal Music said it will continue to support BTS but confirmed their appearance on the live music show “Music Station” was canceled.

are extremely popular in Japan, sometimes in stark contrast to the controversy and hostility that can mark other aspects of the two nation’s ties because of Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century until the end of World War II.

Some Japanese fans of the band expressed disgust on Twitter that their show was canceled over a T-shirt.

The seven-member BTS has collaborated with Japanese American DJ and musical artist Steve Aoki and has reached No. 1 on the Billboard

South Korean K-pop and movie stars chart.

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Netflix Plans to Make 17 More Original Productions in Asia

Netflix Inc plans to make 17 more original productions in Asia as it seeks to boost international subscriber numbers, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said on Thursday.

The plan, announced at Netflix’s content showcase event in Singapore, comes after the U.S. firm reported bumper quarterly earnings last month, driven by gains in international subscribers.

Netflix exceeded forecasts in both the U.S. and international markets, with the bulk of new subscribers coming from outside the United States where the company has been investing aggressively.

The firm has earmarked $8 billion for content this year, and has spent $6.9 billion as at the end of its third quarter.

In Asia, led by India, Netflix has won fans among a young, tech-savvy middle class, helped by a roster that includes top-grossing movie franchise Baahubali.

Chief Executive Reed Hastings has said India could deliver the service’s next 100 million subscribers.

Netflix scored a hit in India with Mumbai-based crime thriller Sacred Games. However, the Bollywood studio that produced the show disbanded last month after sexual harassment allegations against one of its partners, Vikas Bahl, and the show’s lead writer, Varun Grover. Both men have denied the allegations.

Netflix later backed the series for a second season.

At the end of September, Netflix had 137 million subscribers to its movie and TV streaming service worldwide. It began stocking its library with original films just three years ago.

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