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Latest swine flu casualty: Bollywood

Pandemic panic hits India, and its chief cultural product.

By closing schools, colleges and multiplexes, the government was trying to imitate preventive strategies used by other countries such as Mexico to contain the spread of the disease.

Social distancing is the recommended course of action for the swine flu pandemic, said a WHO regional spokesperson who did not want to be quoted. This was in order to give the government and health systems time to catch up.

But the shutdown only raised anxiety levels in a vast country where many people sported face masks in public places. Drug stores ran out of supplies of masks and hoarders sold the mask which retails at 10 rupees (about $0.20) at five times the price.

Long lines snaked out of hospitals stocking the scarce swine flu testing kits. Doctors struggled to control crowds demanding H1N1 tests.

For Bollywood, India’s prolific movie industry, swine flu has been the latest in a long string of crises. A series of dud films and a prolonged battle between multiplex owners and movie producers have already made this a forgettable year for the business. Beyond the dampness surrounding the release of "Kaminey", there is a further sense of disquiet in Bollywood over swine flu.

The filming schedule of leading filmmaker Karan Johar’s lavish 180-crew shoot for Qurbaan in Pune, a city near Mumbai, has been put off. Pune was the first city to report a swine flu casualty. The shoot for Bollywood heart throb Salman Khan’s Veer in Pune has also been cancelled. Meanwhile, movie stars appeared on television sounding uneasy about the swine flu pandemic.

On the bright side for "Kaminey," there are no big Bollywood movies scheduled to release for the next five to six weeks. The industry is watching to see if "Kaminey" will survive the pandemic.