Vakeel Saab box office: Pawan Kalyan’s movie sets new collection records


Tollywood star Pawan Kalyan has brought cheers back to the box office business this festival season. The film opened to packed houses in Telugu states last Friday. And the filmmakers have already called it “the biggest blockbuster” of the year yet. And they may be right, given that Vakeel Saab seems to be setting new collection records during a pandemic.

According to the industry buzz, the film may have already collected more than Rs 100 crore from its worldwide ticket sales, even as the filmmakers are yet to officially announce the collection figures.

According to AndhraBoxOffice.com, Vakeel Saab raked in about Rs 90 crore over the weekend. Not just domestically, the film also is doing well in overseas markets. Several reports suggest that the film has made more than Rs 5 crore collection in the United States.

Vakeel Saab is the official remake of the Bollywood hit Pink. The film marks the return of Pawan Kalyan to the big screen after a gap of over two years. He was last seen in director Trivikram Srinivas’ Agnyaathavaasi. The film was released in 2018 amid a lot of expectations but eventually tanked at the box office.

Helmed by Venu Sriram, Vakeel Saab is bankrolled by producer Dil Raju and Bollywood’s hit producer Boney Kapoor.

Not just fans, Vakeel Saab has received positive reactions from the critics. And the big names of the industry are also giving glowing reviews to the movie on social media. Pawan is being praised for taking up a film with a strong message that challenges patriarchal views of a woman’s right to explore her sexuality and refuse intimacy. Besides Pawan, the film also stars Nivetha Thomas, Anjali, Ananya Nagalla, Prakash Raj, and Shruthi Haasan.



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1 dead, 4 critically injured in Texas office shooting; suspect in custody


The shooting took place at a cabinet company in Bryan, Texas.

Six people were shot, with one killed, Thursday afternoon at a cabinet-making business in Bryan, Texas, just outside of College Station, officials said. A Department of Public Safety officer was also shot while apprehending the suspect.

Four people were critically injured in the shooting at Kent Moore Cabinets and taken to St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital, Bryan Police Department Chief Eric Buske said. Another person was shot and taken to the hospital with non-critical injuries.

One victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

Bryan police said the lone suspect is in custody. The person is an employee of the company, Buske said.

The suspect had fled the location when Bryan police arrived shortly after 2:30 p.m. local time. He was taken into custody in Grimes County, Sheriff Donald Sowell told ABC News.

A Department of Public Safety officer was shot when taking the person into custody. He is in serious, but stable condition, the DPS said.

A seventh individual was taken to the hospital after suffering an asthma attack.

“Officers responded, they found several victims, and they were checking the area, check the building looking for more victims,” Bryan Police Department Lt. Jason James said in a brief presser. “This is a fluid event still so we’re still trying to get some more information.”

The FBI said in a statement it was “aware of the incident that occurred today in Bryan,” but the Bryan Police Department is leading the investigation. The Houston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also responding.

“I have been working closely with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers as they assist local law enforcement on a swift response to this criminal act,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Their efforts led to the arrest of the shooting suspect. The state will assist in any way needed to help prosecute the suspect.”

“[Abbott’s wife] Cecilia and I are praying for the victims and their families and for the law enforcement officer injured while apprehending the suspect,” he added.

Just hours earlier, Abbott had criticized President Joe Biden’s new executive actions aimed at gun reform.

“Biden is threatening our 2nd Amendment rights. He just announced a new liberal power grab to take away our guns,” he tweeted. “We will NOT allow this in TX.”

ABC News’ Abby Shalawylo and Gina Sunseri contributed to this report.



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Say What? MyPillow CEO Tells Steve Bannon ‘Trump Will Be Back in Office in August’



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Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, Inc., is currently entangled in a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit filed late last month by Dominion Voting Systems, Inc. The company claims Lindell, a staunch supporter of former US President Donald Trump, knowingly disseminated false information purporting that Dominion rigged the 2020 US presidential election.

During a recent appearance on “Steve Bannon’s War Room,” Lindell ended up getting into a bit of a shouting match with Bannon – a former White House chief strategist who notably received a pardon from 45 earlier this year. 

The conversation began with the businessman asserting, once again, that he is in possession of evidence that “is going to go before the Supreme Court.” 

He went on to baselessly argue that voter fraud was present in the 2020 presidential election. 

“It was an attack by other countries, communism coming in,” the My Pillow CEO added. “I don’t know what they’re going to do with that after they pull it down.”

According to the US National Intelligence Council, there were “no indications that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process in the 2020 US elections, including voter registration, casting ballots, vote tabulation, or reporting results.” 

As Bannon tried to butt in, Lindell talked over the host to make one last assertion: “Donald Trump will be back in office in August!” 

While Lindell has been permanently suspended from Twitter, the businessman’s comments managed to become a trending topic on the social media platform.  

“The problem is not that Mike Lindell says crazy, stupid stuff. The problem is that there are violent pro Trump supporters who believe this, egged on by GOP leaders who lie about the election being stolen,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted. “That’s why National Guard troops in body armor are still at our Capitol.” 

Sputnik reported last month that Lindell was named as a defendant in a $1.3 billion lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems. 

The suit, which names both Lindell and his company, alleged the businessman sought to use Trump’s campaign as “another chance to boost sales.” It also claimed Lindell’s allegations of election rigging “have exposed Dominion to the most extreme hatred and contempt.” 



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‘Hotel deals and house swaps’: Returning to the office after a sea or tree change


Did you move to the coast or country during COVID-19, but kept your job in the city? 

If so, the long commute may be about to bite, as more bosses demand their employees return to the office for at least a couple of days per week.

So, what’s a person to do – other than suck it up, or try to plead the case for continued remote working? 

For many, the answer is a combination of long drives or train travel, broken up by nights spent crashing in family or friends’ spare rooms. Others are making the most of largely empty hotels or Airbnbs in the city to nab cheap last-minute deals.  

Or in the case of Angus Smith, who moved from Melbourne to Barwon Heads earlier this year, catching the ferry back to the big smoke.

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Angus Smith catches the 70-minute ferry to the Docklands before cycling to work along the Yarra. Photo: Supplied

While he and his partner used to spend most weekends in the coastal town prior to COVID-19, the Melbourne lockdowns sealed the decision to make a full-time sea change. 

“To be able to be locked out from friends, family and the surf beach was a bit much, and we thought we’re working remotely most of the time, so why not?” 

Smith, who works at an international humanitarian organisation, now throws his bike in the car for the scenic drive to Portarlington about twice a week, and catches the 70-minute ferry to the Docklands ($33 return), before cycling the last part of his journey along the Yarra River.

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Angus says the commute is his favourite part of the day. Photo: Supplied

On the ferry ride in, he does some work, and on his return journey, enjoys a glass of wine.

“I thought it was going to be a horrible commute but it’s actually my favourite part of the day,” he says.

Many companies are taking a more flexible approach to working from home, or slowly easing employees back into office life. For example, this week the Victorian government announced a new flexible work policy that requires public servants to return to the office at least three days a week.

By law, employers can give directions to their employees to work their normal hours at their workplace (except if they’re on approved leave), according to a Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson.

“An employee can’t refuse an employer’s direction to perform work if the direction is lawful and reasonable,” the spokesperson said.

Of course, when you work for yourself, there’s more opportunity to be flexible, even when many of your clients are still in the CBD. 

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Last December Amber Daines and her family moved to Kariong on the Central Coast. Photo: Stephen Blake

That’s the case for business communications specialist Amber Daines. Last December, she and her family rented out their place in Gladesville, nine kilometres from Sydney’s CBD, to move to Kariong on the Central Coast.

But their move wasn’t really about the beach lifestyle. Rather, Daines’ eldest son had secured a spot at a sought-after sports college.

“We kind of all went, well COVID lets us work more flexibly, do we give it a couple of years and see how it goes?” says Daines. “A year ago I wouldn’t have even thought about it.”

She usually stays in a hotel for one to two nights each fortnight to meet her city clients, while her husband commutes more frequently to his full-time job and often stays with a friend.

Airbnb
Check Airbnb for cheap rooms. Photo: Peter Braig

“There are a lot of good deals at the moment,” says Daines, who always books hotels that offer free cancellations, just in case clients change meeting times. 

“During summer it was actually cheaper to stay in Sydney in a five-star hotel than to stay in an Airbnb on the Central Coast.”

Recently she stayed two nights for free, including parking, at a luxury hotel in Circular Quay, using points through American Express Travel.

Back in Victoria, sales manager and surfer Raphael Bieniara commutes to his Melbourne office two to three times a week, after moving from Elwood to Jan Juc last July. The drive takes about an hour and 20 minutes.

“I sometimes stay in Melbourne, so it’s a mix of both,” he says. “The commute I don’t mind, I’m listening to podcasts and I’m on the phone to customers.”

Bieniara says he has no regrets about the move – even with the much longer commute. “It was absolutely the right decision.”

How to find a cheap city crash pad

  • Check hotel websites and apps directly for a better price
  • Book a cheap private room on Airbnb
  • Dust off your Frequent Flyer points for a hotel stay
  • Find a youth hostel with barely any guests
  • Sign up to loyalty programs. For example, hotels.com offers a free night for every 10 nights booked
  • Try shopback.com.au for cheap deals and cash-back offers
  • Do a room trade with your city friends.

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90% of CEOs say they’ll want to know if employees are vaccinated — before they return to the office


Have you received your COVID-19 vaccine shots?

That’s what the overwhelming majority of companies are going to be asking their employees, according to a new survey of CEOs in the U.S.

91% of the 140 polled CEOs said their companies will be asking workers to inform them once the workers have been vaccinated, according to the survey from KPMG, the global tax, advisory and accounting firm.

That question will be part of the new normal as COVID-19 case counts decline and vaccination rates in the U.S. keep climbing, Tuesday’s survey suggests. All the CEOs polled by KPMG head companies making at least $500 million in annual revenue.

Just over half the CEOs (52%) said they expect business to return to normal by the fall or winter of 2021. Another 29% said it will take until some point next year, while another 19% said business is changed forever.

As of Tuesday, nearly one-third of American adults had received at least one dose of the two-shot vaccines made by Moderna
MRNA,
-0.04%
or the vaccine from Pfizer
PFE,
+1.63%
and BioNTech
BNTX,
+0.66%,
according to a tracker from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over 17% have been fully vaccinated, the CDC tracker said.

The Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
+1.83%
shot that has also received emergency use authorization is a single-dose vaccine.

The KPMG survey indicates many companies will want to know the vaccination status of their employees, and guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers can generally mandate vaccinations.

The guidance from the federal workplace regulator “makes it very clear that employers have the law on their side,” Sahar Aziz, a Rutgers Law School professor specializing in employment discrimination, previously told MarketWatch.

The exception to that mandate, Aziz added, are workers with a “sincerely held religious belief” against vaccinations or workers who have disabilities preventing them from getting inoculated.

Employers can ask about a worker’s vaccination status because that’s not a disability-related question under the circumstances, according to the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr. The person’s answer “does not necessarily reveal the employee’s medical condition,” the firm said. There could be many reasons why a person has not yet received the vaccine, the firm’s attorneys noted.

For one thing, a worker might not have access to the vaccine yet.

Half of the CEOs polled by KPMG said their biggest worry was that politics and vaccine access in differing countries would hobble the effort to have staff vaccinated. For example, European countries countries have struggled in their own vaccination efforts.

One-third of CEOs worried their staff would not get vaccinated because of misinformation about safety.

In the U.S., fewer people are waiting and hesitancy is weakening, polls suggest. 22% of people polled by the health-policy think tank Kaiser Family Foundation in February put themselves in the “wait and see” category, down from 31% in January from 39% in December.

A Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month said 69% of Americans intend to get their shots, or have already been vaccinated. That’s up from 60% of people who said in November they were planning to be vaccinated.

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Biden press conference raises questions about fitness for office: Ronny Jackson


Texas Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, a former White House physician, believes that President Biden’s press conference performance raises questions about his fitness for office. 

The Texas congressman told Fox News on Friday that Biden’s behavior at his first solo press conference Thursday — which came 64 days after he took office — “should concern every American who wants to know that their President is fit for duty and in control.” 

“The President of the United States was armed with a picture book of friendly reporters to call on and with what appeared to be prepared answers, but he still could barely make it through his first press conference,” said Jackson.

DOOCY CONFRONTS PSAKI OVER FOX NEWS GETTING SNUBBED AT PRESSER, ASKS IF IT’S ‘OFFICIAL ADMINISTRATION POLICY’

“If President Biden cannot handle questions from his cheerleaders in the White House press corps, then it is concerning to think about how he represents the American people when speaking to foreign leaders,” the former White House physician continued.

“Politics aside, this should concern every American who wants to know that their President is fit for duty and in control.” 

Biden, 78, stumbled multiple times and fell as he boarded Air Force One last week. White House press secretary Jen Psaki later dodged questions about whether the president was examined by a doctor after the fall.

The president was caught in photos appearing to use “cheat sheets” at his first press conference, photos revealed.

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Only 25 reporters were allowed to attend the press conference, and only a select number of reporters were called on for their questions.

Biden drew criticism after he snubbed Fox News from asking questions while appearing to pick reporters from a pre-chosen list.

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‘Tax office’ scammers target Geelong residents


Over the past few months Geelong police have posted multiple warnings about scammers, with several dozen locals reporting attempted scams.

When notified they had attempted to scam a journalist, the operator hung up.

So far this year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s watchdog, Scamwatch, has received 2150 reports mentioning ‘tax file number’ or ‘taxation’ with losses of $555,000.

These include 530 from Victoria totalling $188,000 in losses.

In 2020, Scamwatch received about 8830 reports with losses of almost $1 million, including about 2500 from Victoria totalling $336,000 in losses.

Tax scams accounted for the highest percentage of losses in Victoria in 2020, a trend that has continued this year.

The callers will either claim that the victim’s tax file number is suspended and demand they pay a fine, or that scammers have their tax file details and ask them to transfer money “while we sort it out”.

“Sometimes scammers can disguise their identity and ‘spoof’ a phone number to make it look like their call is coming from a legitimate organisation, or a different phone number,” a Scamwatch spokesperson said.

The victim could also receive an automated message making similar claims and requesting them to “dial one”.

If they do so, they are connected with a scammer claiming to be from the ATO, another government agency or an ‘investigator’.

“Don’t be pressured by a threatening caller and take your time to consider who you are actually dealing with,” Scamwatch’s spokesperson said.

“If you are not sure about the legitimacy of a call, hang up and call the organisation directly using independently-sourced contact details.

“Remember that government departments will never threaten you with immediate arrest.”

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Ex-AFP officer Ramzi Jabbour cleared of gun possession and abuse of public office charges


The Australian Federal Police’s former deputy commissioner has been cleared of criminal charges, including over an incident where a relative used his gun to shoot at kangaroos.

Ramzi Jabbour, once touted as a potential AFP Commissioner, was stood down in 2019 and later charged with possessing a prohibited firearm and dishonestly exercising influence as a public official, after an investigation by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement integrity.

It was alleged in the ACT Magistrates Court that Mr Jabbour had taken his service pistol from a shooting range to a property in New South Wales with other AFP officers in 2018.

The court heard a relative had fired nine rounds from the pistol, including shooting at kangaroos, which the prosecution argued amounted to an unlawful hunt using an AFP weapon.

Today Magistrate James Stewart found there was not enough detail in the prosecution case to show that Mr Jabbour’s conduct was outside the rules, or beyond the general immunity someone in his position.

Child’s homework under the microscope

Mr Jabbour was also accused of using his position in a dishonest fashion to get advice from a legal officer.

An email was shown to the court in which Mr Jabbour told the officer he was doing some study and was looking for a “steer” in the right direction on some questions about tort law.

The questions were actually for a child’s homework assignment.

Ramzi Jabbour was cleared of all charges in the ACT Magistrates Court.(

ABC News: Ian Cutmore

)

Mr Jabbour’s lawyers argued the request was a sarcastic remark, rather than a dishonest one.

Magistrate Stewart found there was nothing illegal in the request.

Outcome is truly justice: lawyer

Mr Jabbour’s lawyer Ken Archer said said those who had defended his client’s character throughout the case had been vindicated.  

“During the hearing some very senior people from law enforcement agencies, both federal and state, gave evidence in relation to Ramzi Jabbour’s character,” he said outside court.

“That he was an officer of the highest integrity who has made significant contributions to our community.

The court has awarded costs to Mr Jabbour, who has since left the AFP.

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Avatar set to reclaim box office crown


James Cameron’s science-fiction blockbuster Avatar is poised to return to the top of the all-time movie box office charts this weekend after the film was re-released in China.

Avatar, which made its debut in 2009, held the global box office title for a decade until it was overtaken by Marvel superhero epic Avengers: Endgame in 2019.

On Friday, Cameron’s film rung up an estimated $US3.5 million ($A4.5 million) in new ticket sales after it was re-released in China, where movie-going has rebounded following theatre closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That put Avatar just shy of the $US2.798 billion worldwide total collected by Endgame, according to distributor Walt Disney Co.

Both films are now owned by Disney after the company bought entertainment assets from Fox in 2019.

Cameron has been working on four sequels to Avatar. The next film, which has been delayed several times, is scheduled for release in December 2022.



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M&S to close floors at largest London store to create office for hybrid workers


Marks & Spencer has unveiled plans to downsize its Marble Arch shop and convert upper floors to offices.

The high street retailer has launched a consultation on its plans to redevelop the shop in central London. Lower floors will continue trading as M&S, with in-store digital shopping technology to promote products from M&S.com. A development partner will convert the upper floors into high-quality office space, which M&S believes will attract demand from tenants despite companies such as HSBC, KPMG, Standard Chartered and Lloyds announcing plans to cut office space as they shift to permanent hybrid working models, where staff spend some days in the office and some days working from home.

Marble Arch is M&S’s largest shop, with 160,000 sq ft of trading space. The rise in online shopping, which has accelerated during the pandemic, has reduced demand for bricks and mortar outlets. About 16,000 shops shut for good last year and a further 925 have closed in the first two months of this year.

Big high street brands including John Lewis have begun exploring alternative uses for parts of their large shops, such as co-working space and flats.

M&S’s proposed redevelopment forms part of its “never the same again” strategy to modernise the business and learn lessons from the pandemic.

The retailer said it would “unlock value from the site as well as retaining a modernised store in the west end of Oxford Street, delivering the best of M&S for customers, colleagues, communities and shareholders.” Staff working at the branch will be redeployed to other shops before returning to Marble Arch once the development is complete.

The pandemic has taken its toll on M&S’s finances, with the retailer reporting its first loss in its 94-history as a public company. In November it reported a £87.6 million statutory loss before tax for the six months to September 26 after its clothing shops were forced to shut for half of the period. This compared with a profit of £158.8 million the year before.

M&S could boost its cash balance by selling or sub-letting part of its property portfolio. It owns about 40 per cent of its shops and other accommodation on a freehold or long leasehold basis. The company holds the long leasehold on the Marble Arch store. The freehold belongs to the Portman Estate, which owns 110 acres around Marylebone.

Despite the sharp fall in office lettings during the pandemic as corporates shift to home-working, office property values in the west end of London have remained high as investors from around the world search for yield in a low-interest rate environment. Rents for high quality space has remained at pre-pandemic levels, according to Knight Frank, the property consultancy.

Westminster city council has launched a £150 million initiative to lure people back to the Oxford Street area, which was Europe’s busiest shopping street prior to the pandemic. Plans include creating a 25-metre high grassy hill, called the “Marble Arch mound” with views of Hyde Park, Mayfair and Marylebone.

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company, the local business improvement body, said: “With Crossrail opening in the next 12 months, Oxford Street’s appeal not only for retail and leisure, but for office space will only continue to build.

“This continued level of investment, building on the £150 million public realm commitment from Westminster city council, is a sign of a sustainable, agile and altogether stronger future for the district, creating a more exciting economic hub that will remain competitive on the global stage.”



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