New Delhi, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Middle East is becoming an increasingly desirable filming location for the Indian film industry, with over a dozen A-list Bollywood productions filmed at various locations in the Middle East in 2013.
Another major film is currently being filmed in the UAE.
“We are shooting with a huge crew of 100-plus people for at least 45 days in UAE,” said Firoz A Nadiadwala, producer of Welcome Back.
The Mumbai-based producer has been filming in the Middle East since the early 1990s.
“I have filmed around 18 or 19 films in Middle East, especially Dubai—so many that I haven’t counted. And each year, I have seen this city grow from strength to strength. I consider Dubai my first home,” Nadiadwala told Asharq Al-Awsat by phone.
“In my work experience spanning many years, and having been to different parts of the world, there’s no place like Dubai. It’s the way that it has positioned [itself] in all its aspects—be it governance, culture, infrastructure. We get the feel of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong, all in Dubai,” he said.
Nearly 80 percent of the film will be shot on location in the UAE, the rest in Mumbai. The film is actually set in Dubai, with landmarks like the Burj Khalifa, the Burj Al-Arab, Meydan and Jumeirah Zabeel Saray featured heavily in the film.
Reports recently emerged that the royal family of Dubai allowed the producers to shoot a pivotal scene on their personal yacht.
Confirming the news, Firoz A Nadiadwala says: “It will be the first time that this yacht will be featured in a film.”
In November 2013, scenes from another Bollywood A-list production, Gunday, were filmed in Nizwa, Quriyat and Bandar Al-Khayran, in the Sultanate of Oman. A production of Yas Raj films, the film stars Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh and is slated for release in February.
A source from Yas Raj films stated that the production employed a large number of Omanis as logistic and production support.
Indian filmmakers say that Oman is slowly becoming a Bollywood hotspot, saying that it offers picture-perfect locations as well as a friendly government.
Recently, the government of Oman invited a delegation of directors, screenwriters and producers from Mumbai to the country in a bid to position it as a destination for big-budget Bollywood film shoots.
At the invitation of the Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Development (PAIPED) Oman, Bollywood directors and writers Sriram Raghavan, Sudhir Mishra, Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan, Ashwini Chaudhary and producer Amar Butala of UTV Motion Pictures, among others, viewed potential filming locations in Muscat, Dakhiliyah and Al-Batinah.
“Oman’s versatility is splendid: it offers spectacular deserts, pristine beaches, clear blue seas, valleys and even snow-capped mountain scenery,” said Amar Bhutalia of UTV.
As well as the scenery, Gautam Roy of V4 Entertainment said that travelling from Mumbai to Muscat is cost effective and more practical than reaching some locations within India.
Oman Tourism also partnered with the producers of the film Once Upon ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara!, released in 2013, in its effort to popularize the Gulf country as a leisure destination among the Indian travelers. Part of the film was shot in Oman, including the capital, Muscat.
Bollywood’s “ruling Khans,” Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan, have also shot exclusively in Dubai for their forthcoming films Happy New Year and Jai Ho.
Media reports say that the filming of Happy New Year, starring Shahrukh Khan, has brought an estimated 5 million US dollars to the UAE.
Shot in October, it is the first full-length feature film to be shot almost entirely in the Emirates. The film is to set to be released in October 2014.
“This is not just a dance scene: about 80–90 percent of the whole film was shot in Dubai. The film production team was also provided many incentives from Dubai International Airport, Emirates Airlines and immigration authorities. The entire movie crew booked 180 rooms at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm for 25 days,” said Khan.
“It was like choosing the city for the Olympics. For us there was only one city, and that was Dubai.”
Khan has also announced that “Happy New Year” would make its world premiere in Dubai at Atlantis, The Palm.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, the producer and director of Jai Ho, Sohail Khan, said: “We went to Dubai for a fight scene, as we had a requirement for an amusement park, and Wonderland theme park was a beautiful place.”
The premier of the movie was held in Dubai before its Indian release on January 22.
The entire crew of 120 was flown from India for 12 days of filming in Dubai. Salman’s previous two blockbusters ,Tiger and Dabang, were shot in Istanbul, Morooco and Dubai.
Dubai and Bollywood seemed to have developed a love affair that is apparently getting stronger by the day. Bollywood-linked designers also find a healthy demand for their designs and clothing lines in the Middle East. Apart from flaunting their labels in upmarket malls, Jumeirah Beach Road is lined with Indian designer stores like those of Ritu Kumar and Manish Malhotra.
Financial incentives have deepened the relationship. A recent study by India’s Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) concluded that the falling Indian rupee has led to a sharp decline in Bollywood movies being shot in exotic (to Indians) foreign locales like Europe.
“The film producers are opting for less expensive destinations in the Middle East and South Africa,” said Assocham secretary-general D.S Rawat. “These places offer world-class locations at lower prices, since the shooting costs turn out to be much higher in countries in Western Europe.”
With a huge Indian presence in the Gulf and a growing number of fans among Arabs as well, the Middle East seems set to remain both a vital market and filming destination for Bollywood.