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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

Dubai Diary: India's cultural invasion

Be it movies or Indian languages, Indian culture is very popular in Dubai, writes Rakesh Kombra.

india Updated: Aug 01, 2007 19:14 IST
Rakesh Kombra
Rakesh Kombra

Publishers and booksellers across the world used all kinds of gimmicks to push the sales of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Dubai was not to be left behind. A bookseller in Dubai used a novel ploy indeed: he found a look-alike of Harry Potter - or at least of Daniel Radcliffe as he looked while playing Harry Potter in the movie - and paraded him at his shop the day the book was released worldwide. The boy resembling Harry Potter happened to be an Indian - Dhaval Dave from Ahmedabad.

Dave does not live in Dubai. In fact it was the 19-year-old's first visit to this Gulf state. The enterprising bookseller spotted him on a TV show on an Indian channel, located his telephone number and got him to Dubai for the launch.

Dave had clearly rehearsed the part of Harry Potter for the occasion. His mannerisms were spot on, exactly those of Radcliffe in the film. And he stole the show. Nearly everyone who bought a copy of the book wanted to have it autographed by the Potter clone as well. Many asked to be photographed with him, and the bookseller duly obliged (for a fee, of course).

India's image may have changed a great deal worldwide in the recent past, but not in Dubai. Here, for Europeans and Arabs alike, the Indian stereotype is still that of an illiterate labourer or a Malayali clerk. So it was a welcome change to see white and brown alike queuing up to fawn over an Indian.

Telling an Untold Story

There is a standing joke in Dubai that Malayalam is the 'unofficial' official language of Dubai, given the frequency with which it is heard on the street. But given the poor or lower middle class background of most migrant Malayalees, their social or cultural history, or their role in Dubai's society, has hardly ever been documented. NRIs in Britain and even the United States have had books written about them; feature films and TV shows made about them, but not those in the Gulf, though their numbers are just as sizeable, and they have a zillion interesting stories to tell.

Thus the Malayalam film Arabikatha (The Arabian Story), recently screened in Dubai, came as a delightful surprise. Directed by Lal Jose, and shot largely in Dubai, it is all about the average Indian's dream of making big money by working in the land of petro dollars. The loans poor Indians take to pay employment agents, or just to rustle up the airfare to the Gulf, the back breaking hours they work to pay back those loans, as well as put aside a little for their future, the solitary lives they lead with their families far away, have all been beautifully captured. The film has become a talking point here among Indians, even among the poor workers, who have begun to feel that their life stories too have some significance.

The Boss on a roll

It is yet another indication of the growing Indian influence here that Rajnikant's Sivaji continues to top the box office here, more than a month after its release. Sivaji's success has come as a shock to most locals, since for them Indian cinema so far began and ended with Bollywood. Most people simply do not know that there are thriving film industries in other parts of India as well.

'Who's this guy?' was the common refrain about Rajnikant when Sivaji was first released. The upmarket multiplexes all refused to screen the film, since they thought its audience would be confined to working class South Indians. They must be rueing their decision now, since the run down, less classy theatres, which did accept Sivaji have all, made a killing.

It has been Rajni-mania across the Gulf for the past month. One group of Rajni fans in neighbouring Sharjah distributed tickets to Sivaji free to blue-collar workers in the vicinity, who they knew could not afford the price Dh 25 (Rs 275). Attendances in many workplaces dropped as employees played hookey during the day to watch Sivaji.

(The author is a senior Dubai based Indian journalist)

First Published: Aug 01, 2007 19:08 IST