Bravo to Bollywood

ARTICLE

Bravo to Bollywood

As thousands of fans await Arijit Singh’s concert at Dubai World Trade Centre this weekend, the emirate is finding ever-inventive ways to tap into Bollywood’s huge appeal

Bollywood singer Arijit Singh is set to perform at Dubai World Trade Centre this weekend, kicking off a busy and exciting cultural calendar for the UAE’s South Asian residents and visitors alike.

Singh is one of the most popular voices in the Indian film industry. Recording songs for more than 150 movies, he embodies the pulling power of all that is Bollywood, both on the Indian subcontinent and here in the UAE.

South Asians comprise nearly half of the UAE’s population thanks to a long history of close trade ties between the various nations, in particular India (the rupee was the official currency in The Trucial States (now the UAE), until 1966). Today, there are more than 2.5 million Indians living in the UAE, accounting for nearly one third of the country’s total population.

Consequently, Bollywood has a loyal fan following in the UAE. There are several radio stations, including City 101.6 and Radio 4 89.1FM with a strong Bollywood focus. Bollywood films are also traditionally released to packed cinemas a day earlier here than in India in order to fill the prime Thursday night slots and the Friday/Saturday weekend. The annual Masala Awards night, which recognises the achievements of the South Asian community in the UAE, and also honours established and emerging Bollywood figures, has been a star-studded fixture in the Dubai social calendar for more than a decade.

Jumping on the brand wagon

As in India, in the UAE, Bollywood sells. Local companies eagerly seek endorsement from the best-loved names. In 2014, for example, one of India’s most globally recognised actors, Shah Rukh Khan was paid more than $2 million to become the brand ambassador for a real estate project at Dubai Investment Park. He was also involved in a Du advert in 2009, which led to thousands of consumers leaving voicemail messages for the star. Salman Khan, the so-called bad boy of Bollywood, fronted advertising campaigns for Sharjah-based fashion retailer Splash between 2013 and 2016, while Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty was an ambassador for Danube Properties, and more recently actress and model Sushmita Sen. An appearance by a leading Bollywood name at a restaurant, nightclub or hotel equally provides huge publicity for a brand.

Conscious of the potent influence of Bollywood on consumer choices, Dubai Tourism & Commerce Marketing recently enlisted Shah Rukh Khan, who regularly refers to Dubai as his second home, to film a series of promotional videos for the emirate as part of its #BeMyGuest campaign.

India, the world’s second most populous country, is already the biggest single source market for visitors to Dubai. More than 2 million Indians travelled to the emirate in 2017, an increase of 15 per cent on the year before.

Increased spending

But India is also one of the fastest growing outbound tourism markets due to its rapidly emerging middle class. A growing economy means higher disposable incomes, making more and more people financially able to travel abroad. Between 2010 and 2017, the amount Indians spent on overseas travel rose 75 per cent, from $10.5bn to $18.4bn, and the number of people departing the country jumped more than 70 per cent to 22 million. As a result, tourism authorities across the world are competing to attract Indian visitors and making it increasingly convenient to obtain visas.

In one of the adverts for Dubai Tourism & Commerce Marketing, Shah Rukh Khan promotes Dubai as a honeymoon destination. In another, he makes a personal invitation to his fans to visit Dubai. The video has received more than 11 million views online.

Keen also to tap in to the power of the big screen, the UAE has adopted a policy of trying to make it easy for Bollywood’s filmmakers to work in the country. The long list of movies being made here continues to grow as a result. Race 3, starring Bollywood legends Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez and Anil Kapoor, filmed scenes in Abu Dhabi last year. Parts of Shah Rukh Khan’s most recent movie, Zero, were also shot in Dubai.

In a further effort to attract tourists from the wider region, Dubai opened the world’s first Bollywood-inspired theme park in November 2016. The park offers rides and live shows based on some of the biggest blockbusters from India’s legendary film industry. Visitors can also meet look-a-likes of Bollywood stars and 11 new shows have been slated for the first half of 2019.

Packed calendar

This Friday, Arijit Singh’s return to Dubai after a gap of nearly two years, makes his concert a hugely anticipated event. He follows the shows of several other popular Bollywood playback singers at Dubai World Trade Centre in recent months, including Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal and Kumar Sanu.

The shows at the Dubai World Trade Centre Arena typically draw 2,000-3,000 concert goers, which makes for a more intimate experience than a concert by a Bollywood star held in India. Singh won the trophy for the Best Asian Concert at the Masala Awards in 2014 and again in 2015 for his unplugged concert at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dubai. The tickets sold out within weeks of going on sale.

Dubai’s Bollywood calendar continues in March when Salman Khan brings his high energy Da-Bangg Reloaded music and dance show to Dubai Festival City. The extravaganza, which toured the US and Canada in 2018 to sell out audiences, features extraordinary audio-visuals and pyrotechnics and has been described as the most expensive and technically advanced show in the history of live Bollywood entertainment.

For Bollywood fans, 2019 is already off to a flying start, with more excitement set to follow.

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