Roll out the green carpet: Bollywood struts its stuff in UAE

Bollywood actor Salman Khan speaks during a press conference ahead of the 23rd edition of the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards in Abu Dhabi on 25 May, 2023.AFP

Some of Bollywood's biggest stars will walk the distinctive green carpet on Saturday as the UAE hosts the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, a showcase for the flagging Hindi-language movie industry.

Salman Khan and Abhishek Bachchan are among the A-listers in Abu Dhabi, capital of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates where more than a third of the 10 million population is Indian.

The stars will tread the green carpet -- adopted in 2007 in a nod to climate change -- after a year when Bollywood, Mumbai's Hindi movie machine, has misfired post-pandemic.

The rise in streaming, competition from other parts of India and a trend away from Bollywood's often thin plots have all contributed to keeping cinemas quiet, experts say.

However, Bollywood received a boost in March when viral dance number ‘Naatu Naatu’ won an Oscar for best song, a first for an Indian film.

In January, superstar Shah Rukh Khan's ‘Pathaan’ smashed Indian box office records, in another positive sign for the industry.

The Gulf, with its millions of South Asian residents and migrant workers, is a "huge market" for Bollywood, said industry expert Akshaye Rathi, director of the Aashirvad Cinemas chain.

"These kinds of events don't overcome a crisis overnight," Rathi told AFP ahead of the 23rd IIFA, the second edition in a row to be held in Abu Dhabi.

Bollywood actors Abhishek Bachchan, Rakul Preet Singh, Nora Fatehi and Vicky Kaushal attend a press conference ahead of the 23rd edition of the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards in Abu Dhabi on 25 May, 2023.

"But event by event, occasion by occasion the viewers keep reminding the diaspora there, the locals there about the existence of this wonderfully robust entertainment-producing fraternity."

The fantasy-adventure film ‘Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva’ looks likely to pick up a number of awards after being nominated in 10 categories including direction, best supporting female and male, and best original story.

The comedy-horror ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ and ‘Darlings’, a dark comedy, are both nominated for best picture, direction and best leading actress.

"I'm happy to know that IIFA is sold out completely, thank you all," Khan, a doyen of Indian cinema, said in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

"I'm sure everyone's got four or five tickets."

Bollywood, known for its strong musical tradition, is the world's most prolific producer of movies.

The Hindi-language film industry was worth $2.5 billion in 2019. India also releases hundreds of films in its 21 other official languages, churning out about 1,600 each year.

Pandemic lockdowns sent the industry into a tailspin, with multiplex chains suffering major losses and dozens of small cinemas going bust.

The IIFA awards have been held at other venues around the world including London, Madrid, Johannesburg and Singapore, reflecting Bollywood's wide appeal and the sprawling Indian diaspora.

"Bollywood is a very important window for the world to Indian cultural traditions," Sunjay Sudhir, India's ambassador to the UAE, said in Abu Dhabi.