Abu Dhabi: Time was when a garage would be turned into a movie hall and people would sit on sand to watch on. But the movie experience has seen a sea change in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - today some cinema companies operate more than 300 screens equipped with world-class technology and release hundreds of Indian films every year.
Phars Film, a pioneering film industry firm in the Middle East, which distributes Asian - Bollywood, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam - and American independent titles, usually releases 250 Indian movies as well as popular English titles.
"There are more than 300 cinema screens and more are coming up all the time. We are releasing movies simultaneously here. Not only Indian movies, we even release English movies - sometimes even a day before the world premier opening," Ahmad Golchin, founder and CEO of Phars Film, told reporters.
"Arabs love Indian movies," he said. "India makes about 1,000 films a year and among them we release about 250 movies.”
"We release them every Thursday and give it a week to pick up. If the film is good we run it for five weeks and sometimes 10 weeks as well. `Dabangg` ran for six weeks and it is still running in theatres," he added.
Golchin, also founder and managing partner of Gulf Film which distributes Hollywood and Arab films, says he has been in the business for 46 years.
Remembering the old times, he said, "In the 1960s, they opened two cinema halls. In Doha, there used to be a garage and they used to turn it into a theatre at night. People used to sit on the sand and those who could shell out some extra money, they used to get to sit on Pepsi Cola boxes and watch the movies. In old times there was no TV. People used to enjoy going to movies."
English movies entered the Gulf region in the 1970s.
"But at that time we used to have late releases. In the 1990s, we started releasing English movies simultaneously and Arabs loved it. For them English movies became number one. But Asians still like watching Indian movies."
The UAE has the second highest Indian diaspora in the Gulf region after Saudi Arabia.
"There is a demand for Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu movies. We buy the distribution rights for three to seven years. For Indian movies we get minimum five prints and maximum 45 prints. Usually we take five prints for non-commercial movies. We buy about two to five prints of Malayalam movies."
Golchin says the Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rai sci-fi thriller ‘Endhiran’ has been the biggest Tamil release here. "We bought 10 prints for the Tamil version and 10 for the Hindi version of the film."
Golchin`s company Phars Film distributes Hindi Bollywood films in the region with partner company, Al Nisr.
About the ongoing ‘Abu Dhabi Film Festival’, Golchin feels it provides an opportunity to watch class movies. "The films shown here are not always commercial films. Festivals are good for class movies," he said.
Bilal Sabouni, the newly appointed Phars Film Group general manager, said the company is gearing up to make a mark on the world map by building the world`s single largest cinema complex.
He said the number of screens is significantly larger than any other complex anywhere in the world.
"We are looking to take our established industry strength and branch out into other entertainment-related industries such as gaming, production and even events management to name a few," Sabouni told reporters.