United Arab Emirates Leads the Way in West Asia in Luring Foreign Shoots

·3-min read

Abu Dhabi and Dubai have made huge strides in attracting foreign film and TV productions to the United Arab Emirates as part of an ongoing effort by the federation of states on the Persian Gulf to diversify from their oil-based economy.

They have come a long way since 2006 when Matt Damon and George Clooney-starrer “Syriana” marked the first major Hollywood film shot in the Dubai desert, followed by “The Kingdom,” which brought Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner to Abu Dhabi in 2007. In 2011, UAE aficionado Tom Cruise personally pulled off the stunt of gliding down Dubai’s 163-floor Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.”

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Besides Hollywood, Bollywood in more recent years has become a major customer with an increasing number of Indian blockbusters choosing to shoot in the UAE, which is turning out to be a really good fit.

Case in point is big-budget action thriller “Vikram Vedha,” toplining Hrithik Roshan, one of India’s biggest stars, who plays a gangster in the Hindi-language remake of the hit Tamil-language film by the same title. The pic, produced by Reliance Entertainment and Y Not Studios, was originally meant to shoot in Northern India. Then the second wave of COVID-19 hit and everything there shut down.

“One of the most critical aspects, or I would say one of the facts, that made us make the decision to shoot here is the fact that Abu Dhabi is just 2½ hours away from India [by air],” says Vikram Agrawal, Reliance head of content development and production, from the “Vikram Vedha” set. He notes that since Indian nationals are the biggest expat population in the UAE, “we can get innumerable extras and actors who are Indian, locally.” Plus they’ve been able to re-create Lucknow, the capital city of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in Abu Dhabi, primarily shooting in a studio “where I was able to get a team in place and re-create Lucknow city with Indian props and Indian extras.

“The kind of facilities that Abu Dhabi gives you to shoot a film are as good as anywhere in the world; it’s top notch,” says Agrawal. “I compare it to literally being at home in Mumbai or in L.A.; you have everything available here, from crew to equipment.” And, he adds, “the biggest thing is the studio,” referring to the sprawling backlot of local production hub Twofour54 that offers standing sets replicating old West Asian and African towns amid a desert landscape.

Bollywood productions have also been flocking to Dubai, where Indian actor-producer Shah Rukh Khan in January shot a segment of his big-budget spy thriller “Pathan.” Indian actor-producer Dulquer Salmaan’s crimer “Kurup,” directed by Srinath Rajendran, was also partly shot in Dubai. In early November, the city hosted the premiere of the highly anticipated film by beaming the trailer from the top of Burj Khalifa.

Incidentally, also in November, Will Smith climbed to the top of the Burj Khalifa to complete a cardio workout as part of his YouTube series “Best Shape of My Life.” And Dubai is also set to host U.S. cable network Bravo’s first international adaptation of its “Real Housewives” franchise, “The Real Housewives of Dubai,” set against the backdrop of the city’s “over-the-top opulence, jaw-dropping modern architecture and wild nightlife scene,” as the network put it in a statement.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai both recently hosted the shoot of Renny Harlin’s actioner “The Misfits,” toplining Pierce Brosnan as a slick thief leading a ragtag group of criminals on a major heist mission. The film, co-produced by UAE-based FilmGate Production in partnership with Paramount and Highland Film Group, is touted as the first Emirati-Hollywood co-production.

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