UAE lands leading Bollywood role - The National DUBAI // The UAE has unseated the UK as the second biggest overseas market for Indian films and is even challenging the US, the largest market in terms of box-office earnings. According to industry insiders, the Middle East - and specifically the UAE - has emerged as a key overseas market due to the large South Asian community here that enjoys Indian films. "The UAE is second in the pecking order now after the US. The UAE can even rival the US in some films," said Mahesh Ramanathan, the chief operating officer of Reliance Big Pictures, India's largest entertainment company, which has a joint venture with Hollywood's DreamWorks SKG to produce films internationally. "The UAE is emerging as a very significant market because it has left the UK behind. The UAE is on par, and even rivals, North America for some films," he said. Experts say the recession contributed to Britons passing on Hindi-language movies that do not feature big star casts. "The situation in the UK is probably aggravated because of the recession. The trend is that they essentially come in for the stars," said Mr Ramanathan. "The UAE market is not star-driven; it's a market driven by a stronger audience attachment." While independent box office numbers are hard to come by, figures from Indian and UAE distributors and producers show this region swept past the US in takings for one of Bollywood's biggest hits, Dabangg (Fearless). The Middle East drew US$1.8 million (Dh6.6 million) for this action movie, followed by the US with $1.3 million and the UK at $1.2 million. The Middle East takings were $370,000 for a comedy about con men, Yamla Pagla Deewana (Crazy), edging past the UK at $338,000, although behind the US at $993,000. Another romantic film Break Ke Baad (After the break) put the US ahead at $432,000, the Middle East at $394,000 and the UK at $280,000. Apart from Dubai turning into a popular destination for Bollywood premieres, films are also being released specifically in this region. Shagird (Apprentice), a film about a clash between the police, politicians and crime lords, was released earlier this month in the UAE and the US, but not in the UK. The acceptance of Hindi films here is high, experts say, because of the ties that bind expatriates to their homeland. "People here can still relate to Bollywood movies whereas in the UK they sometimes find them cheesy," said Mahi Golchin-Deepala, the managing director of Phars Films, the leading GCC distributor of Indian films. "People here feel closer to India than people in the UK and the US. Most movies work here in tandem with India as opposed to other overseas markets." She said films with major stars such as Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan worked across the board, but the UAE's large South Asian community was appreciative of smaller films too. "Salman and Shah Rukh films always have a lot of traffic, but in the UAE it's not just Indians, but Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and so many others who watch Indian movies," said Ms Golchin-Deepala. Watching Bollywood films is a family affair in the UAE and this trend has been spotted by filmmakers. "Movie viewings become a family outing in the UAE, whereas in the UK and US, unless the film has a Shah Rukh Khan, not too many people want to check it out," said Ashish Patil, the head of Y-films, the youth studio of the well-known Indian movie house Yash Raj Films. "My understanding is that in terms of behaviour, the UAE operates as an extended India. In the UK, kids would prefer Twilight to a Hindi film. But the Asian population in the UAE is a lot more open to newcomers and new films."