Going to the movies is a favourite pastime for people all over the world and Egyptians are no exception. From the highly popular, locally produced comedies, which often take overacting to a whole new level, to American blockbusters; cinemas across the country provide many a few hours of respite from their day to day struggles.
In the 1980s, Indian films were very popular in Egypt. “The local movie industry was vibrant in those days and even though there were only a few theatres, Indian films were shown alongside the Egyptian ones,” Navedeep Suri, the Indian Ambassador in, Cairo said. However, in a bid to protect the local industry, the Minister of Culture at the time issued a decree that made it nearly impossible for distributors to continue profitably showing Indian films, and so they disappeared from the big screen.
In the meantime, Bollywood grew in importance and popularity in the rest of the world. “In 2004, Bollywood grossed twice the amount of Hollywood in revenues and over 90 countries now regularly screen Indian films,” ambassador Suri said. “In Egypt, the interest in Indian films did not disappear, [and] even if they were not available in cinemas, it was sustained through television.”
The interest in Indian movies worldwide and the enthusiasm for them, which the local Egyptian population expressed to the ambassador, prompted him to initiate an effort to bring the movies back to the Egyptian cinemas. “There are enough screens in Egypt compared to [those] in the 80s, but most of the movies shown are Hollywood produced. We felt we could be facilitators and we set up meeting for a large local distributor in India,” ambassador Suri said. “As we saw in other countries, Indian films are an important point of reference and culture, and not having Indian films in Egyptian cinemas meant that a global and popular industry is not represented here.”
The Indian film, My name is Khan, produced in 2010 and having received worldwide success, was shown in Egypt but that was a one off. “We felt we needed a sustainable solution and we are pleased that from 2 October, the biggest and most recent Bollywood films will be shown in Egypt again,” ambassador Suri said. For the coming three months, three releases are scheduled to be shown in eight theatres in Cairo and two in Alexandria and will each run for one month initially.
“The first film that will be shown is Chennai Express, which is the biggest and most successful film produced in India to date,” ambassador Suri said. Chennai Express features superstars Shah Ruh Khan and Deepika Padukone and is a rollercoaster ride of colour, dance, song, fights, jokes and riveting landscapes in a true Bollywood fashion.
The return of the Indian films to Egypt coincides with the 100th anniversary of Indian films. “It all started in 1913 in Mumbai and now the Indian film industry produces more films each year than anywhere else in the world,” ambassador Suri said. “We have two styles of cinema in India: commercial and art films, and even though there is some crossover, the majority of films are still made to simply entertain. From the first film up to now, this is because filmmakers feel that the average viewer has enough hassles in their life and needs some escape from grim reality which the films provide,” adding that this is something the Egyptian audience can relate to.
Besides providing the Egyptian audience with an opportunity to enjoy the Indian movies that are popular all over the world, bringing them back to Egypt can have another potential benefit. “Over the years several Indian filmmakers have travelled to countries like the UK, Switzerland and South Africa, countries where Indian films are very popular, to shoot scenes on location. Subsequently, this raised the profile of these countries and an increase of Indian tourists to these destinations was the result,” ambassador Suri said. He added that there is a growing middle class in India who like and can afford to travel; as the Egyptian market opens up for Indian movies, there is a possibility that Bollywood will seize the opportunity to include Egyptian locations as landmarks for their future movies.
Ambassador Suri emphasised the role of the Indian embassy in being the facilitator of bringing the movies back to Egypt: “We helped with the initial contacts and then left it to the businessmen. The distributor is taking the risk of screening the movies in 10 cinemas in Cairo and Alexandria, and of course, we are there to support [when] needed.”
Chennai Express opens tomorrow and will be followed by blockbusters as Krissh 3, starring Hrithik Roshan, and Dhoom 3, featuring Aamir Khan, in the coming months. All movies are shown with Arabic subtitles.