Bollywood television stations are becoming a rupee a dozen, but a new Dubai-based free-to-air channel is set to cash in on the continued interest with a unique twist.
Launched at the start of the month and available on the Arabsat and Nilesat satellites, Zee Alwan offers a blend of Indian entertainment programmes specially chosen for an Arab audience. Perhaps the most impressive feature - and a sign of the times - are screenings of India's biggest serials, dubbed into Arabic.
The channel's head of content, Rajeev Kheror, is confident audiences from the Arabian Gulf to North Africa will take to the serials just as they have to Bollywood films. "There are a lot of cultural values that are similar to both audiences in India and the GCC," he explains. "For example the role of women, the importance of families and tradition. Family dramas are universal and it will appeal to people from both sides."
Zee Alwan is part of Zee Entertainment Enterprise, the world's largest Asian television network. Years of audience research were conducted in the development of the new station, and Zee Alwan was born out of the successful launch of its sister Bollywood film channel, Zee Aflam, four years ago.
"In a way we were planning both channels simultaneously," Kheror says. "And with the research we then tried to find the best composition of programmes for the channel." The result is a mix including cooking shows such as Khana Kazana, showcasing traditional Indian cuisines, and possibly the UAE's first dedicated yoga programme, Yoga For You.
Kheror says the research also extended to the choice of Arabic dialects used when dubbing the serials. "Our research shows that some dialects are preferable to certain genres for Arabic-speaking audiences," he says. "If it is a contemporary drama, what is accepted is the Syrian accent, if it is a rural drama, a Khaleeji accent is acceptable and if it is a comedy, it is Egyptian."
Zee Alwan is broadcasting on the Arabsat and Nilesat satellites