DUBAI // A new cinema in the heart of an industrial area is a hit among thousands of blue-collar workers looking for entertainment on weekends.
Migrant workers, mostly Indian, gather with co-workers or roommates to escape their stressful lives and indulge in a few happy hours on Thursdays and Fridays at Al Quoz Twin Cinema.
Before the Twin Cinema opened, going to see a film would mean a few hours' commute at an additional cost for Ram Kumar and his friends, who live at a labour camp in Al Quoz and work in Nad Al Sheba six days a week.
"We used to travel all the way to Deira to watch Tamil films at the Galleria," said Mr Kumar, an electrical engineer. "It used to take us two hours each way as we had to take the bus. Sometimes, we wouldn't get tickets for the popular films and had to return home disappointed."
"We had to spend at least Dh10 to Dh15 additionally on each trip, apart from what we paid for the tickets. That is quite expensive for us. Now, it's good that we have a cinema so close to our place. It feels nice to sit with a group of friends and forget our worries. We need more such cinemas close to labour areas like Sonapur and Jebel Ali."
Now, the workers are calling for more cinemas near their accommodations to save on transport costs and travel time.
The Twin Cinema is located inside Al Quoz Mall - specially appointed as a place for bachelors to shop, eat, or send money home. Since it opened in January, hundreds have come to watch Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu or Kannada language films every week.
Unlike Bollywood films, films in ethnic Indian languages are not widely screened in the Emirates.
"I watch nearly five films a month now," said Mariappan, a carpenter who lives at an Al Quoz camp. "In the last eight years I have been in Dubai, I never went to the movies. It was just too much effort to travel to the city and spend so much money."
"Every day, we wake up as early as 5am and are out at work until 6pm. By the time we get home, we are so exhausted. If we telephone home, we are met with complaints, problems or anxieties. Sometimes, the pain of being away from our wives and children is extremely hard. So, we mostly go to the movies to forget our stress for at least three hours every week," Mariappan said.
This past weekend's playbill at the Twin Cinema included the Malayalam historical fantasy Urmi, about the warrior clans of northern Kerala; the Tamil political thriller Ko; and the Telugu romance Mr. Perfect.
Tickets in the twin 300-seat cinemas are priced at Dh20 and Dh25, as opposed to the Dh30 and more that multiplexes charge.
Sometimes, charities step in to offer discounted tickets. One such welfare organisation is the UAE Tamil Sangam.
"We try to get a 10 per cent discount for workers so they have to spend only Dh15 for a ticket," said Ramesh Viswanathan, the group's founder and president. "If a blockbuster is released, everyone wants to see it. Easy accessibility and cheap tickets are a major driving factor for workers to watch films," he said.
Umar Hathab, an office assistant who lives in Sonapur, said a cinema near one of the biggest labour accommodation sites would benefit scores of workers.
"We lose nearly half a day each time we go to the Galleria to watch a Tamil film. So we visit the cinema only once a month. But, if there was one closer, we'd go more often," he said.
A cinema owner said more movie houses could open because of the strong demand.
"Our first preference was Al Quoz because it's an ideal location for workers living and working in Jebel Ali and next to the Dubai Investment Park," said Srinivas Rao, the owner of Al Quoz Twin Cinema, which is a division of the Dubai-based film distributor Phars Film.
"We have been in the business of films in the UAE for the past 10 years and we found that 90 per cent of our customers are blue-collar workers. Families usually opt to see only the good movies but workers aren't that way.
"We have plans to expand to Jebel Ali and Sonapur areas, possibly next year. We also want to bring in Bangladeshi films so we can target Bangladeshi workers too."