DUBAI // The celebrities included the Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan and the American actress and singer Mandy Moore. But the real stars of Dubai International Film Festival's opening night were two relative newcomers.
Natalie Dormer and Sonu Sood may have several decades less experience than more veteran actors, but they drew the biggest crowd at the gala opening of the festival, now in its sixth year. Their latest film, City of Life, has tongues wagging in the movie industry as the first big-budget feature film to emerge from the Emirates. As they took to the red carpet yesterday alongside the film's UAE-born director, Ali Mostafa, the stars compared it to the 2004 Oscar-winning movie Crash.
"You just know. I thought it was incredibly compelling and a gripping story so I jumped at the chance to be in it," said Dormer, the 27-year-old British actress who was wearing a black puffball dress with a neck motif by the British designer Alice Temperley. Dormer, who starred alongside Heath Ledger in Casanova and as Anne Boleyn in the Showtime series The Tudors, said none of the cast had watched the final edit of the film and would see it for the first time tomorrow.
Last night was the Middle East premiere of the US musical Nine, directed by Rob Marshall and starring such heavyweights as Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren and Judy Dench, none of whom attended the showing. Bachchan, who was last night presented with a lifetime achievement award by Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid, the son of the Ruler of Dubai, said he was "greatly humbled" by the honour. "I am very grateful to the people of Dubai for honouring me in this way," he said.
"I love the fact that, over the years, every time I have come they have shown me so much affection and love and I wish them the very best." He said the Bollywood industry had evolved considerably since he first appeared on the big screen in the 1970s. "We move along with the time," he said. "Countries change and people change and cinema is a reflection of that. It is a fantastic industry to be in nearly 40 years on."
He added he had no plans to retire, saying: "We are still working." Moore, 25, the American singer and actress, was in Dubai for the first time. She was invited to perform at the Amfar charity gala tonight. Looking resplendent on the red carpet in a black Escada gown and dripping in Cartier diamonds, she said: "It is difficult to say whether I prefer acting or singing as this is a film festival. I like getting the opportunity to do both, but music is what I am most passionate about."
The Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala, 39, also dazzled at the gala in a shalwar kameez with a shimmering gold dupatta. She said: "I was last here while doing a film shoot five years ago and everything has been completely built up since my last trip. It is very glamorous." Koirala, who recently had a legal wrangle with a producer after she claimed a body double was used to film racy scenes in Ek Chotisi Love Story, said scripts could sometimes involve raunchy shots.
"The world is transforming and becoming smaller and a lot of Bollywood is adapting to the West," she said. "Personally I do not like it but I do not want to criticise other people for doing it." Others on the red carpet failed to emulate her modest attire. The necklines were plunging, the hemlines were high and the jewellery dazzling as female actresses competed for the most glamorous outfits. The stars gathering for the opening included Arab celebrities such as Nelly Karim and Elham Shahin, both from Egypt; Queen Noor of Jordan; and Samir Ghanem, drawing sideways glances with an odd get-up that included a black wig, an animal print jacket he designed himself and designer sunglasses.
Also on the red carpet was the award-winning Indian actor Mammootty, 56, who has made more than 300 films for Malayalam cinema. "I feel at home here," he said. "There are a lot of people from Kerala where I was born and I have a large fan base here." The festival runs for eight days and includes the Middle Eastern premiere of Avatar, James Cameron's new epic, as well as 66 Arab films. A total of 168 films from 55 countries will be shown.