Emirati actor tells how he came to be at the heart of the action in Dishoom
If you saw Bollywood action movie Dishoom over the weekend, you will have noticed the Abu Dhabi landmarks that form the backdrop as cops John Abraham and Varun Dhawan scour the UAE for a kidnapped Indian cricketer.
The production was the longest international shoot so far in the capital, stretching across 38 days last year – and from car chases around Yas Marina Circuit, to jet ski action off the Corniche and helicopters flying over Reem Island, there is plenty for residents to spot.
One less familiar Emirati element you might have missed, however, is local actor Mansoor Al Feeli, who plays a UAE police chief.
It was his second big-screen adventure this month – he also appeared in the first UAE home-grown UAE sci-fi film, Aerials.
But Dishoom was in a whole new league. He spent four days on set in Abu Dhabi, and a further 14 days in India, and is full of praise for the cast and crew of the film, noting in particular how respectful they were.
“We were shooting during Ramadan,” he says. “They were all Hindus, and I was a Muslim, but when it came to prayer time, everything would stop for 45 minutes, and they couldn’t do enough for me when it came time to break the fast. I have nothing but respect for them.”
Al Feeli has also been shooting several TV series, including Image Nation’s hotly-anticipated legal drama, Justice – but how did an Emirati actor with relatively little international experience find himself in a Bollywood movie?
“I speak Hindi because I was into the movies when I was 10 years old,” he says.
“I used to sell tickets at school when I was 10 years old. The movies would start at 3pm and the bus would come back at six, so I’d get the bus from Rashidiya to Deira.
“That’s how I leant Hindi. I’d buy the magazines too, the film magazines. That’s how I learnt Hindi.”
Al Feeli is one of the UAE’s most prominent actors but feels that casting agencies should be doing more to promote Emirati talent.
“The producers of Dishoom found me on Facebook,” he says. “There aren’t many actors here that speak Arabic, Hindi and English. The agencies are 99.9 per cent foreigners. They have no connection with the locals. That is the problem.”
The big question for aspiring local stars is, can they make a living as an actor?
Despite his own experiences and an acting CV that includes TV shows, films and advertising jobs, Al Feeli doesn’t think that there are enough opportunities just yet.
“It’s a hobby,” he says. “You can’t live and make money. Maybe in five or six years it will be better. Locally, people are getting better.
“There are good directors, for sure, and I’m confident it can only get better.”