x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The Abu Dhabi International Film Festival promises great people-watching

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which opens Thursday, promises great people-watching.

By the time you read this, it will be just two days until the Abu Dhabi Film Festival begins. 

For the past two years, I have watched the city come alive with film aficionados, stargazers and stars alike. Especially when it came down to the premiere of a big Bollywood film - families, friends and fans would turn up in packs, trying to get a good look at their favourite actors. Often screaming from the sidelines, and with camera, phones and autograph books at the ready, fan-watching was sometimes more fun than watching the glamorous stars walk the red carpet.

And there were always red-carpet confessions by the actors that made it all the more exciting to write about because the next day I'd brace myself and my inbox for more information about people's favourite Bollywood boys and belles. At the premiere of Blue at the film festival last year, Akshay Kumar admitted his wife dressed him. Then, on his way to see the film at the Emirates Palace hotel, he turned to Twinkle Khanna and repeated what he said: that he took no credit for his style - it was all hers. They smiled and shared a moment. And there I was, squashed among dozens of their fans who were there to witness it all. 

Then Lara Dutta, the leggy beauty who is no stranger to Abu Dhabi (having shot Do Knot Disturb with Govinda and Sushmita Sen earlier in the year at the Emirates Palace) told me she was better than any man in the action-thriller film. Before Blue she did not know how to swim. Then she trained and shot some unbelievable scenes. When she walked the red carpet, I could hear hundreds of hearts pounding. Grown men were screaming for her.

Last year, even offbeat crossover films such as Cooking With Stella, starring the gorgeous Lisa Ray alongside Don McKellar and the stalwart of Indian alternative cinema, Seema Biswas, brought heartbreaking news. Lisa Ray had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. But the cast marched on. At the Emirates Palace on its premiere night, Dilip Mehta, the director, was as stunned by the reception of a sold-out crowd, as was McKellar who did not believe his fan base extended to expatriate Indians in the Gulf (McKellar's fans were mostly young Indian women from North America).

What will the festival this year bring? The line up of south Asian films is rich with promise. We may not have Bollywood's biggest earners in our midst this year, but the films promise to deliver more substance than flash. And if Freida Pinto decides to come to Abu Dhabi this year for the gala of Miral, I know one thing: I am going to have to watch grown men scream - again.