x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ramadan brings TV with a local flavour

Made-in-the-UAE productions are becoming a bigger part of the special series and other television presentations that mark the period of Ramadan.

The television dramas that will have millions of people in the Arab world dedicating large parts of their evenings to following the trials and tribulations of fictional characters, are a tradition inexorably linked with Ramadan. The UAE follows this trend as enthusiastically as anywhere else, but there will be a significant difference to this year's fare.

Syria and Egypt are traditionally two of the heavyweight producers of the sweeping television series that fill the schedules during the Holy Month, or at least they were before dramas of another kind affected their creative industries. Syria's production capacity has been devastated in the past two years. Egypt has not been as badly hit, although general uncertainty has reduced the number of productions this year.

The UAE, as a haven of stability in an often troubled region and with a nascent film and television industry, has been the beneficiary of some of that displacement and disruption.

Some series that will screen this year are entirely home-grown, such as Ya Malikan Qalbi, which focuses on the social dynamics of the UAE's society and includes the acting debut of Emirati singer Fayez Al Saeed.

But others chart a different course, like the Syrian series Hammam Shami, which is set in 1950s Damascus, but was filmed entirely at twofour54's Musaffah studio.

Although Hammam Shami shows no outward sign of being filmed in Abu Dhabi, another Ramadan television series, Zamal Lawal, does. It follows the relationship of two old friends who look back to the UAE of the 1970s, before the full extent of the nation's oil wealth changed the way we all live today.

Four years ago, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, offered $1m (Dh3.67m) as a prize for the most popular Ramadan series with the specific objective to motivate Arab and Emirati television producers to strive for better quality and creativity in television production.

The test of how well the UAE is doing in that regard will be decided by millions of viewers around the region over the next month.