x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Bollywood colour dazzles filmgoers

The 1,200 seats sell out at the Emirates Palace hotel for the highly anticipated premiere of Blue, Bollywood's first underwater thriller.

Actress Twinkle Khanna arrives for the premiere of Blue.
Actress Twinkle Khanna arrives for the premiere of Blue.

ABU DHABI // The 1,200 seats were sold out at the Emirates Palace hotel last night for the highly anticipated premiere of Blue, Bollywood's first underwater thriller. The film reportedly boasts the largest budget in the Indian film industry's history, estimated at more than US$20 million (Dh73.5m), with a plot that centres on three friends who search for treasure in the shark-infested waters off the coast of the Bahamas.

Lara Dutta, a former Miss Universe-turned Bollywood actress, wore a black lace and silk Louis Vuitton gown on the red carpet as she made her appearance last night at the Middle East International Film Festival. The only leading female member on the cast, she spoke proudly about how the film helped her morph from being hydrophobic to a swimmer to a certified diver in just six months. "It feels fantastic," she said. "To be one among the men. I can take credit for what I did along side them."

This is her third visit to Abu Dhabi. Dutta was here last year, shooting at the Emirates Palace hotel for another film. "I have seen the festival grow with each year. It is an extreme honour to be here," she said. "I am looking forward to seeing not only my own films but others that are being screened." Twinkle Khanna, wife of Akshay Kumar, one of the film's stars, sparkled in a turquoise sari designed by Laila Motwane.

She said she regularly dressed her husband, who wore a beige suit by Gucci and Versace shoes, but clueless about fashion. "He doesn't know who he is wearing," she said. During a press conference yesterday afternoon members of the cast, including Kumar, spoke about undergoing six months of rigorous training in Koi Samui, Thailand. "Usually, if I am playing a cricketeer in a film, I will take a few days to practice before we shoot," said the action specialist.

"But with Blue, we had to undergo more than six months of training. Otherwise, we would've just been three idiots in a pond." The training was on top of the requirement that the actors have scuba-diving licenses to be able to participate in the film, as shooting required heading to depths of more than 100 feet (30m). While Dutta and Sajay Dutt had to earn their certification, some of the cast, such as Kumar and Zayed Khan, were already trained.

"I have scuba dived before but it was nothing to the extent that we did here," Khan said. "After 110 feet, it becomes professional diving. Diving that deep does take a toll on your body and it takes everything in you just to do two minutes of film." He said the actors were face to face with an assortment of unpredictable sea life. "It was a fantastic experience," he said. "I want to do it again. I was tempted to come back home and get some sharks as pets."

Blue is the first feature for the director Anthony D'Souza, who has previously directed music videos, commercials and advertising campaigns and 52 episodes of Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Because of the extensive time spent shooting under water, D'Souza brought in several specialists from Hollywood: the underwater cinematography expert Pete Zuccarini, who worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and James Bomalick, of the Indiana Jones films. It was Bomalick's first Bollywood experience, he said, and not much of a departure from its US counterpart.

"However, water always makes it interesting and presents it own challenges," he said. "Water movies are always more difficult. For a short scene, you spend a long time in the water. It did put pressure on us but the team pulled it off together." The soundtrack includes Chiggy-Wiggy, a song composed by AR Rahman and the pop singer Kylie Minogue, who also makes a cameo appearance in the film. Rahman, who won worldwide acclaim and an Academy Award last year for the soundtrack for Slumdog Millionaire, composed the rest of the music.

He flew into the festival yesterday to hold a free master class on composing music for more than 50 members of the general public, where he spoke of the challenges involved in putting together a modern musical score before attending the film's Abu Dhabi premiere last night. "Audiences are changing, in India and internationally," he said. "They have come of age. The exposure that they have now, the Indian audience knows it when you try and copy a scene from a Hollywood film.

"They are looking for more exciting stuff and that keeps us on our toes. When I started working with music, there was a lot I had to sacrifice, in terms of textures and tones, because I knew that the audience wouldn't get it. But now they are reviewing every single aspect of my music." Blue also represents one of the most mainstream Bollywood films to date, something Khan figures reflects an international thirst for cinematic efforts that are slightly over the top.

"We are a bit melodramatic and so are our films," he said. "And I think the world likes that." sbhattacharya@thenational.ae