x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Wiam set to wow UAE's lovers of Bollywood

For three years the UAE has had its own dedicated Bollywood TV station in Arabic. Now it has its own face of the Hindi musicals. Wiam Dahmani, a talk-show presenter, is the new all-dancing, all-singing host of a new programme on Zee Aflam.

Slave to the rhythm: Wiam Dahmani tapes an episode of 100% Bollywood at the Grand Hyatt Cineplex in Dubai.
Slave to the rhythm: Wiam Dahmani tapes an episode of 100% Bollywood at the Grand Hyatt Cineplex in Dubai.

DUBAI // A TV talk-show host is stepping out from behind the interview desk to sing and dance her way into the hearts of the UAE's lovers of Bollywood.

Wiam Dahmani, who speaks Hindi, sings Bollywood songs and can swivel her hips with the best of them, is the presenter of the new weekly TV programme 100% Bollywood on Zee Aflam, as a key part of the Indian channel's new format.

"I'm obsessed, I'm crazy about Bollywood," said Ms Dahmani, 24, who has worked as a presenter of Arabic talk shows. "I'm shocked at the e-mails from viewers. There are so many Arabs crazy like me about Bollywood."

As part of her 22-minute shows on Friday nights, she imitates popular dance moves from the latest Indian films.

Talk shows in the UAE featuring local audiences and interviews in Mumbai with Bollywood stars are among other changes on the cards for Zee Aflam, the region's only 24-hour, free-to-air Bollywood movie channel for viewers in the GCC and North Africa.

Until this change to format the channel, launched three years ago, was dedicated to showing Hindi movies, from classics to the latest blockbusters, back to back, with Arabic subtitles. It would also screen two popular movies a week dubbed in Arabic.

Ms Dahmani lives in Abu Dhabi and has an Emirati mother, a Moroccan father and four siblings who do not share her passion for all things Bollywood. She remembers seeing her first Bollywood movie as a 7-year-old on holidays to the UAE from Paris, where her family once lived.

Ms Dahmani has also released an Arabic music video, titled Ahlan Wa Sahlan ('Welcome'), which was shot in Chennai, southern India. Zee Aflam officials say she fits their plans to offer Arab viewers an insight into Bollywood.

"An Arab girl singing in Hindi, reporting in India and doing shows here and in India - that is totally different," said Tamer El Sherbini, the senior marketing director of Zee Aflam. "Wiam loves Bollywood and that's how the link was formed. What viewers miss in the cinema they can find with us, their in-house movie screen."

The channel is part of the Indian network Zee Entertainment. Its three-hour Bollywood movies are edited down to two hours, and the channel is aiming to strengthen its programming mix.

Elie Kanaan, the regional business head for Zee Aflam, said: "Our Arab viewers want to know more about Bollywood. Our main target is to keep content fresh and keep connecting with our audience."

Zee Network executives say they saw a gap in the market when company research showed movie networks in the region were focused on male audiences and action films.

Mukund Cairae, the network's head of territory, said: "We found there was nobody looking at the female audience.

"The concept of Zee Aflam was born as a Bollywood channel, subtitled in Arabic, where the focus is the females and the family. Our slogan remains 'Bollywood bil Arabia' [Bollywood in Arabic]."

In the past three years, the network has expanded to Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia and China, with Hindi movies, drama series and reality shows subtitled in local languages.

But the Middle East and North Africa remains the only region with a dedicated Bollywood channel outside of the subcontinent.

Industry insiders believe the network has identified a key market.

Mahi Golchin-Depala, the managing director of Phars Films, the leading GCC distributor of Indian films, said: "They are hitting the right target," says "Arabs have always loved Bollywood movies. After the cinema experience, there is the repeat value of the movies in the comfort of home."

The channel also hopes to keep viewers during Ramadan. It captured 39 per cent of the TV movie viewership in the Middle East in the holy month last year, ahead of MBC2, Rotana Cinema and Fox Movies, the research company Ipsos said.

Meanwhile, Ms Dahmani's schedule is packed with lessons in Hindi and Indian dance. Like most fans, she lists the Bollywood stars Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan as her favourites.

"My aim is to be a good presenter and this is a great platform," she said. "But my dream is to be an actor and singer."