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How Bollywood expertise can cement cultural ties between Saudi Arabia and India
RIYADH: Film and entertainment collaborations are expected to play a crucial role in the promising new era of cross-industry cooperation between Saudi Arabia and India under their strategic partnership.
Barely four years after film screening resumed in the Kingdom, influential players in India’s multi-billion dollar film industry, better known as Bollywood, are being urged to seize the opportunities opening up in a rapidly changing country that now aspires to be a world-class film center.
The fact that India is a market with immense potential and the presence of a large Indian diaspora in the Kingdom make the nation of 1.38 billion people a natural partner for Saudi Arabia as it seeks to diversify its economy away from oil and towards the creative industries. , among other areas.
“I see huge potential for future collaboration on film production and other cultural sectors between India and Saudi Arabia,” Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan wrote in an article. opinion piece for The Times of India newspaper on May 1, following a three-day visit.
“We have seen many synergies along the cinema value chain, such as co-producing family-oriented content, developing infrastructure and promoting local talent.”
As part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 social and economic reform program, the government aims to increase household spending on cultural and entertainment activities inside the Kingdom from 2.9% to 6%.
To achieve this, the Kingdom has generously allocated resources to the national film industry, as well as the opening of dozens of new cinemas, concert halls, sports arenas and recreational facilities across the country.
Having long enjoyed cordial diplomatic and commercial relations with New Delhi, the Saudi authorities are now aiming to establish mutually beneficial ties with India’s highly successful Hindi film industry.
The Saudi Ministry of Culture established its dedicated Film Commission in February 2020 to help transform the Kingdom’s film industry into a major economic engine.
Existing collaborations with Bollywood have already increased the distribution and exhibition of Indian films in Saudi Arabia.
“Kaala”, a film by iconic Indian actor, producer and screenwriter Rajinikanth, became the first Indian film released in the Kingdom in 2018, while acclaimed Bollywood film “83” premiered at the International Film Festival. Red Sea movie in 2021.
The potential returns from an expanded partnership are enormous. The global film and video market reached a value of nearly $234.9 billion in 2020, having grown at a compound annual growth rate of 2.4% since 2015.
The market is expected to reach $318.2 billion by 2025 and $410.6 billion by 2030.
“With India’s film industry being one of the largest and most famous in the world, and as Saudi Arabia aims to become a world-class film hub with an expected contribution of $6.9 billion to the GDP of the Kingdom by 2030, there are many opportunities for the film industries of both nations,” Prince Badr said.
“From talent to production, distribution and technical know-how throughout the value chain, there are many areas where the two countries can collaborate and create content suitable not only for their respective countries. , but also to a global audience. ”
As Chairman of the Film Commission, Prince Badr led a Saudi delegation to India in April to discuss ways to expand cultural partnerships, particularly in the film industry.
The delegation included representatives from Film AlUla, a company established in early 2020 by the Royal Commission for AlUla with a mandate to promote filming in the historic AlUla region of Saudi Arabia and develop a film-friendly ecosystem to support filmmaking. productions.
During the Saudi delegation’s visit, Film AlUla representatives met with prominent Indian filmmakers including Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar.
“India’s film sector is one of the best known and most successful in the world and during our recent visit we were delighted to meet many of the industry’s most famous individuals and entities,” Abdullah said. Al-Eyyaf Al-Qahtani, the Film Commission’s CEO, told Arab News.
“With our own film industry among the fastest growing in the Middle East and North Africa, we can learn a lot from Bollywood and provide opportunities for major Indian productions and companies in Saudi Arabia. We look forward to continuing to strengthen ties with India as the Saudi film sector reaches new heights, both at home and abroad.
India and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed decades of strong economic and socio-cultural ties since formal relations were established in 1947.
These ties were cemented in the 1950s when King Saud and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru exchanged visits – a cordiality that has continued to this day with similar visits from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and India’s Prime Minister. Narendra Modi.
In the meantime, trade partnerships between the two nations have developed rapidly. In the financial year 2017-2018 alone, India-Saudi bilateral trade stood at $27.48 billion, up from $25.1 billion in the previous year, according to India’s Economic Times newspaper.
Plans to bring Bollywood to Saudi Arabia have been underway for several years. In February 2019, the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority signed two agreements with Indian companies pledging to organize a series of concerts featuring the best artists in Hindi cinema.
The deals were struck at the Saudi-India Forum in New Delhi during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India in 2019, when he considered over $100 billion in investment opportunities in India.
Significantly, the highlight of the final day of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah last December was the presence of a number of Bollywood celebrities, including Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, who brought everything their glamor at the world premiere of the film “83.”
In comments to Arab News, Singh said, “I’m really happy to be here. This is my first time in Saudi Arabia. I’ve always been fascinated by Saudi culture and hope to get a taste of it tonight.
“83” was released in the Gulf region on VOX cinemas on December 23, a day before its worldwide release.
“I think the opening that we Bollywood artists have in Saudi Arabia is a great opportunity to showcase the talents of these two beautiful countries,” said Abu Malik, an Indian singer and music manager based in Mumbai. , to Arab News.
“Many shows have been held in Saudi Arabia with immense success. I hope to have the opportunity to perform a musical show in Saudi Arabia soon.
The film industry is not the only area where the two nations have been keen to encourage collaboration. Along with strategic investments, emphasis has been placed on strengthening cultural ties.
For example, on June 21 last year, coinciding with International Yoga Day, the Leadership Development Institute of the Saudi Ministry of Sports signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Institute of Yoga Morarji Desai, an affiliate to the Indian Ministry of Ayush, to promote the teaching of yoga. in the Kingdom.
The agreement paved the way for the establishment of formal yoga standards and courses in Saudi Arabia and for collaborations in research, education and training.
Yoga, originating in India, is a popular activity all over the world. In Saudi Arabia, acceptance of the physical and mental health benefits of yoga has been facilitated by the Kingdom’s burgeoning investment in sports and public health initiatives.
“Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has a lot of potential and promise for creating a mutual cultural heritage between two nations that have rich histories and strong ties,” Shobhaa De, an influential columnist and Indian socialite, told Arab News.
De, who has written 22 books including ‘Bollywood Nights’, added: “Beyond Indian cinema, there is enormous potential to enrich the cultural landscape in deeply meaningful ways.”
For Riyadh as for New Delhi, the commemoration of 75 years of Indian independence is a valuable opportunity to reflect on past decades of strong economic and socio-cultural relations while looking to the future.
“India continues to be a market of great strategic importance to Saudi Arabia, and we are seeing a steady increase in opportunities for cooperation and knowledge sharing between the two nations, as well as synergistic investments for growth. mutual,” Prince Badr said in his speech. Publisher of the Times of India.
“Through consistent and meaningful engagement with government entities, strategic partners and wider participants in India, we look forward to strengthening this highly promising sector as we together shape a common future for our nations.”