Dubai’s transformation from small fishing harbour into a modern metropolis has been well documented. However, in the shadow of the emirate’s monumental accomplishments, it is easy for the smaller, more personal stories to go unnoticed.
For this reason, photographer and filmmaker Ekta Saran has embarked on a mission to document some of the colourful characters in Bur Dubai, and preserve their legacies.
“I kind of was born and brought up here,” says the 34-year-old Indian. “I was actually born in Abu Dhabi, but I’ve been back and forth quite a bit – so, obviously my affiliation with old Dubai is quite nostalgic.”
Saran grew up in Karama and during the quiet summer months, she began taking photographs of people in old Dubai.
“The more you sit around over cups of chai, speaking to people, I just thought: ‘Wow, I can’t just take a photograph and let these be silent conversations’,” she says.
Saran started making films, which led to an attempt to identify the oldest barber shop in Bur Dubai. Although she did not succeed in this quest, she did meet Arun Bhai, a resident of 25 years and the co-founder of Al Marzooq Hairdressing.
So began Chasing Bur Dubai – a series of short films profiling key members of the community. After she visited and filmed at the barber shop several times, she was advised to seek out local music mogul, Intesar Salim, the owner of the oldest music shop in Bur Dubai, Meher Recording.
“Arun Bhai used to be neighbours with a music shop,” says Saran. “The rents went up so he moved into an alley – but that guy remained on the main street.
“I’ve always been intrigued by him, because every time you pass by Bur Dubai everything is hectic, and you go and stand outside his shop and you hear Jim Reeves or Elvis Presley, and it’s really soothing.
“I was very intrigued to talk to him, and he was quite collaborative and really cooperative in wanting to talk to me, so I loved that.”
Salim was particularly interesting to Saran, because he closed his father’s successful electronics shop to follow his passion – even though there were 21 other music shops in the area.
Moreover, he is from Pakistan and married a Filipino, which was unconventional for his generation.
Saran completed her film in February, just in time for the Sikka Art Fair, during which both short films were screened at the outdoor cinema.
Bur Dubai, a historic trading district, hosts “tons” of hidden stories, she says, adding: “I love all the little lay-bys and the lanes, especially around the Hindu temple, where you can barely even fit your head. It is jam-packed every evening.”
Saran says she has forged an even stronger bond with Bur Dubai since starting the project – and there have been a few perks.
“For example, now I don’t have to pay for parking in Bur Dubai, because the guy’s like: ‘No, don’t take money from her – its free’,” she jokes.
• Visit www.chasingburdubai.com for more information on the films