Unforgettable makes history as first Bollywood film shot, produced and premiered in UAE

The movie that is now part of UAE history almost didn't get made, but for the efforts of Emirates film officials.

Hazel Crownee and Iqbal Khan in a scene from the Bollywood film Unforgettable. Courtesy Grand Midwest
Powered by automated translation

A new movie opening in the UAE today can lay reasonable claim to the title of the first Bollywood movie produced entirely in the Emirates.

Unforgettable is the first, entirely UAE-produced movie that has been shot, post-produced and will premiere here – no other film to date can make quite such an audacious claim. Even Ali F Mostafa's 2009 drama City of Life, often cited as the first true feature product of the UAE cinema industry, had much of its post-production work done in Romania.

Unforgettable is a classic love story, produced by the Dubai-based Zafar Shah and directed by Arshad Yusuf Pathan, who directs television commercials and corporate films at Mumtaz Vision, his Dubai production company that has co-produced the film.

The cast of Unforgettable includes the Indian television actors Iqbal Khan and Alka Verma, the British actress Hazel Crowney, and a cameo by the Irish cricketer Niall O'Brien, who briefly became a hero in India following his match-winning performance in Ireland's unlikely 2011 World Cup defeat of England.

Indeed, the Irish connection doesn’t stop there. The movie was, in fact, originally supposed to be filmed on the Emerald Isle.

A host of lush locations had been selected, including the picturesque estate of the Slazenger family in County Wicklow, but repeated delays in receiving visas for the India-based cast and crew forced a rethink.

The script eventually was rewritten and the whole production was moved to Dubai.

The links to Ireland get even stronger: Unforgettable's co-producer Zara Shah, Zafar Shah's daughter, studied in Ireland and is a former Miss Ireland contestant.

Zara says the decision to film in the UAE was the right one.

“I believe the film has definitely gained by being shot in the UAE,” she says. “We would have loved Ireland to be showcased, but unfortunately it was not to be. However, the UAE, and particularly Dubai, has come out looking splendid on screen. We have tried to do justice to the breathtaking locales and we wanted to go to yet-unexplored places. The setting has complemented the script and turned out even better than we had expected. The UAE looks larger than life in the movie and that was what we needed.”

The sudden change of plans meant the film had to be completed in double-quick time – shooting wrapped up in 49 days – but, luckily, Zara says the team at the Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC) and Dubai Studio City were around to make sure there were no more hurdles.

“We were short on time for pre-production because the decision to film here was sudden. We had a small window in which to find our locations, get all the required permissions and approvals, etc, and [DFTC chairman] Jamal Al Sharif and his team were extremely helpful in getting certain things expedited and done in time. They would sit with us and give advice on the best ways to approach situations and also give helpful ideas and contacts. We would never have been able to get by so breezily if it weren’t for DFTC and Dubai Studio City.”

Thanks to Al Sharif and his team’s help, the film was completed in late 2012, with the finishing post-production touches taking place at Dubai’s Mile Studios, but it’s still taken almost 18 months for the movie to hit screens.

“All of the cast and crew involved in this flick are virtually unknown in the Bollywood industry and this fact makes our film a huge risk to anyone wanting to distribute the film there,” Zara explains. “We don’t have any well-known stars in the leading roles, nor are the producers or director established there at all. So it has taken us a very long time to find distributors. The fact that we are based in Dubai hasn’t helped issues either. But we are all ecstatic to finally be getting our production into the cinemas. It’s been a long and hopefully fruitful journey.”

With that journey behind her, Shah now hopes to get back to her career as an aspiring actress – she has just finished shooting a film called Rum Pum Posshh in Mumbai. Before that, however, check out her debut behind the camera.

• Unforgettable is out in the UAE today. Check cinemas for timings