First-time filmmakers in UAE hope their love story movie will help their language survive

The film took more than a year to make as the crew from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah could work only on Fridays.

Anoop Sagar and Varuna Shetty star in Nirel, which took more than a year to make because the cast could only work part time. Courtesy Sandhya Creations
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DUBAI // First-time Indian filmmakers from Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have produced, directed and acted in a love story that strives to promote a dying language – all in their spare time.

Nirel, a Tulu-language movie, will be released in Dubai on Friday – Valentine’s Day.

The film took more than a year to make because the disparate crew could work only on Fridays. They have day jobs in travel, hotel, insurance, car rental and mechanics.

“It was always my dream to make a movie but I never really thought it would come true,” said director Ranjith Bajpe, who lives in Sharjah and works in a Dubai cable-making company.

“We shot in Dubai because no one would get enough leave to film further away. There were people who drove in at 5am every Friday from Abu Dhabi. We wanted the film to be fresh and different, and I hope it’s worked because all of us are new to this business.”

The shared dream of working in the movie business also connects the crew.

Lead actress Varuna Shetty had just completed an MBA from Dubai’s Manipal University when she auditioned for Nirel in October 2012.

She now has offers from Tamil and Malayalam-language movie industries.

“All my life I’ve wanted to act in the movies,” said Varuna, 23, a former student of Our Own Indian High School, Dubai.

“Now I can be a full-time actress. The Tamil and Malayalam industries are bigger in scale but the experience of facing the camera for the first time with Nirel will always be very special.

“This movie has everything – it has love, sadness, friendship, family ties.”

Varuna plays an officer in a Dubai bank who gives a struggling actor a loan. The film’s cast isn’t entirely made up of enthusiastic amateurs. The well-known South Indian actor Ramesh Aravind plays a cameo as a director.

The plot shows how fame, betrayal and misunderstanding unravels relationships.

With a Valentine’s Day release Nirel, like most Indian films, promises a happy ending.

Conceptualised on a modest budget of Dh100,000 by Mr Bajpe and three friends, contributions from UAE and Indian businesses took it to Dh800,000 that was spent largely on professional film equipment and post-production costs.

Filming in the Tulu language was one of the main goals.

“We wanted to make the film to support our language because people should be proud of their own language,” said Mr Bajpe.

Spoken mainly in coastal districts of India’s southern Karnataka state, Tulu is listed among 197 dialects in Unesco’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

Describing these as vulnerable languages “that may vanish by the end of this century”, Unesco in 2012 urged communities to preserve them to maintain cultural diversity.

There are about 100,000 Tulu-speakers in the UAE, according to community figures. Every year four to five Tulu movies produced in India are screened in the Emirates.

“The movies are an attractive medium to keep a dying language alive,” said Shodhan Prasad, the co-producer and manager at an insurance company.

“The youth tend to speak only in English, so we are hoping this is something that they will take interest in.”

For lead actor Anoop Sagar, 28, a dance enthusiast who works in a Dubai travel agency, getting into character every weekend was a challenge.

“I’ve always been the dancer, dancing behind actors, and this was my first opportunity to act,” he said.

“I didn’t have camera fear because of my dance. But every Friday morning we had to be in the same character we had done last week. So you had to keep the character for the whole week and also through the whole year.”

Screenings will be held in Abu Dhabi and later in Muscat, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Canada, targeting Tulu-speaking communities. The movie will also be shown in India.

Nirel shows today and next Friday at Golden Cinemas in Bur Dubai.