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In the past few decades, entertainment, media and sports industries have emerged as one of the cornerstones of Indian soft power outreach to partner nations. In the rich historical context of the Indo-Gulf relationship, too, the contribution of these sectors has been noteworthy. Particularly when it comes to India and the United Arab Emirates, films and sports have not only acted as the conduit for greater people-to-people contacts, but also honed an enriching commercial relationship. Beyond the attraction of Indian soft power, the same has occurred mainly due to the UAE emerging as one of few countries in the world that not only recognises the global scope of Indian culture, but has also figured a way to capitalise on it — for the mutual benefit of both countries.
The emergence of Sharjah as one of the nostalgic venues for international cricket since the early 1980s to the ultra-modern stadia at Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the UAE — despite being a non-test playing nation — has become the game’s destination of choice. The nation has on two occasions also come to the rescue of the Indian Premier League (IPL), India’s biggest sporting event, as an alternate host nation. Similarly, when it comes to India's place in the arena of global cinema, a third of the annual INR 14.8 billion gross revenue earned by Indian films from overseas markets comes from the Gulf countries. From a commercial standpoint, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have promoted themselves as preferred Bollywood film locations, with attractive propositions for Indian producers – like in case of Abu Dhabi now offering up to 30 percent cash-back incentives.
To discuss how the UAE has emerged as a partner of choice for Indian cricket and films, ORF’s inaugural Arabian Sea Dialogues will seek to understand the commercial and cultural motivations behind the UAE's successful harnessing of India's soft power avenues — and by that extension Indian cricket and film industry’s experience with doing business in and with the UAE.
H.E. Noura Al Kaabi
Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi is the UAE’s Minister of Culture and Youth since July 2020, where she is responsible for fostering UAE-based cultural initiatives on both national and international level, develop policies, legislations and infrastructure that support cultural activities, cement the UAE’s position as a hub of digital content and media industry and empower the youth within the community to contribute to the creative economy. In addition to her ministerial responsibilities, Ms. Al Kaabi is President of Zayed University and Chair of the National Commission for Education, Culture and Science. Previously, she has held the post of Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs and Chairperson of Abu Dhabi Media and twofour54.
One of the world’s most formidable cricketers in his days and a much-loved commentator, Ravi Shastri is currently Head Coach of the national Indian cricket team. With an illustrious cricketing career, he continues to be an evangelist of the game. Under his stint as a head coach of the Indian national cricket team, India has tasted success across all formats of the game. India’s historic series win against Australia in 2018-19 tour remains one of the key highlights among other wins in the Indian cricketing history. Besides his on field accomplishments, he remains one of the most heard voices across the globe with his analytical and elegant commentary skills. He has been ‘UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador’ and was named the Celebrity Torchbearer for the Oman Leg of the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay.
Shekhar Kapur is an Indian film director, actor, and producer, known for his works in Hindi as well as international cinema. A Padma Shri awardee, Shekhar has directed blockbusters like Masoom and Mr. India. He gained international recognition with the 1994 Bollywood film Bandit Queen, based on Mala Sen's biography of infamous Indian bandit and politician Phoolan Devi, which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and Filmfare Critics’ Awards for Best Movie and Best Direction for that year. In international cinema circuit , his historical biopics on Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), have earned him global acclaim, with the former winning the BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film and both winning an Academy Award each. He was also the executive-producer of the Bollywood-themed musical Bombay Dreams by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which ran for two consecutive years at the West End in London and later completed 284 performances at the Broadway in New York City. He is also on the International Advisory Board of Dubai Expo 2020.
Navdeep Suri is Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Centre for New Economic Diplomacy (CNED). He has had a 36-year long career in the Indian Foreign Service and served in India’s diplomatic missions in Cairo, Damascus, Washington, Dar es Salaam and London. He was India’s Consul General in Johannesburg, High Commissioner to Australia and Ambassador to Egypt and the UAE. His contribution to building stronger ties between India and UAE was recognised by the President of UAE when he conferred on Navdeep the country’s second highest civilian award — the Order of Zayed II.