India's Ambassador to Egypt Navdeep Suri announced on Wednesday the launch of several Indian movie screenings across Egyptian cinemas, to begin on 2 October.
The first screening, Chennai Express, starring Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan, will begin next Wednesday in eight cinemas in Cairo and Alexandria.
The initiative, announced during an official reception held at the "India House," comes after a 25-year absence of Indian films from Egyptian cinemas. It is paralleled by world-wide celebrations of the 100-year anniversary of India's rich cinematic history.
Promoting the screening of Indian movies in Egypt was not a purely professional task, Ambassador Suri explained; he also had personal motives.
"I was in Egypt in the mid-1980s when Indian movies were screened at the cinemas. Then it stopped rather abruptly. It bothered me, as I have many good memories from those years. They include my trip to Aswan where I met many people – including a felucca owner – who had a good awareness about India cinema, and were even able to hum some melodies from those films," Navdeep Suri elaborated.
"Recently I visited a very small village located not far from Kom Ombo [a town 50km from Aswan] where I met local primary school students and their teachers. They also indentified India with its cinema. I can see that there still exists a strong association between the Egyptian people and Indian cinema."
India is the largest cinema producer in the world, and the second-largest film industry in terms of revenues. In 2009 it produced almost 3000 films, and over 1000 of them were feature movies. It is estimated that each year around 3 billion people from over 90 countries watch Indian movies.
Business analysts predict that by 2014, the Indian film industry will be worth US5 billion. In technical proficiency and global reach, Bollywood has begun to challenge the traditional frontiers of cinema.
Chennai Express, a 2013 action comedy, is one of the most successful movies in the history of Indian cinema. It has been screened in over 2500 cinemas worldwide, and it broke several Indian and international cinematic records by grossing US15 million in sales. Ambassador Suri underscored that since the release of Chennai Express, the movie had become a topic of conversation among people across the world.
The return of Indian films to Egyptian theatres also coincides with India's celebration of 100 years of cinema. On 3 May, 1913, the first Indian feature film, Raja Harishchandra, debuted in Bombay. One hundred years later, from Dushanbe to Durban, from Birmingham to Berlin, the colour, music, dance, passion and drama of Indian cinema has found resonance around the world.
The Indian embassy plans to reinvigorate cultural dialogue between Indian and Egyptian filmmakers in tandem with the films' release.
Though Indian cinema was absent from Egyptian theatres for 25 years, artistic cooperation between the two countries continued. Hisham Abbas' 2001 hit Habibi Dah – Nari Narain (That's My Love, My Fire Is Two Fires) was filmed in India and featured Indian singer Jayashri.
Egyptian actress and director Aida El-Kashef was the lead actress in the critically-acclaimed 2012 Indian drama Ship of Theseus, written and directed by Anand Gandhi. The film was well received by critics, receiving awards such as Best Film and Best Actress at the Dubai International Film Festival, Best Cinematography at the Transilvania International Film Festival, Jury Award for Technical Excellence at the Mumbai Film Festival, among other prizes, recognitions and mentions.
Over the past year, India's embassy in Cairo has organised a number of cultural events that aimed at bringing the India's culture closer to Egyptian audiences as well as initiating cultural exchange between the two countries.
In April, the embassy launched the month-long "India by the Nile" festival. This first-of-its-kind festival showcased Indian art and culture through a variety of events held in both Cairo and Alexandria. Following the festival's success, the Ambassador announced in May his desire to move further with additional projects that would include a number of art-related activities.
The Wednesday release of Chennai Express in Egyptian theatres is the result of a collaborative effort between United Motion Pictures, Gaurang Films, and the Indian Embassy in Cairo, in addition to many other parties.
The choice of 2 October for the Bollywood films' launch was not accidental. It is also the birth date of Mahatma Gandhi, and since 2007 has been known as the 'International Day of Non-Violence.' India's embassy in Egypt will inaugurate a posters and caricature exhibition entitled the "Spirit of Gandhi in Egypt" at the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) on the same day.
Chennai Express will be followed by equally-big Indian releases in Egyptian theatres, including Krissh 3, starring Hrithik Roshan, and Dhoom 3, starring Aamir Khan.
All films will carry Arabic subtitles.