Varun Dhawan landed in Abu Dhabi for a 40-day schedule of his brother, Rohit’s actioner, ‘Dishoom’ in the first week of February. Lying on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi is the second most populous city in the United Arab Emirates and the capital of the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the UAE’s seven-member emirates. According to a 2015 consensus, the city boasts of a population of 2.65 million and is the country’s political, industrial, and cultural hub. Varun’s insider account of the metropolis:
A ROYAL TREATMENTWhen you seek filming or event permissions, the approval has to come from the royal family. Once the go-ahead is given, you become their guest. The traffic cops know which car you’re travelling in, security personnel in malls don’t bother you because they’re briefed beforehand -the hospitality extended to the King’s guests is on another level!PAKISTAN CONNECTION
The driver assigned to me was from Islamabad and loved speeding on the Sheikh Zayed Road, an eight-lane highway with no signals for a long stretch. He’d play Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs and had an enviable collection of his live performances. Sheikh (the driver) took to switching to Pankaj Udhaas towards the end of my stay. `Chitthi Aayi Hai’ became my favourite song.
It was an adventure-packed stay, with surfing, desert-biking, a trip to Ferrari World (the automobile-branded theme park), sing-along sessions with the designated drivers from Islamabad and goofing around with the Arab security deployed on the sets. Since it was my first time filming in the Middle Eastern country, I had a hard time remembering names and took to calling everyone ‘Sheikh’.
My favourite local buddy was Coco, a Middle Eastern brown monkey who had weaselled his way into the sets. I wish I could adopt him and bring him to live with me but permission for that is near impossible.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Abu Dhabi is its diaspora. I got to interact with Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Indian expats. People live in harmony but they also miss home terribly. They’ve lived in the Gulf for decades and speak a little Arabic. I picked up a lot of everyday slangs from them, habibi.
There’s the state-of-art infrastructure vying for a first-timer’s immediate attention. Skyscrapers, magnificent malls, 18-screen multiplexes, barren lands turned into plush marinas with fountains and adventure sport arcades invite wide-eyed wonder.
I couldn’t help but notice how the locals and expats are extremely wary of the armed forces in the region. Everyone has to abide by the law but there is an underlying sense of fear, even when you’re not doing anything wrong. People love to party but they do it only where it’s allowed. My ‘Dishoom’ co-stars, John (Abraham), Jacqueline (Fernandez) and I routinely made it to the pages of the local dailies because we’d often hang out with the royals.
Crown prince HH Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan invited the film’s cast and crew for his private birthday bash in the palace. I also attended a royal wedding with the Sheikh towards the end of the schedule. Once, we were shooting a speedboat sequence. I was walking back to my van after it wrapped up and saw the Sheikh, accompanied by a royal guard, walking in my direction. I was surprised to see him show up unannounced. He said he wanted to watch the shooting.BOLLYWOOD CALLING
The Arabs love Bollywood and keenly follow everything the three Khans – Salman, Shah Rukh, Aamir – do. None of my earlier films rang a bell, except ‘Dilwale,’ which, has done phenomenally in the Middle East.They love Shah Rukh Khan and referred to me as his younger brother from the film.