ALEX DALY JOHNSON WRITES – The United Arab Emirate’s 2nd annual Bengali film festival, Abhijaan (“Expedition” in English), ran from February 5 to 7 last week. West Bengal of India has had a film industry dating back to the early 1890s, and many critically acclaimed films have originated in ‘Tollywood,’ Kolkata.

Due to the lack of Bangla theater present in the UAE, Indian expats formed this film festival, which premiered back in January 2014. Already a mini-hub for film festivals, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi hosted their own, which featured films that have received Oscar nominations such as Birdman and The Imitation Game.

The Dubai International Film Festival honored those in Arab cinema with the 2014 Muhr Awards. Abhijaan is more than just a way to enjoy Bengali films.  It is also a celebration of culture that includes fashion, art, and panel sessions with the filmmakers. Since most films were shot in Bengali, English subtitles were provided with the screenings.

Abhijaan is not only representative of the growing film scene in the UAE, but also shows the increasing presence of Indian culture. The UAE has a total of 2.2 million Indian workers, or a fifth of the overseas Indian worker population.

A recent study published by Al’amal magazine of the UAE’s Ministry of Labor has found that Indian workers earn two and a half times more than their counterparts in their home country. This study was able to confirm that the UAE holds companies up to a standard that protects the worker’s rights, such as requiring companies to pay their workers in a timely manner.

While the study comes from a source that may be highly motivated (and encouraged) to present the government in the best possible light, Abhijaan is certainly a step in the right direction for incorporating the Indian population into the UAE.