Expo 2020 Dubai welcomes nearly 1.5m visits in first 24 days

Expo 2020 Dubai welcomes nearly 1.5m visits in first 24 days
Iraqi singer Kadim al-Sahir performed on the opening of the ‘Infinite Nights’ concert series. (AFP)
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Updated 25 October 2021

Expo 2020 Dubai welcomes nearly 1.5m visits in first 24 days

Expo 2020 Dubai welcomes nearly 1.5m visits in first 24 days
  • Iraqi singer Kadim al-Sahir performed on the opening of the ‘Infinite Nights’ concert series

DUBAI: Expo 2020 Dubai this week saw visit numbers edge closely to 1.5m for the first 24 days since it opened to the public on October 1.

The organizers say the numbers were boosted by the program of musical and cultural events, as well as the long weekend marking the prophet’s birthday and the half-term school break.

Since the opening there have been 1,471,314 visits to the site, with children making up about 25 percent of visits to the site over the half-term week, which featured  cricket coaching program by the sporting greats the Rajasthan Royals.

There was also turn up and play football sessions hosted by coaches from Manchester City.

The long weekend, marking the prophet’s birthday, saw large crowds visit the site – many drawn to performances by the likes of the Expo 2020 all-female Firdaus Orchestra and British singer-songwriter Sami Yusuf.

And Iraqi megastar Kadim Al Sahir, one of the most successful Arab artists in history, kickstarted Expo 2020 Dubai’s spectacular Infinite Nights series.


Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai
Lindsay Lohan and Bader Shammas are engaged. File/Instagram
Updated 28 November 2021

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

DUBAI: Congratulations are in order for Lindsay Lohan. The Dubai-based actress has just announced her engagement to her partner Bader Shammas.

The Hollywood star shared the news with her 9.7 million Instagram followers, posting a series of coupled-up snaps that showed off her diamond engagement ring.

Lohan, 35, wrote: “My love. My life. My family. My future.”

The actress and financier were first spotted together at a music festival in Dubai shortly before the pandemic hit in 2020.

In May 2020 The “Mean Girls” star’s mother Dina Lohan spoke of Shammas, saying: “Lindsay is dating a wonderful guy right now, but that’s neither here nor there. When she’s ready to talk about her personal life, she will.”

Lohan was previously engaged to Russian businessman Egor Tarabasov but the pair split in 2016.

In addition to planning a wedding, the actress has plenty to look forward to.

The “Freaky Friday” star, who made a return to acting, is currently filming a new project for Netflix. The movie is untitled at the moment but is a Christmas romantic comedy, in which Lohan stars as a “spoiled hotel heiress” with amnesia. The upcoming film is expected to release in 2022.

She also recently inked a deal for a new podcast which, she told Deadline, will give listeners “a chance to experience a never-before-seen side” of her and will “share her authentic voice.


Ambassador’s Choice International Film Festival opens in Riyadh

Saudi film director Abdulaziz Al-Shelahi (2nd from left) with film casts during interactive session with audience at Ambassador's Choice International Film Festival. (Supplied)
Saudi film director Abdulaziz Al-Shelahi (2nd from left) with film casts during interactive session with audience at Ambassador's Choice International Film Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 28 November 2021

Ambassador’s Choice International Film Festival opens in Riyadh

Saudi film director Abdulaziz Al-Shelahi (2nd from left) with film casts during interactive session with audience at Ambassador's Choice International Film Festival. (Supplied)
  • Applauding the movie, the Indian envoy said it represents the rich content and talent that the Saudi film industry has to offer to the world

RIYADH: The ninth Ambassador’s Choice International Film Festival recently opened at the Embassy of India in Riyadh with the screening of Saudi drama “The Tambour of Retribution.”

The film, directed by Abdul Aziz Al-Shelahi, has been nominated as Saudi Arabia’s official entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards. It will compete with films from around the world and will pass through several screening stages before the final list is announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The winner will be announced at the Oscars, which will be held at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on March 27.

Indian Ambassador Ausaf Sayeed speaking at Ambassador's Choice International Film Festival. (Supplied)

Chosen by the Saudi Film Commission and nominated by the Saudi Academy Awards Committee as an official entry to the Oscars, “The Tambour of Retribution” has won Best Feature Film at the Saudi Film Festival. It was shown for the first time at the Cairo Film Festival and won the Special Jury Award. It was also shown at the Malmo Arab Film Festival in Sweden and won the Best Director Award.

In his inaugural address, Indian Ambassador Dr. Ausaf Sayeed congratulated Al-Shelahi for the film, which was screened on the inaugural day of the film festival, as well as for the nomination of his movie for the Oscars, wishing him all the best.

Applauding the movie, the Indian envoy said it represents the rich content and talent that the Saudi film industry has to offer to the world.

Deputy Chief of Saudi Film Association Hussam Al Helwa speaking at Ambassador's Choice International Film Festival. (Supplied)

Later, in an interactive session with the audience, Al-Shelahi briefed them about his experiences during the production of the movie and expressed his happiness and pride at representing Saudi Arabia in the Oscar race for the best international film category.

HIGHLIGHT

The Embassy of India is hosting the ninth edition of the Ambassador’s Choice International Film Festival from Nov. 25 to Dec. 7 in collaboration with the Saudi Film Association and nine other embassies, which include those of Australia, Bangladesh, France, Germany, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka and the US.

He credited the actors associated with the film for their hard work, praising them for their passion for the craft.

Commenting on “The Tambour of Retribution,” Meshal Al-Mutairi, chairman of the Saudi Film Association and chief guest at the inaugural ceremony, said: “We are very happy for it. It’s a very good movie, one of the best in recent years and the right nominee for the Oscars. It has won awards in Cairo and other international awards, and we hope it will be shortlisted for the Oscar award.”

Diplomats & guests posing for a group photo at 9th Ambassador's Choice International Film Festival. (Supplied)

The Embassy of India is hosting the ninth edition of the Ambassador’s Choice International Film Festival from Nov. 25 to Dec. 7 in collaboration with the Saudi Film Association and nine other embassies, which include those of Australia, Bangladesh, France, Germany, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka and the US.

The festival was inaugurated by the Indian ambassador along with his counterparts from other participating embassies and Al-Mutairi.

Sayeed thanked the embassies and Saudi authorities for their collaboration. While talking about Indian cinema, he said that the film industry is not only a contributor to the Indian economy but a cultural bridge between India and the world.

Saudi film director Abdulaziz Al-Shelahi (2nd from left) with film casts during interactive session at Ambassador's Choice International Film Festival. (Supplied)

He said that Saudi Arabia and India have a very strong film connection in Ebrahim Al-Kazi, a renowned drama teacher and founder-director of the prestigious New Delhi-based National School of Drama.

The renowned theater director, often referred to as the “father of Indian theater,” has Saudi roots in his father, Hamad bin Ali Al-Kazi, who was a trader from Unaiza in the Qassim region and who eventually settled in Pune, India.

The envoy added that Indian cinema, due to its extensive outreach, has contributed to the popularization of several countries as tourist destinations, with Bollywood functions like film festivals, award shows, cultural carnivals and concerts enriching the economies of the countries hosting them.

Referring to Saudi cinema, the ambassador mentioned that although it is a nascent industry, it has already established a strong presence on the global stage.

He underlined that the sector offers enormous potential for growth and is bound to play a significant role in the actualization of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals.

The inauguration of the festival was attended by diplomats, Saudi nationals, journalists, members of the Indian community and other expatriates.

The festival will screen 12 movies of diverse genres, which include many acclaimed movies such as Indian film “Nil Batte Sannata,” American film “Hamilton,” Sri Lankan film “Nela,” Saudi film “Scales,” Australian film “Gurrumul” and Mexican film “Mezquite’s Heart.”


US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi
The artist will perform live on Dec. 3. File/AFP
Updated 27 November 2021

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: US singer Nick Jonas is set to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi for a live performance on Dec. 3.

He will join a lineup including R&B singer Kehlani, who will perform at the three-day event taking place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) on Dec. 4.

The 29-year-old, who gained prominence as a member of the Jonas Brothers with his two older siblings, also has a fruitful solo career, giving us hits like “Jealous” and “Levels.”

VidCon Abu Dhabi was originally set to be held in March 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other big names set to appear include Egyptian TV show host and comedian Bassem Youssef, Emirati influencers Khalid Al-Ameri and Salama Mohamed, Saudi YouTuber Naz and travel blogger Iknani, among others.


Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world

Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world
Updated 26 November 2021

Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world

Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world
  • The new Netflix reality show represents a huge opportunity for some of the best drivers in the Middle East

DUBAI: All Syrian racecar driver Bushra Nasr knew, as she drove her beloved car far into the Abu Dhabi desert, was that she would be taking part in a race. She knew there would be cameras, and that whatever happened there might end up airing somewhere in the region.

It wasn’t until later that Nasr, along with the nine other racers from across the region that had gathered there on an abandoned airstrip, learned they were secretly participating in Netflix’s first Arabic-language unscripted reality series entitled “The Fastest.” It was an opportunity that could potentially change each of their lives.

“Honestly, the whole thing was a complete surprise. I thought we might participate in just one race. Then, every day they would come and tell us where we would go next, and without any warning we would take off to different races and different challenges, all unique and different and unlike anything we’d done before,” Nasr tells Arab News. “The entire experience was very exotic.”

Bushra Nasr is a Syrian racecar driver. (Supplied)

For years, Nasr has been pursuing her love of cars and racing in her every spare moment, spending weekends steadily building her profile on the track, winning competitions and earning respect of the region’s drivers one by one — even the men who never imagined a young woman would be able to surpass them.

But her dreams were not just about winning races. They went much further. Nasr harbored the secret hope that fate might one day allow her to become the next Jeremy Clarkson, the erstwhile host of the famed show “Top Gear,” someday.

With “The Fastest,” she and her fellow contestants may finally have a way to achieve their goals, and the worlds of possibility that the show’s potential success could open to them are now on each of their minds. Nasr is not focused solely on herself, however. Her focus is on all the young women that she hopes can be inspired by her success in the show, as well as her fellow female contestants.

The contestants say they have forged real friendships with each other since the competition concluded. (Supplied)

“The whole experience was amazing for us as women, and it will show the world how many women feel passionate about this sport and hopefully help others feel motivated too. I hope the whole thing can act as an inspiration for young women to be more and more involved in racing,” says Nasr.

While competition was fierce throughout the first season of “The Fastest,” Nasr’s success in the series was a joy to watch for her competitors, including seasoned Saudi driver Abzulaziz Al-Ya’eesh — a fellow finalist.

“The most memorable part of this show, to be honest, was seeing Bushra (succeed) with her unique and challenging spirit. The show proved that racing not only depends on the car, it depends on the driver’s skills and expertise. By having such varied men and women competing on a level playing field shows how much the sport is expanding in very different circles. (We are) people who came from across the Middle East to share our passion for cars,” says Al- Ya’eesh.

For Saudi contestant Abzulaziz Fudhili, what excited him most when he found out “The Fastest” would be available in 190 countries on the world’s biggest streaming platform was that it could show the world the true passion for racing in the region. (Supplied)

While the Middle East’s reputation as a global hub for car culture grows by the year, it is more than just a home to some of the most impressive collections of supercars past and present. There are enthusiasts from all backgrounds, who have all come to the track from a very different, and often bumpy, path.

For Saudi contestant Abzulaziz Fudhili, what excited him most when he found out “The Fastest” would be available in 190 countries on the world’s biggest streaming platform was that it could show the world the true passion for racing in the region. Fudhili is a prime example of that. He borrowed money from almost everyone he knew to buy his car, and his achievements on the track are allowing him to pay them back.

“I couldn't believe that we would be seen all over. Not only were we going to race, we could show the world that the Middle East motorsport scene is a force to be reckoned with,” Fudhili says. “The world knows we love cars like no one else, but they have never seen the heart we bring behind the wheel.”

Nasr’s success in the series was a joy to watch for her competitors, including seasoned Saudi driver Abzulaziz Al-Ya’eesh — a fellow finalist. (Supplied)

“The Fastest” is no amateur competition though. It involved some of the best racers in the region, such as second-generation Kuwaiti racer Ali Makhseed, who only agreed to join the show once he was certain the competition would equal anything he’s found in the region’s premiere races.

“I had second thoughts about joining the show,” says Makhseed. “I’m a professional driver, and I thought it was going to be just a bunch of enthusiasts and fans, not people who really knew street racing. But when I saw some racers I had known for years on that track, I was relieved, and the competition they brought struck a fire in me.”

The show’s six-episode first season is hosted by Saudi YouTube star Tareq Al-Harbi, (aka 6ar8o), whose comedic stylings have gained him more than one million subscribers and almost 10 million Instagram followers.

For Al-Harbi, even though he did not race, hosting the show was a life-long aspiration fulfilled. He could finally be a part of a show that he felt was as good as anything any other country had made, and that never felt like an imitation — a show that was truly the region’s own.

Kuwaiti racer Ali Makhseed only agreed to join the show once he was certain the competition would equal anything he’s found in the region’s premiere races. (Supplied)

“Having an Arabic-language show that is so well made and suspenseful is a fantasy for Arab viewers,” Al-Harbi says. “You won’t be able to predict the winner until the last minute. I think people aren’t going to be able to stop watching this show, and that makes me incredibly proud.”

Despite his enormous success, Al-Harbi considers “The Fastest” perhaps his greatest personal achievement.

“It has been an incredible journey for me,” he says. “I still remember how hard it was when I started off. I am thrilled to reach this level. I also think of it as a big responsibility for me.”

The contestants say they have forged real friendships with each other since the competition concluded — trading racing tips, helping each other with their cars, and reliving some of their favorite moments on the track against each other and the lessons they learned about themselves.

“The experience overall was an education to me, and I’d be happy to be part of this again,” says Al-Ya’eesh. “I will make sure to be prepared with my car and learn more about each driver, so that no one can beat me next time.”


Review: ‘The Wheel of Time’ sketches out an ambitious fantasy world

Review: ‘The Wheel of Time’ sketches out an ambitious fantasy world
Updated 25 November 2021

Review: ‘The Wheel of Time’ sketches out an ambitious fantasy world

Review: ‘The Wheel of Time’ sketches out an ambitious fantasy world
  • Amazon’s epic series borrows heavily from its contemporaries, but hints at future fun

LONDON: Amazon’s adaptation of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” novel series hits screens at a strange time. The dust has settled after the disappointing finale of “Game of Thrones” — and its prequel isn’t due until next year — the hotly anticipated “Lord of the Rings” TV show (also from Amazon) is still a way off, while recent Netflix fantasy adventures including “Shadow and Bone” and “The Watcher” have charmed and confused audiences in equal measure. 

So there’s a window before JRR Tolkien’s and George RR Martin’s worlds are brought back to life — one which “The Wheel of Time” aims to fill with its heady mix of magic, fantastical creatures and epic journeys.

Amazon’s adaptation of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” novel series hits screens at a strange time. (Supplied)

Rosamund Pike heads a cast of relative unknowns, starring as Moiraine — an Aes Sedai warrior witch who believes that a prophesized savior has been born to prevent the world entering a fresh period of cataclysmic darkness. The trouble is, she’s only narrowed it down to one of four photogenic young travelers, so she cajoles all of them into following her on an epic quest. The unlikely companions (almost, some might say, a fellowship) strike out across the world, pursued by hordes of unspeakably nasty monsters and those who would see the ‘Dragon Reborn’ be summarily killed before they can prevent the end of the world.

It’s a convoluted setup, and one that’s rife with very solemn-sounding monologues. Every time the audience is introduced to an element of world building, someone (usually Pike’s frightfully serious Moiraine) slips into faux-profound storyteller mode, weaving together the fanciful place and character names and hinting at the Very Serious narrative developments that are usually just a few minutes away.

And yet, despite itself, “The Wheel of Time” sort of works. It is unerringly silly, yet seems blissfully content with its own over-the-top sense of melodrama. Three episodes in (with weekly installments to follow), the show is weirdly captivating. It’s a ridiculous world, populated with extremely familiar tropes, but for fantasy fans waiting for the heavy hitters due in 2022, “The Wheel of Time” could be a welcome distraction.