Movie ticket for Dh18? This unique experience is a tribute to Dubai's blue-collar workers

Syed Salim's OSR Mall that comprises Q Cinemas, which screens latest films from Hollywood, Bollywood and other languages

By Joydeep Sen Gupta and Leslie Wilson Jr

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Published: Thu 7 Jul 2022, 8:54 PM

Last updated: Fri 8 Jul 2022, 5:26 PM

Syed Salim, who has been visiting Dubai since the late 1970s, was struck by a brainwave about five years ago on a visit to the city.

Salim, an Indian expatriate, whose family has been in the cinema business since 1945 — they operated the first movie theatre, DSC (Defence Service Cinema) on Cubbon Road in Bengaluru, India — was struck by a big idea while sitting in his room in Crowne Plaza Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road.

He was overwhelmed by the thought that though Dubai and the rest of the UAE have been built by blue-collar workers, few entrepreneurs thought about bringing entertainment to their backyard.

As Salim’s eyes wandered around his hotel room’s windows and fixated on the horizon beyond the then under-construction Museum of Future, which opened on February 22, 2022, he decided to embark on a journey of art of giving.

Salim was ready for the plunge as his four-generation-strong family business owned 107 single-screen movie theatres and multiplexes across India — under the banner of OSR Cinemas named after his grandfather Osman, family name Syed and father Rahman, respectively — and the UAE venture was “more a labour of love”.

(From left to right) Syed Salim’s son and daughter — Shoeab Salim and Tara Khan — Mohamed Akeel, CEO, Coca-Cola Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the UAE: Syed Salim and his nephew  Syed Shezhi
(From left to right) Syed Salim’s son and daughter — Shoeab Salim and Tara Khan — Mohamed Akeel, CEO, Coca-Cola Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the UAE: Syed Salim and his nephew Syed Shezhi

Salim reflects on that precise moment when he was struck by his “altruistic business venture”. “So, I was sitting in my hotel room and looking at all the tall buildings. I thought to myself that Dubai thinks of everybody who wants to invest and who wants to construct big buildings,” he reminisces. “However, I wanted to dig deeper. Who made them? It’s the workers who made them. Soon, I went around all the labour accommodations and conducted extensive surveys.”

Salim’s research confirmed his gut feeling. Typically, these workers would speak to their family members for 10-odd minutes back home and many of them would huddle before a TV set and that’s their only form of daily dose of entertainment after a hard day’s work.

“What entertainment could they have at an affordable price? So, that’s when I started playing with the idea of putting up cinemas, mini multiplexes in their own backyard. Besides, releasing movies in their native tongues,” he says.

In Dubai, a moviegoer has to cough up between Dh35 and upwards of Dh50.

“The primary idea is to offer entertainment at an affordable cost in their own vicinity,” he says.

Armed with that big idea and ably supported by the Dubai Investments Park (DIP) and the Dubai Municipality, Salim’s dream came to fruition when he managed to open the OSR Mall on May 26 — coinciding with the global release of the Tom Cruise-starrer Top Gun: Maverick.

Good times have rolled, despite initial hiccups because of the Covid-19 pandemic and an insolvent third-party collaborator.

“I’ve come up with special shows where the ticket price is affordable (Dh18) and includes a cup of tea and a samosa. And the response has been overwhelming as the workers, who have often been glossed over by a vast majority, are being catered to. Besides, several Indian languages such as Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam etc, the 824-seater multiplex, which has six screens, is showing films in Bengali, Turkish, Mandarin, Urdu, Nepali, Arabic and Tagalog. Plans are afoot to add more languages as we go along,” says Salim.

“We haven’t cut corners because of affordable movie tickets. A cine-goer can enjoy state-of-the-art laser projection, thanks to our brand partner NEC, Christie and BARCO. Similarly, our brand partners Dolby and Dolby ATMOS are creating powerful pulsating audio. The screens are by Harkness (USA), the world’s leading screen technology company manufacturing 2D and 3D digital projection screens. And acoustics by QDBoss, used by over 6,000 screens worldwide. The reclining seats are 180-degree flatbed that exude both comfort and luxury,” says Salim.

The OSR Mall’s success has rekindled Salim’s entrepreneurial spirit. He is working on a multiple platform — an exhilarating movie-viewing experience for Emiratis and native Arab speakers from the wider region and that of workers, who have been his core constituency and target audience.

Though five years in the making and a few false starts later, Salim is simultaneously working on several projects, including Kalba and Al Dhaid, Sharjah; Ajman; Jumeirah and Al Quoz, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. In any country under any circumstances, especially amid the mounting Covid-19 challenges, Salim’s project would have been stuck for ages.

“However, that’s the beauty of Dubai and the UAE. If we follow the rules, project management can be a breeze,” says Salim, who has plunged headlong into the UAE projects as his family members manage the family business back home.

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