'Kaala' Becomes First Indian Film to Be Released in Saudi Arabia

'Kaala' still - H 2018
Courtesy of Wunderbar Films

Toplined by South Indian superstar Rajnikanth, the gangster drama is co-produced by actor Dhanush, who recently made his international debut in ‘The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir.'

Kaala has become the first Indian film to release in Saudi Arabia. The South Indian Tamil-language film stars superstar Rajnikanth as a powerful gangster in Mumbai. Kaala is directed by Pa Ranjith and co-produced by well-known actor Dhanush, who recently made his international debut in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir, directed by Ken Scott. The Indo-French title also features Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips).

Dhanush’s banner Wunderbar Films confirmed Kaala’s Saudi Arabia release via a tweet Wednesday ahead of the film's worldwide release Friday. Kaala (Dark Skinned) adds to the list of films now releasing in Saudi Arabia after the country lifted its decades-old ban on cinemas last December. In April, Black Panther became the first film to screen in the kingdom at the first movie theater to open there in 35 years.

Just like Hindi-language Bollywood, the South Indian film industry also commands a sizeable audience both at home and abroad. Saudi Arabia is home to an Indian diaspora population estimated at 4.1 million — 13 percent of the total population — making them the biggest expatriate group in the kingdom. In the neighboring United Arab Emirates, where Indians also dominate (27 percent), Bollywood has become a growing force. Last year, Indian films sat atop the UAE box office for eight weeks, with South Indian fantasy actioner Baahubali 2: The Conclusion fending off Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (and in its second week).

"There's also a sizable population of expats [in Saudi Arabia] from other South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who are a target audience," says Deloitte India partner Jehil Thakkar, who adds that there's "tremendous potential" for Indian films. He points that Saudi Arabia "also has residents from other countries, such as Egypt where Bollywood has had a strong following."