Meenakshi Shedde: Abaya over jeans

Published: 11 December, 2016 06:51 IST | Meenakshi Shedde |

When I saw the stunning young Basma Al-Nassri, she seemed to be hurtling along at 180kmph

Basma Al-Nassri at the Dubai Film Festival. Pic/Meenakshi Shedde
Basma Al-Nassri at the Dubai Film Festival. Pic/Meenakshi Shedde

When I saw the stunning young Basma Al-Nassri, she seemed to be hurtling along at 180kmph. Dressed modestly with a black abaya (cloak) over her jeans, and a black hijab (head scarf) covering her hair, and post-office red lipstick, she was rushing around with a video camera mounted on a tripod. She was my Kodak moment for Dubai. We were at the Madinat Jumeirah hotel, where the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) was holding its press conferences with film stars and directors, and there was a big flutter as Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor arrived, before the world premiere of Befikre here. All the media stereotypes about Muslim women in the Middle East joyously crumbled like a Glucose biscuit dunked in cutting chai. A qualified electrical engineer working with a petrochem company in Oman, she’s such a film enthusiast, she took leave and travelled to DIFF to be a media photographer.

The Jumeirah Mina a’ Salaam Resort, where I am put up as South Asia Consultant to the Dubai International Film Festival, is one of those ultra-luxe places where, to get from reception to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, you need to take a boat or abra, and glide along its serene artificial canals. The abras are charming traditional wooden boats with striped awning—but battery-operated, so as to be noiseless and pollution-free, instead of those phut-phut diesel engines. No wonder, Rekha, who received the DIFF Lifetime Achievement Award — as did Samuel L Jackson — chose to float along in an abra for her photo call.

DIFF has a strong selection of films this year, sandwiched between opening film John Madden’s Miss Sloane, and the closing film coup, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first of the Star Wars anthology. The Indian films at Dubai included a wide range, from Bollywood’s Befikre, to indies Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation) and Haobam Paban Kumar’s Lady of the Lake, to Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya’s documentary The Cinema Travellers, to Faiza Ahmad Khan’s Virtual Reality documentary When All Land is Lost, Will We Eat Coal?

Like most freelancers, I juggle many hats, and the festival is a great opportunity to combine many things about which I’m passionate. For DIFF, I do pre-selection of films from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. During the festival, I do moderating of Q/As with directors and stars of world cinema, for films from the US and Iran, to Argentina, Hong Kong and Chad.

I’ve also been invited to conduct a Smart Festival Strategy workshop for the DIFF-PJLF Three Rivers Residency, which is developing five Indian film scripts, including Kanu Behl’s Agra, Miransha Naik’s Crown, Arun Karthick’s Nasser, Raj Rishi More’s Pirates and Sonal Jain’s Wet Desert. When moderating the Q/A for Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice from Singapore, I wasn’t sure what to expect for a reflection on the death penalty, in a late night slot. But, the audience was so animated, asking thoughtful questions till way past midnight, that I had to politely ask them to continue the conversation outside the theatre, which they did. Such audiences are festival gold, trust me.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at

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