Bollywood brings big business to Arabic dubbing firms

Published: Updated:

Arab television viewers’ fascination with Bollywood blockbusters is fuelling rapid growth in the regional dubbing business, according to industry executives.

Films starring big-name actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and Sonakshi Sinha are prompting regional dubbing firms – which provide Arabic voiceovers for films – to expand their businesses as more and more Middle Eastern TV channels air Bollywood content.

“There are 35 channels broadcasting dubbed content for the Middle East,” Mohammed Khalid al-Alawi, chief executive of Dubai-based TRI Media, told Al Arabiya.

The company started operating in 2009, offering services such as dubbing, censorship of scenes not suitable for family viewing on free-to-air channels, and voiceovers for video promos and advertisements originally produced in other languages.

Mais Jawad, one of the freelance dubbing artists at TRI Media, told Al Arabiya that while dubbing is fun, it requires a lot of effort and talent.

“The effort is the translation and expression,” she said. “The talent is in the variety of voices you can give.”

Dubbing houses typically include different studios partitioned by glass windows. The artist stands in a soundproof room, with a microphone and screen to view the film, and is encouraged to be as expressive as possible in providing the Arabic voiceover.

“When you’re dubbing or making a voiceover for a promo, it requires massive exaggeration in order to sound realistic,” Jawad said.

She added that since she started dubbing for TRI Media over a year ago, she has worked on more than 90 movies, two series and 60 promos.

“The majority of the work is in Khaleeji [the Gulf Arabic dialect], except for three drama movies which were in Syrian, and two comedy movies in Egyptian. Promos and commercials are usually done in classical Arabic,” she said.

The popularity of Bollywood productions has boomed in recent years, leading to more business for the Arab world’s dubbing market.

TRI Media says it has made millions of dollars in revenue in the first two years of operation, and its chief executive says business is growing by 60 percent each year.

The regional dubbing market has been booming since 2008, said Alawi, who expects the market to stabilize in a year or two.

He says he plans to open “the largest mega studio in the Middle East” with some of his business associates, which will be known as Audio Vault Media.

“Nobody expected it, but dubbing isn’t a want on TV anymore. It became a need,” said Alawi.

“Channels noticed… that an overwhelmingly large percentage of viewers preferred dubbed content over subtitled,” he added.

Khaleeji and classical Arabic “are the most wanted dialects for dubbing,” said Alawi.

Before Bollywood-mania struck the Middle East, Turkish series were popular among Arab viewers. These continue to air, mostly dubbed in the Syrian dialect.

Egyptian, another common dialect for dubbing foreign productions, is usually used for comedies.

More and more Bollywood-focused channels are launching in the Arab world, including B4U Middle East.

Advertising revenues from Saudi Arabia are a prime driver of the market, Raj Dharuman, senior executive at B4U Middle East, told Al Arabiya.

The kingdom “is a huge market that we felt can establish a benchmark for others, and it has a pretty sizable following of Bollywood,” said Dharuman.

“For broadcast channels, especially those free to air, advertising becomes pretty much the most important form of revenue.”

B4U Middle East started broadcasting dubbed content about a month ago across the Middle East and North Africa, airing five Bollywood movies every week. Its official launch is scheduled for September.

“Bollywood content is hugely followed by the Arab fraternity across the region, and we’ve constantly been getting feedback asking us for content that’s easier to watch,” Dharuman said.

“We still show subtitled content, but decided to take it one step further and started dubbing some movies.”

B4U and other new channels face competition from the more established Zee Entertainment, which is considered an industry leader in the region.

“If you look at main players in the market, like Zee Aflam [a Zee channel broadcasting dubbed Bollywood movies], it has been around for over four years, and pretty much opened the market up for other players to come in,” said Dharuman.

B4U is compiling the results of a survey conducted in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam in Saudi Arabia through the research firm IPSOS, said Dharuman.

“One of the key questions asked is about the ideal dialect which they’d like us to use in dubbed content, and we’re still concluding these findings,” he said.

UTV is another channel on the rise, offering dubbed content in the region. It is headquartered in India, but broadcasts dubbed Bollywood productions to the Middle East.

TRI Media currently handles a minimum of 40 projects from 14 channels every month, using approximately 50 freelance voice artists, said Alawi.

He added that “60 percent of projects are Indian, and 40 percent are from other origins, such as Mexican, Spanish, [British] English, American [and] Australian.”