Pakistan’s greatest actor, brilliant star: Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur praises Sajal Aly


The second edition of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival commenced Thursday with a starry night as artists from all over the world walked the coveted red carpet.
The renowned festival returned for its second, extended spell this year and opened with Jemima Goldsmith’s What’s Love Got To Do With It?. The cast and crew including Pakistani star Sajal Aly, Indian actor Shabana Azmi and director Shekhar Kapur attended the screening. Oliver Stone presides over the Red Sea competition, which has 16 films in the running for the Yusr Awards.
Sajal looked stunning in a gorgeous ivory gown, while Jemima opted for a metallic number. After the premiere of their recent offering, Shekhar took to the stage and lauded the Dhoop Ki Deewar star. “Sajal,” he introduced the actor to the crowd.
He added, “Do you know when you first came on the screen at the first showing, every man in the hall gasped!” The filmmaker then added, “She’s one of Pakistan’s greatest actresses and she’s brilliant. Thank you very much, Sajal.”
Not just Sajal, but many big names from the Indian film industry, too, attended the opening gala. The likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and Priyanka Chopra were also present at the renowned event.
The festival has a strong Bollywood presence this year. Blockbuster Bollywood classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) opened the Corniche programme. RSIFF CEO, Mohammed Al-Turki speaks to Deadline about Bollywood being particularly popular in Saudi Arabia.
“Before we had movie theatres, on the Saudi channels on the weekend, they would always show Bollywood films,” Al Turki shared. “So Bollywood is infused in our culture. We grew up knowing who were Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. For us they were legends.”
Talking about Bollywood’s fanbase in the country, Al Turki added, “Huge, and we saw it live last year when we organized the world premiere of 83 in the final days of the festival. We had to hire extra security that day. The crowds came out of nowhere. They wanted to see Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh and be part of a Bollywood experience. There was cheering and yelling, it sounded more like a rock concert than a premiere.”
He commented, “But it’s not only Bollywood. South Korea is also huge. Squid Game was number one on Netflix in Saudi for multiple weeks and when Parasite came out, there was a huge fan base all over Saudi for that too. Saudis love K-Pop. KCON took place in Riyadh just recently and it was a huge success.”