Dubai International Film Festival 2012 opening night

Life of Pi star Suraj Sharma walks red carpet alongside Cate Blanchett, Khaled Al Nawaby

  • Adil Hussain, Suraj Sharma and Shravanthi Sainath arrive for the screening of the movie "Life of Pi" at MadinaImage Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
  • Actress Freida Pinto along with Abdul Hamid Juma, chairman of the Dubai International Film Festival, for the sImage Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
  • Tennis player Ana Ivanovic arrives for the screening of the movie "Life of Pi" at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, durImage Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
  • Shaikh Majid Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum arrives for the screening of the movie "Life of Pi" at Madinat Jumeirah, Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
  • Actress Cate Blanchett arrives for the screening of the movie "Life of Pi" at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, during Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The fantastical world of award-winning director Ang Lee’s film, Life of Pi, came alive on the red carpet on the opening night of the ninth Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) at Madinat Arena on Sunday, and while there were no Bengal tigers as in the film, Hollywood glamour, fresh faces and established Arab stars sparkled.

Actress Cate Blanchett and jury member Freida Pinto joined stars from the Arab world including Nelly Kareem and Khaled Al Nawaby. Diff regular and Egyptian actor Amr Waked cancelled his appearance due to the situation in his home country, but is due to attend the festival later this week, as well as appear at Thursday’s charity gala benefitting Oxfam. Blanchett, wearing a double-layer, pale blue pleated gown, glided along with a beauty-queen wave but did not stop to speak to reporters on the red carpet.

Pinto is the head of the jury for the short film competitions in the Muhr Arab, Muhr AsiaAfrica and Muhr Emirati categories. “I love Dubai and it’s great to be back. I haven’t seen any films yet but I am excited to be part of the jury,” said the actress, clad in a glittering gold Ralph Lauren dress. “I will be seeing many movies with subtitles,” she added, before going off to meet her fans in the crowd gathered alongside the red carpet at Madinat Arena.

The focus, however, was on Suraj Sharma, Shravanthi Sainath and Adil Hussain, three stars of the opening film, Life of Pi. Director Ang Lee and Indian actors Irrfan Khan and Tabu did not attend.

“I can’t believe it’s all happening. I’m excited and nervous,” said Sharma. Speaking to tabloid! earlier in the day, he said the adulation he and the film has received has not even sunk in.

“I can’t even begin to describe how it feels. It’s crazy... beyond anyone can imagine,” said the 19-year-old from Delhi who beat 3,000 hopefuls to the role.

“I have been travelling around the world and have not even been back in India since the film released.”

His co-star, Assamese actor Adil Hussein, was full of praise for the film’s director, Taiwanese Oscar-winner Ang Lee. “He works like a child. He’s amazing,” he said.

“Film festivals such as this serve as a bridge between East and West,” said Diff chairman Abdul Hamid Juma. “We have films from around the world.”

More than 158 films in 43 languages will be screened during the eight-day festival, which will also see a prize fund worth of $250,000 {Dh917,500) given to filmmakers in several categories.

Blanchett will also give a $100,000 prize to a Gulf director in the IWC Arab Filmmaker Award.

Egyptian actor Mahmoud Abdul Aziz and British director Michael Apted will be honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Egyptian cinema is here to stay,” said Abdul Aziz on the red carpet. “I see a good future.”

Apted was amazed to be chosen for the award. The “Gorillas In The Mist” director said: “It’s a privilege to be honoured with a lifetime award. I didn’t know people in this part of the world liked my films. It’s an honour.”

The festival runs until December 16, and there are screenings and film events open to the public daily. Visit for ticket details.