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Understanding the licence plate phenomenon in the UAE

Emirati filmmaker produces documentary to shed light on expensive licence plates

Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News Archives
Plate No 1 sold for Dh18 million at an auction that generated more than Dh50 million. Picture for illustrative purposes.
Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: An Emirati filmmaker is hoping to offer a different perspective on the popular culture of high-end licence number plates among Emiratis in the UAE.

The purchase of unique licence number plates has grabbed headlines in both the UAE and around the world, most recently after the plate No 1 was sold for Dh18 million at an auction held in Sharjah. In total, more than Dh50 million was generated during the event for a whole range of distinguished licence number plates.

Shakhbout Al Kaabi

“I decided to make a short documentary film to address why it has become so popular to buy expensive licence plates among Emiratis and I came from a different perspective, linking it with national identity and culture,” said Shakhbout Al Kaabi, who made the documentary as part of his capstone project at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).

“A lot of people might think that it’s all about wasting money, but what I wanted to show was that it’s something deeper than that, and that it has in essence become something that is uniquely Emirati — it is something we do,” he added.

For his documentary, Al Kaabi interviewed Emiratis who had what would be considered special licence plate numbers, with their reasons for having those number plates varying from one to another.

“There were quite a few different responses. Some of them told me that they had received the number plate as a gift from their parents. Others said that they were encouraged to buy the number plate from auctions because of the charitable factor behind those auctions, with the money going towards charity.

“I even had someone tell me that they saw the special licence number plate as a business investment — they would buy the number plate and after a time the value of the number plate would increase.”

“So, all of these interviews I believe shed more light on the issue and allow us to understand the perspective of the buyer — some of whom admitted to me that they understood that there are many preconceived ideas about them,” he added.

Al Kaabi also said that he wanted to see if Emiratis with special licence number plates were treated differently.

“I did an experiment in the documentary. I asked one of my friends who has a double digit number plate to go Emirates Palace, and to wear shorts and flip flops to see the type of reaction he received. I wanted to see if he would be allowed inside the hotel or not, because they have a policy against such a dress code.

“He was not stopped and went inside with no problems. So what I showed was that if you did have a special number plate, it was likely that you would be treated differently in a more VIP kind of way, and this also I would say contributes to the culture of expensive number plates, it’s a way of showing your status,” he added.

Al Kaabi’s documentary has so far been shown at NYUAD only. He did, however, tell Gulf News that he was planning on getting the film more exposure, and would aim to have the film screened at film festivals, including the Dubai International Film Festival.

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