Image Credit: Dhabi Gulf Film

A new Emirati drama set in the underground world of street racing in the UAE, is no Fast and the Furious, but it’s an honest film with good intentions, say its directors.

Hajwala, releasing across the UAE on September 29, marks the feature debut of Ali Bin Matar and Ebrahim Bin Mohammad who are both credited as directors. Bin Mohammad, who wrote the script along with Hassan Al Jabri, says it’s an attempt to tell Emirati stories from Emirati perspectives.

“This phenomenon has been around for decades and everyone knows someone who is into it. Yes, we’ve had Fast and the Furious come and film here, but no one has done a film about our street racing before,” says the 32-year-old, who’s written and directed short films before.

“A lot of the stories and incidents in the film are based on real incidents.”

Hajwala refers to the street-racing and drifting phenomenon, often illegal, popular in the Gulf states.

Despite the subject matter, authorities were more than happy to co-operate, says Bin Matar.

“They really liked the story and the message,” he says, adding that in Ras Al Khaimah, where a majority of scenes were shot, the police shut down entire roads so they could film safely. “While it is predominantly about cars, it’s also about how this dangerous lifestyle affects their lives and their relationships with people in their lives and family.”

After five drafts, a month of pre-production, shooting began in May this year, both in Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi. To make it as authentic as possible, real racers were cast as leads.

“We thought some of them would hesitate, because many of them cover their faces while performing their stunts on YouTube and other platforms. But they were more than happy to show off for a film,” says Bin Matar, 28, with a laugh. “Also we wanted it to look real. We have well-known faces too, but the ones who play the drivers are all first-time actors.”

Despite the dangerous premise, there were no serious accidents on set, barring one minor but expensive mishap.

“Safety was very, very important for us and we made sure we covered every possible detail,” says Bin Matar. “Even that accident, the driver was unhurt because he was wearing all the protective gear.”

It did shoot up production cost by Dh20,000 though, he adds.

The pair however refuse to divulge the amount of money they spent on their 100-minute film that’s getting a UAE-wide release via Vox Cinemas.

“It’s a lot of money but compared to other films made by our producers Dhabi Gulf Film, it’s nothing,” says Bin Mohammad.

He and Bin Matar met while working together on the sleeper hit Grandmother’s Farm, the horror/comedy film which even spawned a sequel last year.

They’d like to make more films, they say, but support is crucial.

“There is so much talent out there and so many stories to tell the world,” says Bin Mohammad. “And it’s important that we tell our own stories, like in Hajwala. It’s fun and there’s a lot of entertainment, but it also has a very strong message for the youth, which is very important.”


Don’t miss it

Hajwala releases at Vox Cinemas branches across the UAE on September 29. The film is in Arabic but with English subtitles.