Ahmad Golchin was 22 years old when he first saw ‘Dr No’ in a shabby old cinema in the heart of Tehran in 1962. Little did he know that he would be bringing James Bond’s biggest film to feature across 650 screens in the UAE nearly 60 years later.
As the Founder and CEO of the Phars Film Group, the biggest cinema distribution company in the Middle East, Golchin has worn many hats over his time, but what has stuck by him all through these years has been a love for Ian Fleming’s sophisticated hero who has more lives than a cat as he saves the world one decade at a time.
“Watching ‘Dr No’ on screen was a moment that changed my life,” recalled Golchin. As a small-time publisher, eager to make a name and some money, Golchin cashed in the on the success of Fleming’s 007 series and built the foundation of his empire from there. When his career prospects brought him to the shores of the UAE in 1964, the young entrepreneur found a lucrative avenue with screening movies.
“When I landed in Dubai in 1964, there one cinema located in Al Nasser Square. It would cost Rs2 to get a ticket, with films playing only at night-time,” described Golchin.
The cinema that stood in the midst of old Deira was a far cry from the multiplexes peppered across the UAE today, some of which have been founded by Golchin himself. A plot of land with four muddy walls formed the foundation of the ‘cinema’, serving as an open-air theatre with wooden benches that served as seats, while many others parked themselves down on the sand after a long day at work.
Looking to cash in on the success of Fleming’s brand of flair in a new city, Golchin brought Sean Connery’s suave super spy to screen in Dubai back in 1967.
“When I came to the UAE and got involved in the movie business, I decided to screen ‘Dr No’ in Dubai and I got the print for a very cheap price,” said Golchin. The print cost the Phars head a meagre 1,700 Indian Rupees.
“You have to understand, the UAE was yet to form; Dubai was a Trucial State under the British rule. The UAE Dirham was still several years away. If you do the math, it would have amounted to Dh500 at the time,” he added.
Today, as Daniel Craig’s swansong rolls into UAE theatres on September 30, Golchin is once again the man with job of bringing 007 to UAE screens. “Today, bringing Bond to the UAE has cost me Dh25 million, with the film showcasing across 650 screens in the UAE alone, while the number cross 2,110 when you could all of the Middle East,” he said.
The millions spent account for the marketing and publicity that has been planned in the lead up to the film’s release, which includes a special Bond face mask with Expo 2020 Dubai branding.
“‘Dr No’ hardly made any ripples when I screened it here. But it was a different time, where the population of Dubai didn’t exceed more than 130,000 people and the movies that worked were Indian projects such as ‘Ganga Jamuna’, ‘Mera Naam Joker’ and the likes,” he continued.
Quiz him about the prospects of ‘No Time to Die’ and Golchin beamed back. “This film is a work of art. That’s the only way to describe it. If there is any movie that will signal the return to cinemas in light of the pandemic then its Daniel Craig’s James Bond.”
For a man who’s been in the movie business for more than five decades, can Golchin predict a film’s outcome even before it hits the box office? “Let’s just say I know a good movie when I see one. I predicted ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ would be a sensation back in 2008, a film with no Khan or no big Hollywood star and it went on to win eight Academy Awards. Don’t write off ‘No Time to Die’ just yet,” he added.
Don’t miss it!
‘No Time To Die’ screens in the UAE from September 30.