Filmmaker Khalid Al Zedjali is blazing a new trail in Muscat's cinematic history. And others are inspired.
A large population of women in the country but only a handful of actresses to choose from is the dilemma facing Khalid Al Zedjali, who dreams of setting a feature film-making trend in Oman with his first feature film, Al Boom.
Al Zedjali is in the midst of a hectic shooting schedule for the Sultanate's first feature film in which, except for the cinematographer, the cast and crew are all Omani.
"So far so good," he told Gulf News when asked how his film is progressing.
"In the first two weeks we have completed over 50 per cent of the shooting and hope to wind up in another two to three weeks."
He is glad that his attempt to make Oman's first feature film has inspired other directors to venture in the same direction.
Justifying his decision to make a feature film by and for Omanis, Al Zedjali said: "We have done the right thing and now two more directors are thinking of jumping into the fray and making feature films here."
The smile on Al Zedjali's face broadened when he said that people are already talking about his film even before it is finished.
On the one hand, when two more directors are contemplating making films, Al Zedjali has kept the second project ready.
"The script for my second film is ready, actors are more or less finalised and we are now looking for some funds," he said.
With limited theatre activities and only one government-owned television station, Oman obviously doesn't boast a big talent pool from which to choose actors.
"Yes, we have a limited number of actors, especially female stars; therefore, we have to manage our films and not put actors under pressure," he said.
Al Zedjali expressed concern, particularly for actresses. "Getting actresses is going to be a big problem in Oman as we have only a handful who are willing to face the camera."
The filmmaker said that since 2000 the number of actresses has declined in Oman a great deal. "There was a time when Omani actresses performed for television in the other Gulf countries," he said, but he was disappointed that social problems and marriage forced some of them to stop working.
"There aren't many from the newer generation, but hopefully the success of our film Al Boom will draw more and more women to the profession of acting."
Talking about the shooting being done at the fishing hamlet of Haramyl, Al Zedjali said the initial fear that there would not be enough people to stage the mob scenes was solved with the enthusiastic cooperation of the villagers.
"The village people are cooperating very well and even provide people for crowd scenes or smaller parts whenever we need, thus solving our problem of getting extras," he said.
Asked how the film was shaping up, Al Zedjali paused, thought for a moment, almost going into a trance and replied: "The film is shaping up very well. We are happy … my dream is coming true."
Another worry for him and Indian cinematographer Ramchandra Babu was the lack of experience among the cast and crew.
"We thought we may have problems due to the lack of cinematic experience among our actors and assistants, but after two to three days they adapted excellently," said Al Zedjali.
He agreed that the actors had faced the television camera, but "sometimes television experience can be counter-productive when shooting for a feature film".
However, Al Zedjali had a detailed talk about the difference between performing for television and for the big screen and that put his actors and crew at ease, with the result that little film stock was wasted.
"We are doing well with the stock; 50 per cent of it is already used and we have canned that much of the film script too," he said.
Saleh Za'al, a veteran of Omani television drama, plays a protagonist in Al Boom, which gets its inspiration from Samuel Beckett's classic Waiting for Godot. Zuah Qader is the female lead.
The two are pitted against the evil designs of a businessman who seeks to drive out the inhabitants of Al Boom and convert the village into a beach resort. Veteran television star Saud Al Darmaky plays the role of the greedy businessman.
In all there are 25 performers — 14 men and 11 women. Popular Egyptian comedian Said Saleh is also making an appearance in the role of a teacher.
Al Boom, which will be a clever mix of modern Oman and its ancient maritime legacy, will feature Omani folklore, music and dance.
"Al Boom will be a showcase of Oman's rich heritage and the stunning locations will lend a colourful appeal to the film," said Saleh, a popular TV serial actor with a career stretching over 25 years.