Going by the kinds of TV shows audiences are gravitating to, the world seems to be in a mood of tired acceptance, or waiting for a bad spell to pass. If storylines of rich complexity, combining humans and mythical creatures like in Game of Thrones and House of The Dragon have mass appeal, the reason must be because these Covid years have been wildly unpredictable. When reality seems surreal, only fantasy can portray life.
If art reflects life and we’re adrift between fake news and alternative facts, no wonder then that reality TV, ironically enough, feels artificially fictionalised. Netflix’s Dubai Bling, the latest example of cringeworthy banality in this category, rehashes all the usual tropes we’ve come to expect in a drama focussing on rich, socially prominent women: flashy cars, designer labels, and cheesy dinner dates that involve a helicopter. (Similar scenes feature on The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives and Selling Sunset). However, behind the bejeweled socialites gliding from soirees to nightclubs, there’s a magical, golden hue shining off the soaring skyscrapers — by far, the most interesting character on Dubai Bling is the glittering metropolis itself.
In certain circles, Dubai is jokingly referred to as the best city in India. According to government data, over 4,000 High Net Worth Indians have relocated as NRIs to the UAE’s global hub this year itself. The reasons are many. It’s a start to ensuring that their high-school-going kids can make an easy transition to the West for college. Some claim it’s for a better lifestyle— after all, who, in their right minds, would continue to breathe Delhi’s toxic air or deal with frustrating infrastructure in Mumbai and Bangalore if they had a choice? Others worry about the constant socio-political-economic churning in India. No doubt though, the main motivation to move stems from convenient loopholes in Dubai’s investment policies that permit canny businessmen to escape regulation, and dodge nosy tax sleuths from the formidable Enforcement Directorate here.
Because the super rich everywhere want to protect their wealth, Dubai is teeming with industrialists, successful performing artists and aristocrats from its other unstable neighbours like Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran. The pleasing outcome being, it’s an exotic playground of wealthy migrants and retirees, whose lives are not vastly dissimilar to the protagonists of Dubai Bling.
Transnational NRI existence has many financial perks, as long as one can philosophically accept that boredom is the cost for growing one’s bank balance (in the hierarchy of catastrophes befalling 90% of humanity, this doesn’t even qualify as an issue). Still, someone should make a reality show about millionaire NRIs perched in their towers in a blazing purgatory, twiddling their thumbs, the only occupation being managing their wealth, which takes precisely 45 minutes a day. What to do about the remainder 16 waking hours for 182 days? (The rules are, NRI’s can’t be physically present in India for more than six months of the year, and can’t work in Dubai). So, the biggest problem of the rich NRI is that despite its sparkling streets and buzzing nightlife, time hangs heavy. The day, spent between a spa, a gym, a parlour — and the other myriad pleasures of indolence — fade fast. Living outside of the boundaries of conventional employment is isolating, even if you’re surrounded by an international jet set who are beset by the same problem of ennui.
“Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life,” murmurs the dissipated hero of Scott F Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, whose large fortune kills his ambition but a lack of purpose creates an oppressive void. The central theme of Dubai Bling carries the excesses of the jazz age, now played out in the city’s expat lot. Problems don’t end. Even when the senses are satisfied a thousand times, there’s exhausting idleness to contend with.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films