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Lungi Lunacy: Latent classist rules

Lungi Lunacy: Latent classist rules

Eva Fernandes sees a recent ban on lungis at a South Asian cinema as one more proof of our openly latent classist and somewhat racist biases.

October 30, 2011 4:17 by

Dubai is a city of contradictions.

As an expatriate one comes to understand and, on some level, even accept these contradictions—living here would be very difficult otherwise. Yet, no matter how many times I think about it, I can never make peace with the city’s ambivalent relationship, a dirty mix of love and loathing, with its imported blue collar work force.

In the latest display of this ambivalence, Bollywood Cinemas, has recently banned its customers from wearing lungis. A lungi is the traditional full-length sarong worn by men from the South of India. Here is an image of what a lungi looks like:

Apparently the theater claims Dubai Municipality fines them if the cinema’s customers are found wearing lungis. The manager of the theater told Emirates 24|7: “We can be fined by the Municipality if they find people watching movies in lungis. Officials do occasional inspections in our theatres.”

If you aren’t aware, the Bollywood Cinemas is a relatively new theater that opened earlier this year. The theater, which is close to labour camps in Al Quoz, is cheaper than regular movie tickets and it mostly screens South Indian films. When it opened, I wrote about how pleasantly surprised I was that such special consideration was being made for Dubai’s hardest workers. Prior to the opening of the Al Quoz cinemas, workers living in the outskirts of Dubai would have to spend at least four hours (both ways) to Deira to watch films that were showing in their language. Because the cinemas screened films in the worker’s native language and also because of the proximity of the cinema to labour camps, I thought, finally Dubai seems to be extending some of its world-famous hospitality to its workers, trying to make them feel just a little more comfortable while they are miles away from home.

Which is why, I object so severely to this recent ban. That these cinemas cater to South Indians is an undisputed fact. Why then, would the Municipality, if this cinema manager is to be believed, fine him for allowing his customers to watch films in their native language while wearing their native clothes?

The argument that is being pushed forward is that the lungi is not ‘decent’. I am not going to pretend that the term ‘decent clothing’ is not relative to each culture, but if you examine the lungi you will see that it is in keeping with the codes of attire here in the UAE. The lungi is full length, and in fact it bears close resemblance to the Emirati wisar, which is worn by locals under their khandoura.

Of course, there is the other explanation given by the manager of Bollywood Cinemas, who said: “Most theatres in Dubai do not allow people in lungi. Several workers come in lungis, causing embarrassment to families coming for the shows. In fact, we have received complaints from some family viewers.”  Assuming that the families that came to watch the South Indian films, were South Indian themselves, I can hardly understand what this “embarrassment” is referring to.

Then again, attempting to rationalise some of the city’s rules can be an endeavor in futility. Over the years, Dubai has seen its share of arbitrary and arguably classist rules regarding the blue collar community, including a ban on labourers entering malls and calls for labourers to have separate accommodations.

This is not about a bleeding heart. This is about equal human rights. This is about understanding and, more importantly, accepting that the majority of the UAE’s population is made up of expatriates with different cultures and beliefs and that if a country uses such diverse people to grow its own economy and global profile, that it must also attempt to accept the diversity of culture brought on by these same people—much like how the country accommodates the presence of pubs and clubs, the same considerations could also be afforded to cultural clothing.

It’s 2011. It really is a little late for changing perspectives on a topic like this. But here’s hoping, anyway.

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  1. dismanirie on October 31, 2011 6:36 am

    “Several workers come in lungis, causing embarrassment to families coming for the shows. In fact, we have received complaints from some family viewers.”

    The explanation is self explanatory. I am sure it stems from some trouser clad Indian bureaucrat in the municipality who does not want his family to share the cinema with common labourers.


  2. Tracy on November 2, 2011 5:47 am

    I cannot believe that a movie theater would dare impose clearly racist restrictions in 2011.

    Considering the ill treatment of these workers by their employers, you can’t give them just a little break to forget that they are being paid significantly less than they should be to beautify a country filled with elitists with nothing better to do than be affronted by what they’re wearing to a movie theater.



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