Pepsi producing Arab musical

'Nujoom' will be Haifa Wehbe's film debut

LONDON — Pepsi is branching out into the film biz by producing what is set to become the biggest budget Arab musical of all time. “Bahr Al Nujoom,” Arabic for sea of stars, features a line-up of some of the biggest names in the Arab pop world, including Lebanese popstress Haifa Wehbe, who makes her feature film debut.

Move is part of Pepsi’s attempts to cement its position among Arab youth. Two thirds of the Arab world’s population of 200 million people is under the age 30, making it the region’s most lucrative demographic. Although filmmakers are keeping the prominence of Pepsi to a minimum, all five pop artists in the film are sponsored by Pepsi, giving the soft drink manufacturer plenty of opportunity for cross-branding and marketing potential.

Although Pepsi has put ample coin into the pic, budgets for Arab pics are rising each year, with rival shingles seeking to outdo each other in production values and scale.

The musical, reputedly costing more than $10 million, tells the story of an entrepreneurial youth who seeks to revive the flagging fortunes of his seaside town by staging a music festival there. Pic ends with a spectacular concert that sees Arab pop stars such as Wael Kfoury, Carole Samaha and Ruweida Al Mahrouqi performing together for the first time.

“With all the musical stars in the film, we have a lot of starpower and we’ll be releasing an original soundtrack two months before the release of the film,” says producer Nabil Issa.

Cast is rounded out by reality TV stars Brigitte Yaghi and Ahmed Al Charif, who shot to fame after appearing on Future TV’s “Superstar” skein, based on the Pop Idol format, and LBC’s “Star Academy” respectively.

“We are bringing our marketing strategies to a new level to meet the consumers’ needs and show them our gratitude to their loyalty through new perspectives and a new kind of entertainment,” says Sami Awaw, PepsiCo.’s marketing manager for the Levant region. “Our venture into the movie world comes in parallel with our policy to always bring continuous innovation and to enrich our major platform of football and music.”

Pic’s producers tapped American scribe Declan O’Brien to pen the screenplay in English before translating it into Arabic. Arab helmer Ahmed Hehdi took the directorial reins. Two-month shoot wrapped in Beirut on Oct. 25.

Pic is set to be released around the Mideast in the spring/summer of 2008. Pic’s producers are also in talks with distribs in France and the U.K over securing releases there.