24 October 2017Last updated

Features | People

Thomas Jellum: the amusement park manager

Thomas Jellum, general manager of Bollywood Parks Dubai, on recreating the magic of Hindi cinema using simulations and rides

Shiva Kumar Thekkepat
26 Jul 2016 | 09:38 am
  • Source:Supplied

GM of Bollywood Parks sounds fancy. Is it a glamorous job?

It is a fun and entertaining project and I’m enjoying every bit of it. From celebrating the Indian festival of Holi with the team to learning more about the movies and stars, it has been a fantastic experience. Prior to joining Bollywood Parks Dubai, I was general manager of one of Denmark’s biggest amusement parks, BonBon-Land. That experience led to me being approached to head Bollywood Parks Dubai.

How easy was it to learn about the Khans and Kapoors?

Although I’m well-versed with the movies and stars we’ll showcase at the park, I know there is so much more to learn about Bollywood as an industry. My favourite movie is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. I love the storyline and scenic road trip around Spain. Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra top my list of favourite Bollywood beauties. I’m just so excited to be part of something that will become part of the history of Dubai.

What can a visitor expect at the park?

Bollywood Parks brings to life the bold action, colourful story-telling and captivating dance sequences of Bollywood. It will recreate the magic of select movies via 3D and 4D simulations, immersive rides and live shows across multiple stages. In terms of scale and spectacle, it’s unlike the experience of watching a movie. One minute you’re watching over 100 dancers performing in front of you, the next minute you could be a part of the troupe yourself. You can virtually experience Krrish’s flight or be chased through the streets of Dubai with Don.

The crowning jewel, however, is the grand Rajmahal Theatre where visitors can enjoy a Broadway-style Bollywood musical in the evenings with a separate entrance ticket. The stunning show can be combined with a royal dinner at Mughal-e-Azam restaurant for the perfect night out with family and friends.

What else?

We also have a Hot Set feature based on Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, where visitors can exercise their acting chops. There’s a stage built around a banyan tree as well for live shows, just like you’d see in old movies.

What are the challenges of working on parks like this?

In my experience, working in a brand-new environment always brings additional learning – new cultures and personalities that make each day exciting. A lot of the rides and attractions are based on films in which the biggest names in Bollywood have acted. But having said, we are not aiming to recreate a specific movie; rather we’re offering an entertaining experience inspired by Bollywood and the intellectual properties.

What is it like to manage a theme park?

Managing a theme park is different from managing hotels or airlines, especially since we don’t have any limitations on capacity. Hence, crowd management becomes one of our main priorities, as we usually never know how many people will arrive on any given day. Our strategy needs to be flexible, and we must be prepared for both plans B and C. My experience is rooted in managing multiple supermarkets, and theme parks follow a similar structure in relation to people, sales and marketing.

Have you had to deal with a crisis at your previous job?

There have been more than a few times where I’ve had to manage a crisis. As long as you keep calm, most situations can be managed efficiently with little or no impact to the guest experience. I make sure that my teams and I are trained to manage incidents. However, there are always times when you experience an incident for the first time, 
so I have learnt to improvise and use my judgement to manage things. I believe in maintaining strong relationships with the authorities and media to keep them updated about the facts of a situation and steps taken to manage it.

What have been the challenges and highlights of putting this project together?

As the world’s first Bollywood-themed park, we’re creating something never seen before, which comes with its own set of challenges. However, we’re confident that the park’s many attractions and rides will resonate with both die-hard Bollywood enthusiasts as well as people who have never seen a Bollywood movie before. The highlight will be the day we open our doors to our first visitors in October – that’s the moment I’m waiting for!

Did you think you’d end up here?

I always wanted to be a schoolteacher and in a way, I feel that this first-of-its-kind park has given me the opportunity to do so as we will be educating people about the fantastic world of Bollywood. It’s also great fun 
to work with a team of enthusiastic and knowledgeable young people who are as passionate as I am about all things Bollywood. I can’t wait for you to visit us and be spellbound!

Shiva Kumar Thekkepat

Shiva Kumar Thekkepat

Features Writer