Al-Ahram Weekly Online
28 June - 4 July 2001
Issue No.540
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Limelight

'She was a phantom of delight'

By Lubna Abdel-Aziz

Lubna Abdel-AzizA lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament.

                    -- William Wordsworth --

She was a child of Nature, on loan to us for a short while, to grace our lives and give us limitless joy - to claim her as our own and savour the sweets she could give. It was a silent bond between us. She gave and we took. We hungered for all that she had to give, and "she made hungry, where most she satisfied". She lit our screen for over three decades yet they seemed, as fleeting moments of forbidden pleasures, and now are gone forevermore.

She gave till she could give no more, for there was nothing more to give. In the garden of Paradise, our bird has taken flight, and shall now sing forever her sweet songs. She has found her wings of freedom, and they will help her soar; and there, amidst nature's eternal spring, she will be forever young, and forever happy - at last.

Soad Hosni started to sing as a little child in "Baba Sharo's" children's show. But it was not until a dozen or more years later, that she first burst on the screen. In 1959 she was cast in Hassan and Naima, a tale of tender romance and forbidden love. As soon as her face appeared on the screen, as soon as she flashed that sprightly, sparkling smile, the whole Arab nation was captivated. She instantly and gracefully entered the heart, and settled comfortably in an innermost corner, there to reside for as long as the heart beats. Despite her immediate success she was cast in a series of supporting roles and mediocre films until 1966, when her fortune took a favourable turn. Her first in an endless series of hits was Saghira Ala El-Hobb (Too Young for Love), and then there was no stopping her. It was more than her films that entranced and enraptured. Her beauty, as striking as it was dazzling, still had a soothing and personal quality, neither haughty nor forbidding. It exuded a sense of familiarity and accessibility. She possessed that common touch, that many among the great share. That was the secret ingredient that endeared her to all.

Soad Hosni
photo: Mohamed Bakr
While stars on the screen, like the stars in the firmament are distant and untouchable, Soad Hosni was quite the opposite. Watching her in a film you truly expected her to walk off the screen and come home with you. Her most striking feature was not her physical beauty - her raven black hair, those deep-set flirty eyes, or that petite seductive figure - it was her irridescent spirit. It was to that éclat d'esprit, that indomitable, vivacious, effervescent 'aura popularis' that we wished to be close to, should some of it rub off.

To our bright star, the world was her playground, and at its centre, this human child was full of wonderment. She rode on clouds above, close to the angels. She conveyed a passionate fondness for living and we responded gratefully to her boisterous spontaneous flow of energy, to her spellbinding personality. They called her the "Cinderella" of the silver screen - I call her Egypt's sweetheart - everybody's sweetheart. Though illiterate until her twenties, she walked with princes and sat with kings. Her special magic that charmed intellectuals, philosophers, writers, was the very same magic that charmed the labourer, the farmer, the hired hand. She was everyone's star.

Directors wanted her to star in their films, leading men wanted her for their leading lady, and writers created tales of love with Soad in mind. She won innumerable awards for her performances. She made films with every leading man such as Rushdi Abaza, Ahmad Mazhar, Hassan Youssef. She brought alive works of great writers such as Naguib Mahfouz, Ihsan Abdel- Quddus, Youssef El-Sibai, and the doyen Taha Hussein. She glittered under the direction of Salah Abu Seif, Kamal El-Sheikh, and Henry Barakat. She also encouraged such budding talents of her time, like Samir Seif, Sherif Arafa, and Mohamed Khan.

Her mentor, confidant, tutor and friend until the end was the leading poet, journalist, artist and author, the one and only Salah Jahine. He read every story, wrote every song, reviewed every film, revised every script, and rewrote every interview. When she lost him in 1986, her world crumbled. Her only television series "He and She" was hailed by both the public and the critics. Her succès de fou in Khally Balak min Zouzou (Watch out for Zouzou) remains unsurpassed in the history of Egyptian cinema as it played continuously for 54 weeks, unheard of before or since.

To the reader unfamiliar with the object of our affection, I shall attempt to explain. Consider such names, and their impact during their glory days, Doris Day, Sandra Dee, Julia Roberts - roll them all together, add a touch of Julie Andrews, a pinch of Shirley McClaine, and a sprinkling of Ginger Rogers, and there you have Soad Hosni. Better still, run to the closest video-store and rent one of her films, any film. Once she flashes that smile and winks her eye, you too shall join the millions of fans that mourn her passing today.

She came to us in an age fraught with affectation and formality; an age dreary and heavy with tears and tragedy. With her simple childlike imagery, her innocent sense of dignity, she wiped the tears and chased the ghosts away. She took us by the hand to her magic garden. And there together we romped and played, far from the artificial social whirl. Such was the stuff that only dreams are made of.

And now, are we really to bid adieu to one so close, so dear, so fair, so young?! I thought I heard the owl moan in the dark of night. "She is dead". I heard it again and again. I asked myself, 'how can that be?' as I lay in the gentle stillness of the summer night. 'But roses die', I sighed 'and she was the fairest summer rose'. Memories raced through my head as tears streamed down my cheeks. Visions of this ethereal beauty seemed so real, so alive. I felt if I stretched my arm a little further, I could touch her once again. I tried in vain to console my breaking heart.

Perhaps she was tormented by depression and despair. Perhaps she was heartsick and homesick, hopeless and helpless, like a trembling leaf hanging desperately in the autumn wind. Perhaps she feared the fierce winter, sure to follow the autumn wolves. Or perhaps she reached for the spring that lay behind the weary winter. For spring becomes her, for she was Spring. The world she leaves behind seems dull and grey.

She is at rest now and we must mourn. She is at rest now, and may she rest in peace.

Tread lightly, she is near,
Speak gently she can hear.
                     -- Oscar Wilde
--

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