Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 September 2006
Issue No. 813
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Obituary Fouad El-Mohandes (1924-2006)

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Fouad El-Mohandes in the film 'A'ilat Zizi (Zizi's Family)

Between his birth on 6 September 1924 and his passing on 16 September 2006 Fouad El-Mohandes made a major mark on Egyptian theatre, cinema, radio and television. Devoted since childhood to the performing arts, El-Mohandes' first introduction to the stage took the form of school plays, followed by university theatre at the Faculty of Commerce, Cairo University. El-Mohandes modelled himself for a while on the great comedian Naguib El-Rihani, rehearsals of whose troupe he regularly attended.

In 1953 El-Mohandes joined the radio programme Sa'a Li-Qalbak (An Hour for Your Heart). Two years later, in 1955, he was one of the co- founders of the Sa'a Li-Qalbak theatre troupe. He directed their first play, Kan Min Al-Awal (It Was About Time), and performed in most of the productions subsequently staged by the troupe.

The next turning point in his career came when he began to perform in television-sponsored play productions. Roles in plays such as Ana Wa Huwa Wa Hiyya (I, He and She; 1962) and Al-Sekerteir Al-Fanni (The Technical Secretary; 1963) brought him to the attention of a large and appreciative audience. Then, in 1966, he co-founded the United Artists' Troupe, taking leading roles in several of the plays staged by the troupe, among them Ana Wa Huwa Wa Sumuwwuh (I, He and his Highness; 1966) and Sayyidati Al-Gamila (an adaptation of My Fair Lady ; 1968) which are considered by many the highpoint of his career on stage.

In 1971 El-Mohandes, with his then wife Shweikar, with whom he formed a very popular duo, joined the Egyptian Comedy Troupe, participating in many of the comedies it staged, including Hello, Dolly (1971), Leih, Leih (Why, Oh Why?; 1976) and Innaha Haqan 'A'ila Muhtarama (It's Quite a Respectable Family; 1978).

El-Mohandes' first break on the big screen was in the 1953 film Ghaltat Umr (The Mistake of a Lifetime), which he followed up a year later with a role in Bint Al-Geiran (The Neighbours' Daughter; 1954). He played supporting roles in several successful films, including Bayn Al-Atlal (Amid the Ruins), Nahr Al-Hubb (The River of Love), Almaz wa Abdou El-Hamouli and Shafiqa El-Qibtiyya (Shafiqa the Copt).

His most memorable film roles, though, were opposite Shweikar. Among the films in which they appeared together are Shanabou Fil- Masyada (Shanabou in the Trap), Inta Illi Qatalt Babaya (It Was You Who Killed My Father) and Mutarada Gharamiyya (Amorous Chase). Sadly, the majority of these films, produced between 1968, the year after the defeat, and 1972, a year before the victory in the 1973 War, were mediocre by and large. El-Mohandes was under no illusions about his career as a film actor and repeated on several occasions that despite the many films he had appeared in it was his contribution to theatre of which he was most proud. Indeed, as he added, he spent the bulk of what he made in cinema on financing productions for the stage.

He was also in demand as a television actor, appearing in soap operas -- ' Uyun (Eyes), Azwag Lakin Ghurba' (Married but Estranged) and El-Za'ir El-Maghoul (The Unknown Visitor) -- as well as Fawazir Ammu Fouad (Uncle Fouad's Riddles), for many years a popular staple of the Ramadan schedules, while his radio work, in addition to the programme Sa'a Li-Qalbak, included memorable Ramadan radio dramas with Shweikar as well as the programme Kilmitein Wa Bass (Just Two Words).

In the course of his long career El-Mohandes won several awards. He was honoured at the first Comedy Festival organised by the Egyptian Society for Theatre Amateurs in 1994, by the Cairo International Film Festival in 1999 and was presented with a prize from the Catholic Centre for Artistic Creativity. The crowning honour of his career, though, came in 2005 when he was the first comedian to receive the State Merit Award.

Many factors contributed to El-Mohandes' success as a performer and comedian. He owed his excellent diction and elocution to the fact that his father, Zaki El-Mohandes, was the dean of Dar Al-Ulum and a distinguished scholar. El-Mohandes, who modelled himself on El-Rihani and Charlie Chaplin early in his career, also made his debut at a time when the earlier generation of comedians, which included figures such as Ismail Yassin, was losing its footing. Then, of course, there were El-Mohandes' own formidable talents: fitness and suppleness, a musical ear that enabled him to sing in several musicals and his versatility as an actor who could play the put upon civil servant as convincingly as the millionaire. Alongside this substantial, multi-faceted artistic legacy, El-Mohandes will be remembered for his sense of decorum and for a devotion to comedy that never descended into cheap farce, while his faith in team spirit and the support he extended to younger comedians, such as Adel Imam, served to underline his generosity as a performer.

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