Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Grand Hotel TV

Soha Hesham enjoys Grand Hotel, one of the highlights of Ramadan TV this year

Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel
Al-Ahram Weekly

Miraculously, as it seems, there are those who can follow several television series this Ramadan. And there are plenty to chose from across various satellite channels. Worth mentioning — besides the three series dealing with mental illness: Suqout Horr (Free Fall), Al-Khanka (The Asylum) and Fouq Mustawa Al-Shubuhat (Above Suspicion) — is director Mohamed Yassin’s Afrah Al-Qubba (Wedding Song), based on the Naguib Mahfouz novel set in the early 1970s, and starring Iyad Nassar, Mona Zaki and Sawsan Badr. Screenwriter Mohamed Amin Radi wrote the first 14 episodes of the series but, contrary to the original agreement, pulled out — resulting in a sudden drop in quality.

For his part screenwriter Tamer Habib did complete the Egyptian version of the Spanish television hit Gran Hotel, called Grand Hotel in Arabic. Directed by Mohamed Shakir Khodeir (who collaborated with Habib on Tariqi or “My Way” starring the singer Sherine Abdel-Wahab last year), Grand Hotel is set in the 1950s in Aswan, much of it filmed at the legendary Old Cataract Hotel, with beautifully convincing costumes by Yasmine Al-Qadi. It opens with Ali (Amr Youssef) heading to Aswan to look for his sister Doha, a maid at the Grand Hotel who has abruptly stopped sending him letters. He cannot believe what they tell him at the hotel: that she stole some jewellery from a guest and was thrown out. With the help of the waiter Amin (Mohamed Mamdouh), Ali takes a job as a waiter at the hotel and sets out to investigate his sister’s disappearance, eventually introducing himself to the upper-class woman from whom Doha supposedly stole, Madame Fakhr (Sherine), tricking her into believing he is a distant relative of hers. She tells him that nothing was ever stolen from her at the Grand Hotel.

This takes place during the homecoming party thrown for Nazli (Amina Khalil), the daughter of the hotel owner Kismet (Anoushka) who has been studying in Europe, and to whom Ali is introduced as Madame Fakhr’s relative Ahmed. Complications set in as Murad (Ahmed Dawoud), Nazli’s cousin and fiancé, is announced the new manager of the hotel (replacing Kismet’s late husband Adham) even though the position had been promised to Ehsan, the husband of Nazli’s sister Amal (Nada Moussa). When Nazli runs into Ali at the spot to which she escapes to smoke away from her family’s eyes by the Nile, they take a liking to each other and — encouraged by Amin telling him that, unlike the rest of the family, Nazli is kind-hearted — Ali confesses to her that he works as a waiter at the hotel under the name Fouad, telling her his whole story.

For his part Amin is one of the oldest waiters at the hotel and his mother Sekina (Sawsan Badr) is the head waitress. He is in love with one of the waitresses, Ward (Dina Al-Sherbini), but — appearing to be secretly in love with Murad, who has had sexual relations with her — she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. When Nazli arrives Murad tells Ward that their relationship is over, but she announces that she is pregnant. At the same time Amal, who has been pregnant, falls down the stairs and loses her child; apparently she cannot conceive again. While Ali and Nazli continue to meet in secret, seemingly falling in love, Doha appears suddenly and explains to Ali the mystery of her disappearance, mentioning a letter that threatens Kismet’s whole family. That night she appears at a masked ball to taunt Kismet about the letter, whereupon she is found dead in the laundry room.

The secret of the letter (which as it turns out both Kismet and Murad have known about) is eventually revealed: Amin is actually Adham’s son, which makes him the hotel’s rightful owner by law. This gives way to even more complications and struggles as it is also revealed that Kismet and Ward have a deal to give Ward’s child to a foreign couple, relatives of Kismet. After Doha’s death Nazli confesses her love for Ali. She leaves Murad a letter, packs her case and follows him to the train station — but he refuses to elope with her when new evidence in Doha’s murder comes to his attention at the last minute and he decides to stay on. They return to the hotel, Nazli marries Murad, but they cannot keep away from each other... Despite the occasional moment of cliché, Grand Hotel manages to be a well-made series that is both gripping and beautiful, with excellent performances and powerful music and cinematography — and a version of the cruel aristocracy that rings truly Egyptian.

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