Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1332, (16 - 22 February 2017)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1332, (16 - 22 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The taming of the chauvinist

Al-Ahram Weekly discusses the first instalment of producer Dina Harb’s proposed quartet

Bashteri Ragel
Bashteri Ragel

Producer Dina Harb organised a screenwriting workshop given by Wael Hamdi with the object of writing four full-length films. Written by Inas Lotfi and directed by Mohamed Ali, Bashteri Ragel (a reference to the matrimonial allusion to the importance of the bridegroom’s character as opposed to his financial ability beneshteri ragel or “We’re buying a man”; literally, “I’m Buying a Man”) is the first of them. This is Ali’s third film after Game of Love (2006) and Speaking of Love (2007), after which he devoted himself to television series – notably Ahl Cairo (or “People of Cairo”) in 2015 and, most recently, Mariam in 2015. Due to financial pressures, both Ali and actress Nelly Karim (who plays the lead, Shams) as well as Harb worked for free.

The film opens with a number of scenes explaining who the heroine is: Shams is a severe, successful career woman who heads the accounting department of a major company, in her thirties; her actions prepare the viewer for the dramatic shift that will happen when the topic of the film becomes clear. Shams’s only problem is her inability to have children, something that is explained as we see her mother trying to organise an arranged marriage for her and see her yearning for her own children while she plays with her friend’s son. It is while visiting her gynaecologist uncle’s clinic for a checkup – Shams’s uncle (Lotfi Labib) tells her that her chances of conceiving are steadily dwindling and that she is only 40 percent likely to have a child now – that she decides to use a donor’s semen for artificial insemination.

This premise is new to Egyptian cinema even though it has been broached in such Hollywood films as the 2010 comedy The Switch, starring Jennifer Aniston; and to make it acceptable in an Egyptian context, the film has Shams looking for a donor to marry for a month, using his semen without having sex with him, on the understanding that he would divorce her – all in return for a sum of money. A few months ago, a video appeared on social media in which a girl named Sherihan asks for a semen donor explaining that she wants to have child without marriage or sex. The video spread widely and people assumed it was real until the TV presenter Lamis Al-Hadidi announced on her popular show Min Al Assema that it was an advertisement for the upcoming film Bashteri Ragel. It was an effective, low-cost marketing ploy...

The script proceeds along two lines. On the one hand there is Shams; on the other hand there is the donor, a veterinary named Bahgat (Mohamed Mamdouh). Bahgat leads a happy life raising cattle, farming and cooking on his farm, but he is so disorganised and irresponsible that he is very badly in debt – and the bailiffs have almost caught up with him. He is in a relationship with a girl named Sally (Laila Arabi), who is obsessed with yoga and chakra healing and, eager to marry Bahgat, is urging him to sell the farm and pay his debts. It is to avoid doing so that Bahgat will agree to sell his semen while Sally is away, but how do the two lines intersect? This is perhaps the script’s weakest link, though it is full of well executed light comedy, since it takes place through Bahgat’s uncle (Mohamed Hatem), a young man both younger and smaller than Bahgat, who happens to be trying to have a relationship with Shams’s secretary, who tells him he is like a brother to her but reveals Shams’s plan, which Shams has apparently posted on Facebook.

From then on the film becomes a replay of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, in particular of its 1962 Egyptian comedy film version Ah min Hawa, directed by Fatin Abdel-Wahab and starring Rushdie Abaza as a vet and Lubna Abdel-Aziz is the recalcitrant, vain young bride. This is clear in a number of scenes, but it is intelligently modified by placing Bahgat’s power not in his being the man as such but in his having control of the semen. Nonetheless there is much comedy, especially in the scenes that bring the newly married couple together with the bride’s mother in the farm. The dramatic crisis occurs when the third attempt at artificial insemination by Shams’s uncle fails, and so husband and wife are forced to come closer. There is a scene in which Shams joins Bahgat in the kitchen while he cooks, and it would’ve been easy to bring them together there in the sensual atmosphere. What happens is that Bahgat takes Shams to a nightclub where he personally plays a disco version of a famous folk song about love.

The climax occurs when Bahgat and Shams finally make love, by which time Sally has returned from her holiday and by making an appearance destroys the nascent relationship, especially since Shams had stated in her conditions that the donor should be single and has therefore assumed that Bahgat had no one else in his life. The film ends with Bahgat’s repeated attempts to return to Shams now that, without her, he feels he is missing an important part of his life, especially since with her accounting acumen she has resolved his financial problems. Here as elsewhere the sexist structure of The Taming of the Shrew (which is replicated in Ah min Hawa) gives way to something far more contemporary and complex and presents the female character in a far more respectful – and convincing – light.

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