Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Ramadan nostalgia

Watching this year’s offerings, Soha Hesham recalls Ramadan TV’s greatest moments of the not-so-distant past

Ramadan nostalgia
Ramadan nostalgia

Nostalgia for Ramadan in the 1980s and 1990s won’t leave the collective memory of Egyptians, who all long for the after-Iftar Fawazir (or Riddles) still. Glamorous variety programmes with a star who sang-danced and played many characters as a rule, they were centred on a riddle the audience could win prizes for. The most notable Fawazir were directed by Fahmi Abdel-Hamid, and they starred Nelly for many years, Sherihan for a few and Samir Ghanem as the green-clad midget Fattouta in 1982. The Fawazir are of course no more... 

Where dramatic series are concerned, screenwriter Osama Anwar Okasha’s Al-Shahd Wal Demou (Honey and Tears, 1984) and Layali Al-Hilmiya (Hilmiya Nights, 1987-89; 1992; 1995; an additional season was made in 2016, written by Ayman Bahgat Qamar and Amr Mahmoud Yassin) are just two of many objects of nostalgia. Collaborating mostly with director Ismail Abdel-Hafez, Okasha (1941-2010) was the first to write a multi-season series; his gift was to present coherent and appealing social drama with many characters and story lines that remained gripping over the years. Concurrently with Layali Al-Hilmiya he wrote Damir Abla Hikmat (Schoolmistress Hikmat’s Conscience, 1991), starring the late Faten Hamama, and Arabesque (1994). Afterwards he collaborated with director Gamal Abdel-Hamid on two seasons of Zizinia (1997-98). Director Yehia Al-Alami’s spy drama Raafat Al-Haggan (1988), starring the inimitable Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, is another unforgettable hit.

Highlights of the 1990s include Al-Mal Wal Banoun (Wealth and Progeny, 1993 and 1995), written by Mohamed Galal Abdel-Qawi and Al-Dou Al-Sharid (Stray Light, 1998) by Mohamed Safaa Amer, both directed by Magdi Abu Emaira, as well as the great acting duet of Nour Al-Sherif and Abla Kamel in Lan Aish Fi Gelbab Abi (I Will Not Live in My Father’s Robe), based on Ihsan Abdel-Qoddous’s novel, written by Mustafa Moharram and directed by Ahmed Tawfik.

***

This Ramadan boasts a smaller number of series than in previous years, and the theme of terrorism dominates nearly all of them. In Malika, for example, written jointly by Ahmed Taher Yassin and Mohamed Suleiman Abdel-Malek and directed by Sherif Ismail, the eponymous protagonist (played by Dina Al-Sherbini, whom many feel is too inexperienced to play a main role yet) survives a terrorist explosion at the wedding of the prosecutor-general’s daughter, which she attends with her cousin Aya (Aya Samaha) who was about to get engaged to Malika’s brother. After returning from a medical sojourn in Paris, where she’s had facial reconstructive surgery, Malika is no longer recognisable. Could the person who survived be Aya posing as her cousin? The dialogue is as irrational as the characters’ motives. There is also unconvincing acting by, among others, Yasser Ali Maher as Malika’s father and Amr Al-Said as her brother Sherif. While the terrorist organisation reveals itself to the viewer — a predictable and even less convincing story here — suspense keeps Malika’s fate somewhat interesting as she and her family attempt to get past what has happened to her. 

Viewers like Sally Abdel-Azim, who is following Layali Eugénie (Eugénie Nights) and Ikhtifaa (Disappearance) remain nostalgic for Ramadan classics: “When I think about Ramadan drama it is Layali Al-Hilmiya and Hawanem Garden City [Ladies of Garden City] that come to mind. More recently I liked Taht Al-Saytara [Under Control] and Grand Hotel.” Rasha Ali agrees: “I re-watch Raafat Al-Hagan, Layali Al-Hilmiya and Zizinia whenever I find them, they had taste, but this year I’m watching nothing at all.” For Ziad Attia, it is Al-Mal Wal Banoun and Lan Aish Fi Gelbab Abi that leave the deepest mark, though he also liked more recent series like Al-Ragol Al-Akher (The Other Man) starring Nour Al-Sherif, Um Kolthoum starring Sabrine and Grand Hotel. For her part, though she watches a little of everything every year, Nadia Hassan likes Layali Al-Hilmiya, Hawanem Garden City and Lan Aish Fi Gelbab Abi... 

***

Directed by filmmaker Hani Khalifa, Layali Eugénie is an Egyptianisation of the Spanish series ACACIAS 38 by Ingy Al-Qassem and Samaa Abdel-Khalek, two members of a workshop by screenwriter Tamer Habib. And it too suffers from script weaknesses — though it makes up by far the most solid offering this Ramadan, and perhaps the fact that it has nothing to do with terrorism is one reason why. Another is the nostalgic picture it gives of Port Said in the 1940s, with the elegant female attire and horse-drawn carriages of a time when cars were still called “automobiles”...  

The drama kicks off with Kariman hitting her abusive husband on the head after he kidnaps their daughter and sends her away to live with his sister in France. She flees to Port Said, where she starts a new like as Karima with the object of saving enough money to go after her daughter. There she meets a whole cast of characters whose own story lines form much of the substance of the series. 

There is Farid (Dhafir Al-Abdine), an Egyptian doctor recently returned from France who has married his brother’s Lebanese widow to remain close to his niece, but though he is falling in love with Karima, widow Aida (Carmen Bsaibes) is falling in love with him. Through her work Karima also meets Galila, a nightclub singer with her own tragedy (kudos to Asmaa Abul-Yazid for a subtle yet convincing performance), and then Sofia (a similarly brilliant performance by Injy Al-Mokaddem), whose ex-boyfriend Aziz (Murad Makram) couldn’t oppose the will of his mother (a landmark performance by Laila EzzAl-Arab) who won’t let him marry Sofia. There is also the hotel owner Sedki Pasha (Boutros Ghali) who marries one of his cleaners Neamat (Intisar) against his daughter’s will. And, despite too many philosophical conversations and technical slip-ups like the picture of the girl’s deceased mother turning out to be a real-life image of Queen Nariman, the series just about works. 

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