Egyptian TV Goes Dynastic
Cairo - A key cause of the January 25 revolution was that Egyptians wanted to thwart the inheritance of political power. But there seems to be little call for an anti-dynastic revolution in the world of the performing arts, especially when the heirs are themselves talented.
Nevertheless, young Egyptian actors often complain that the bulk of new roles are grabbed by the offspring of established artists with their parents’ support, while they have to wait around for opportunities to become available to them.
While this has been going on for at least a decade, the upcoming Ramadan entertainment season is to see the release of a whole host of parent-child collaborations from the “Hollywood of the East”.
Leading the pack is veteran comedian Adel Imam, who is to join his sons Rami and Muhammad in a TV series called Nagi Atallah (The Nagi Atallah Band), also featuring Ahmad al-Saadani, son of actor Salah al-Saadani.
Other heirs include director Shadi al-Fakhrani, son of major star Yahya al-Fakhrani. Although he has never directed professionally before, producer Ahmad al-Gaberi insisted he did not hire him to do the forthcoming series Khawaga Abdul-Qader as a favor to his father. He said Shadi had been slated to direct a historical drama that was later cancelled, so he seized the chance to give the young director his first big opening since graduating from film school 10 years ago.
Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz, meanwhile, is to return to TV screens after a six-year absence with a series titled Bab al-Khulq. He sought to dispel the impression that his comeback was related to the fact that his eldest son Muhammad co-owns the production company that made the series, or that his other son Karim is one of the actors. He insisted it was the quality of Muhammad Abdul-Malek’s script that attracted him.
Unlike Abdul-Aziz’s sons, who have established their own reputations and done much work unconnected to their father, megastar Nour al-Sharif’s daughter Muna has rarely ever appeared in productions not involving hers. She is now set to co-star with him in a new series called Urfat al-Bahr (Code of the Sea).
While the young actress was in the cast of Wadi al-Mulouk (Valley of the Kings) and has a role in Ilham Shaheen’s forthcoming Ramadan series Qadiyat Maali al-Wazira (the Case of Her Excellency the Minister), audiences only really know her for acting alongside her father, and she has a long way to go to make her separate mark.
The big Ramadan surprise this year, however, is Izza, the oldest daughter and spitting image of dancer and actress Fifi Abdu. She is to debut in a sequel to the series Kayd al-Nisaa (Womens’ Wiles). Her mother said she was confident that the young woman would win admiring audiences in her own right.
All the stars say that when introducing their offspring for the first time.
Family ties are not new to the Hollywood of the East. But they were of a different nature in the past, and certainly did not smack of artistic nepotism.
Egypt’s first such partnership was that of the Lama brothers, Badr and Ibrahim, who moved to Alexandria from Palestine in 1916 to set up the Condor Film company. Through it they produced Egypt and the Arab world’s first silent movie in 1927, with the title (hard to imagine one like it today) Qubla fi al-Sahraa (Kiss in the Desert) directed by Ibrahim Lama.
As working in the performing arts, especially by women, was frowned upon socially – as it is becoming again – most female artists in those days hailed from non-Egyptian or Jewish families.
But there are many stories of the daughters of traditional Egyptian families fleeing their homes for the bright lights. The most famous was Amina Rizq, who left Tanta for Cairo with her aunt the actress Amina Muhammad, and quickly outshone her.
There were no such problems with Zaki Murad’s Jewish family. But the famous singer predated the age of the screen, which gave everything to his daughter Laila. The star of the Egyptian screen in the 1940s retired before her younger brother Maurice – stage-name Munir Murad – rose to fame. He worked his way up in the industry from clapper-board boy to assistant director, while filling the world with his music. He is estimated to have composed some 3,000 tunes – whether songs, scores or dance numbers to which the likes of Naima Akef and Samia Gamal performed. But remarkably, he only wrote one little-known song for his famous sister Laila.
The Armenian Artin family were comparable. They provided Egyptian cinema with the much-loved trio of Little Fairouz (Bairouz), her younger sister Nelly, and their cousin Lubluba (Ninochka Kupelian). They only very rarely performed together, notably in Atef Salem’s 1952 movie al-Hirman (Deprivation). Fairouz retired soon afterwards, while Nelly became famous for her romantic roles and Bulbula went into comedy.
The contrast between these and traditional Egyptian families is illustrated by the celebrated “rumor” that the singer and actor Muhammad Fawzi disapproved of his sister Huda Sultan working as an actress. Both of the siblings, who hail from the governorate of Gharbiyeh governorate, repeatedly denied it during their careers. But the fact remains that they only collaborated on one film. And while he composed several songs for her, they were not among her best known, though he provided a number of other singers with their most memorable numbers. Moreover, neither of Sultan’s daughters by actor and producer Farid Shawqi went into acting, while Shawqi’s daughter Rania from his marriage to Suhair al-Turk did.
And, of course, there was the case of half-sisters Suad Hosni and Najat al-Saghira. Their father, Hosni al-Baba, was a Palestinian-Syrian who had a total of 16 children by different mothers. Throughout their long and distinguished careers, the two women never worker together, and branched out in very different artistic directions.
Those families – or those individuals who happened to be related – earned their fame through hard work in their different ways. Stardom couldn’t be inherited. Today, however, the saying applies that art – and its performers – is the mirror of society.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.