Emirati comedy hopes to appeal to audiences beyond Gulf region

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“Rashid & Rajab” could soon be screened worldwide thanks to a global sales agreement. (Supplied photo)
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Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib. (Supplied photo)
Updated 24 June 2019
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Emirati comedy hopes to appeal to audiences beyond Gulf region

  • "Rashid & Rajab" was released across the UAE over Eid Al-Fitr and got a positive reception
  • Director Mohammed Saeed Harib is better known for his work in animation, particularly with the TV series Freej

DUBAI: Trading places with the object of your envy is not always what it seems. Expatriates often live in bubbles, either because they cannot or will not make the effort to integrate, or because when they do, they feel locked out by local communities with established social networks.

As a result, both groups can live very different lives within the same country. Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib explores the theme humorously in his feature film debut “Rashid & Rajab.” The ImageNation comedy was released across the UAE over Eid Al-Fitr, and has been received positively by critics and audiences alike.

“Saturday Night Live Arabia” alumnus Shadi Alfons plays Rajab, a witless but likeable Egyptian fast-food delivery man who swaps bodies with Rashid, an affluent and starchy Emirati businessman (social media star Marwan Abdullah Saleh in his film debut) after a freak accident.

Along the way, they must grapple with questions of nationality, culture, attitude and even different Arabic dialects in a rollercoaster laugh riot that raises questions about whether the other half really lives a better life.

“The grass often appears greener on the other side, but that isn’t always the case, and (it’s important) to appreciate yourself and your surroundings, whatever they may be,” said producer Ali F. Mostafa. “But there’s also equality and solidarity in different cultures. These two people switch souls and experience each other’s lives, but at the end of the day are so close in what they truly want.”

The ImageNation comedy was released across the UAE over Eid Al-Fitr. (Supplied photo) 

Mostafa, familiar for his directorial work on “City of Life” and “The Worthy,” assumes co-production responsibilities on the project, along with fellow Emirati director Majid Al-Ansari (“Zinzana”) and Rami Yasin (“Syriana”).

The trio stepped in to help with technical issues, or whenever Harib needed a sounding board on what is his first live-action feature.

Harib is better known for his work in animation, particularly with the acclaimed TV series “Freej.” He recasts that signature effervescence into a slapstick sitcom approach for “Rashid & Rajab.”

He said: “There’s a common thread between all my creations: I’m either very cartoonish or very poetic, and this film kind of tends to my cartoonish side, so perhaps my spirit is the common denominator between ‘Freej’ and this film.”

Body-swap films are a well-worn genre, but Harib has a knack for understanding regional audiences, which serves this production well.

Combined with the feel-good script and dialogue gags, that could help box-office performance when the film is released in other markets.

Previous Emirati films have struggled to make it in countries such as Egypt, despite pan-Arab approaches and popular themes.

But there’s also equality and solidarity in different cultures.

Film producer Ali F. Mostafa

“We’ve been trying to release Emirati films in Egypt for a while now, and for some reason they don’t do well, even films that we felt had an international appeal,” Mostafa said.

But with “Rashid & Rajab,” Harib taps into a style of comedy that is completely right for the region.

And with half the film set in a very Egyptian tone, and the other half with a Khaleeji speaking in an Egyptian accent, that could really appeal to an Egyptian audience.

The film was shot on location in Dubai, and could soon be screened worldwide thanks to a global sales agreement with the agent AGC International. 

Harib is prepared for criticism, having encountered it with “Freej,” where sections of the audience felt he was not being faithful to tradition.

“It’s amazing how many people want to pick on stuff,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why don’t you go make your own cartoon? You know, showcase our culture in your way.’ That’s my angle. There’s no right or wrong.”

 

This report is part of a series being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

 


Tourism chiefs salute fashion designer for holding son’s wedding in Lebanon

Elie Jr. and Christina Mourad. (Social media)
Updated 23 July 2019
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Tourism chiefs salute fashion designer for holding son’s wedding in Lebanon

  • The tourism leader said the situation was to do with Lebanese ego, but he emphasized that wedding parties held in Lebanon could be better than those staged abroad on all levels

BEIRUT: Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab has been hailed by tourism chiefs for staging his son’s lavish wedding reception on home turf.
The influential Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafés, Night-Clubs and Pastries in Lebanon saluted Saab “for holding the wedding party of his son, Elie Jr., and the Lebanese bride, Christina Mourad, in Lebanon instead of abroad, as do tens of Lebanese leaders and lords.
“Holding wedding parties abroad has deprived the tourism sector as well as other sectors in Lebanon of important revenues that can revive the national economy,” the syndicate said.
The nonprofit body that represents restaurateurs, added that the glittering event had “turned the country into a huge wedding attended by more than 3,000 guests from inside and outside Lebanon.
“People shared their joy on social media, communicating Lebanon’s image of civilization and tourism to the world. This wedding filled Lebanese hotels, restaurants and nightclubs and stirred the economic cycle for more than 10 days before and after the wedding. We salute the man who loves peace and Lebanon a thousand times.”
Jean Abboud, president of the Association of Travel and Tourist Agents in Lebanon (ATTAL), told Arab News: “The syndicate’s stance comes in response to a phenomenon that emerged a few years ago. Distinguished people have been holding lavish weddings for their children abroad, where they spend millions of dollars. This has not only been done by politicians, but also businessmen and senior employees, as if it has become a trend or an added value.”
The tourism leader said the situation was to do with Lebanese ego, but he emphasized that wedding parties held in Lebanon could be better than those staged abroad on all levels. “We have outstanding wedding planners who get employed to plan weddings abroad,” he added.
Abboud pointed out that the tourist season in Lebanon this year had so far been promising with the number of visitors from GCC countries, and especially Saudi Arabia, up on 2018 figures. He added that the 2019 draft budget approved by Parliament last week had not put “any burdens on the tourism sector.”
Chairman of the Hotel Owners Association in Lebanon, Pierre Al-Ashkar, estimated the cost of wedding parties held by Lebanese people abroad to be around $400 million, including hotel accommodation, purchases and transportation, in addition to the expenses of the wedding itself.
He said: “There is no longer a difference between politicians and businessmen who choose to hold their children’s wedding parties abroad. It is true that these weddings are no more than a few hundred, but their expenses are huge and, therefore, deprive Lebanon of this money.”
Al-Ashkar pointed out that the number of tourists choosing Lebanon this summer had risen, highlighting a significant 30 percent increase in the proportion of visitors from Europe.
“However, the number of tourists from GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia, has not been as we had wished,” he added.
“Maybe this is because these tourists, who have not been visiting Lebanon for five to seven years, now have business in other countries or investments in tourist places outside of Lebanon, especially as some countries now offer incentives to attract tourists carrying certain passports and residence permits.”