The man behind the mask: Meet the Lebanese artist who voiced Duke Fleed in ‘Grendizer’

Jehad Alatrash with Grandizer at Joy Forum, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 13, 2019. (Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 26 October 2019

The man behind the mask: Meet the Lebanese artist who voiced Duke Fleed in ‘Grendizer’

  • Grendizer’s success shows that Arab share same ‘honorable values’ as the Japanese, says Jihad al-Atrash

RIYADH: Though many in the Arab World may instantly recognize the name of Duke Fleed, the name Jihad Al-Atrash may not ring as many bells. However, the former couldn’t exist without the latter, at least not in the Middle East.

For those who don’t know either, Duke Fleed is the main character in an anime called Grendizer. Created by Japanese mangaka Go Nagai in 1975, leapt out of its original orbit in Japan and crash-landed in the Arab World in the 1980s, where it has firmly established roots as a cult classic and beloved icon. Following a full Arabic dubbing the show quickly gained traction in the region, and amazingly continues to do so decades later.

A Lebanese actor with a long and extensive history in the world of Arab media, Al-Atrash lent his voice to the Arabic dub of Grendizer, playing the heroic protagonist. It is now recognized as one of his best roles, and almost certainly the one he is most famous for.

Al-Atrash spoke to Arab News at the recent Joy Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The event, which was held to boost investment in Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning entertainment sector, provided the perfect backdrop for the actor as he told his story: a giant statue of the eponymous Grendizer.

“Grendizer,” a massive success from its first broadcast in Lebanon in the 1980s, is something that Al-Atrash holds near and dear. And in this, he is hardly alone. “The Lebanese people fell in love with it,” he told Arab News. “The Arab people, especially in the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, remember ‘Grendizer’ very well. I was surprised and amazed at their strong memory.”

And even now the popularity has never waned. “When I meet people, they express great love for me. The most important thing is that many of them make their kids watch ‘Grendizer’ to learn ethics and values,” he said.

The actor told Arab News that he believes that the values “Grendizer” teaches are timeless, and that is why it has remained popular. “When Grendizer moved to Earth, he fought against evil and enemies who stood in his way, who wanted to destroy him and take over the Earth. He started to defend Planet Earth and called for peace, love, justice and respect for all human beings. All these are great human principles and values.”

Al-Atrash’s portrayal of the Duke was lauded for how he conveyed his feelings, particularly his sense of patriotism, given the political climate in Lebanon at the height of the show’s popularity. “Lebanon was at the time on the brink of the civil war that hit it later in the heart,” Al-Atrash explained, referring to the 1975-1990 civil war in Lebanon. “I was in too much pain over the war and what was going on in my country. I wanted peace and love to reign and I wanted the feelings of brotherhood and harmony to spread among all segments of the Lebanese society.”

His performance has even netted the approval of Grendizer’s creator himself. “Go Nagai said he is very happy that ‘Grendizer’ enjoyed this huge success in the Arab world, a success greater than that of Japan and other European countries,” Al-Atrash said. “He said he liked my voice a lot and wished (that) the Japanese character had the same amount of feelings and sensations.”

However, geopolitics aside, Al-Atrash also believes that Arab culture in general had a strong effect on the show’s popularity in the region. “Arabs are known for having noble and honorable values, magnanimity, generosity, encouragement, love of one’s country, love of one’s family and society,” he explained. “Arabs feel strong about these values. I hope we protect and maintain these values when raising our children and instill the values in their minds.”

Al-Atrash does, however, think that cartoons today have diminished somewhat in value. “The cartoons children watch these days teach them nothing but violence and violent ideas and make them engage in violent behavior with their classmates. Children imitate cartoon characters they watch on TV, (on) cell phones, and the latter are available everywhere. Cartoons today send directly or indirectly violent subliminal messages with no ethics, unlike ‘Grendizer.’ This is why I decided to stay away from acting in any cartoons. I don’t want my voice to be used as a tool to destroy kids, society and generations.”

With rumors floating around about an alleged remake of “Grendizer” to celebrate the show’s 45th anniversary next year, Al-Atrash said he is on board to reprise the role. “I’ve heard the rumors, but it’s all been talk at this point,” Al-Atrash told Arab News. “But I’m definitely interested (to record Duke Fleed’s voice in Arabic).”

In the meantime, he is able to enjoy memories of voicing the iconic character, in particular with his three daughters. “They love the show a lot. They introduce their friends to Grendizer and then tell them that Grendizer is their father,” he said laughing.


Photographers reveal Egypt’s hidden gems in show for a good cause

This is the group’s fourth charitable exhibition. (Supplied)
Updated 21 November 2019

Photographers reveal Egypt’s hidden gems in show for a good cause

  • Cairo Saturday Walks are a group of photographers who go on adventures every week to take pictures across the city
  • The team is now exhibiting its work for charity at a gallery in the city

DUBAI: The Cairo Saturday Walks team, a group of photographers who go on adventures every week to take pictures across the city, are now exhibiting their work for charity at a gallery in the city.

The exhibition brought together more than 50 local, international, professional and amateur photographers who are displaying their work in the Maadi district until Nov. 22.

The youngest participant is 13 and the oldest is 60. (Supplied)

All proceeds from the gallery will go to the restoration of a public facility in one of the underserved areas that the group has walked in and photographed during the past, according to the founder of Cairo Saturday Walks Karim El-Hayawan.

This is the group’s fourth charitable exhibition.

El-Hayawan described the practice as an “organic experience,” during which photographers discover the city’s hidden gems.

The group is displaying its work in the Maadi district until Nov. 22. (Supplied)

What started off as a one-man weekly walk is now a practice shared by 500 photographers.

El-Hayawan’s journey began after he took a basic introductory course in photography. “I did not have time during the week to work on my photography assignments. I used to go out every Saturday to take pictures and I used to post on my account. Then a lot of people started asking me ‘Where are these places? Where do you go? We want to join,’ although (these places) exist 10-15 minutes from anywhere in Cairo, but people did not notice them or had forgotten them,” he told Arab News.

The photographers walk around and discover the city’s hidden gems. (Supplied)

The group has a library of more than 15,000 pictures accessible on Instagram through #cairosaturdaywalks.

“We ask people who join us to share their pictures on that hashtag, with the intention of having a long-term documentation of Cairo,” El-Hayawan said. “Everyone takes pictures from his/her own perspective. It is extremely neutral; everyone takes pictures of whatever they want.”

In two to three years, people can go back to this documentation and see that Cairo looked this way at this time,” he said.

All proceeds from the gallery will go to the restoration of a public facility in one of the underserved areas that the group has walked in and photographed during the past. (Supplied)

A typical Saturday for the photographers starts off at a cafe. “We meet in the morning at a coffee shop and we take a little bus that we rent every Saturday and we just hit the road to somewhere random and we get lost. We call them to pick us up from wherever we reach at the end of the day. The idea is that it has no structure and I really aimed at that from the very beginning,” El-Hayawan said.

What started off as a one-man weekly walk is now a practice shared by 500 photographers. (Supplied)

The youngest participant is 13 and the oldest is 60, but El-Hayawan said that anyone can join the walk and share their pictures.

“I found out about Cairo Saturday Walks from Instagram. The spirit of people I walk with is just amazing. Also, the fact that I am Egyptian yet I still get amazed by Cairo’s streets is what pushes me to explore more every week,” Yara Wael, a 17-year-old photographer, told Arab News.