JEDDAH: People in Saudi Arabia are mourning the death of Abdul Khaleq Al-Ghanim, the director and creator of the hit comedy show “Tash Ma Tash” that has been a staple in every Saudi household during Ramadan for more than 20 years.
A picture that circulated online recently showed Al-Ghanim sitting in a wheelchair, leaning on a cane and showing signs of fatigue. Actors on social media asked fans to pray for him.
The director had been suffering from prostate cancer and succumbed to the disease on Tuesday.
News of his passing shocked the stars of “Tash Ma Tash,” Nasser Al-Qasabi and Abdullah Al-Sadhan.
Al-Qasabi expressed his heartbreak on Twitter. “I was shocked by the painful news, the death of my dear friend, director Abdul Khaleq Al-Ghanim after suffering from a long illness,” he said. “It is so painful to me, and to everyone who knew you and got close to you, to lose you. May Allah bestow mercy on your soul. My condolences to Al-Ghanim’s family, his brothers and his mother, and may Allah grant you patience for this painful separation.”
The director’s son Wafi tweeted: “He passed away and left with him a beautiful time that will not come back. Oh Allah, I do not object to your judgment, but longing has overpowered me, and I have no power to bear it.”
Al-Ghanim’s wife Lauren Al-Issa, who is also a director, told Al-Arabiya.net that his illness began after the release of the show “Shad Balad” in 2016.
“He made the necessary tests that revealed he had prostate cancer,” she said. “He then treated it and stabilized his condition and, when he was preparing for the series ‘Snap Shaf’ in 2017, the disease came back. He underwent treatment again at King Fahd Specialist Hospital in Dammam.
“Six months ago, his condition began to worsen as the cancer moved from the prostate to the lymph nodes, and then it moved to his bones and his condition was stable, but doctors imposed chemotherapy on him. But the chemotherapy that was given to him by vein (intravenously) did not suit his body, so it affected him. He could not eat, and he was constantly vomiting, which affected his health and caused him to lose 20 kilograms.”
Rahaf Jambi, a 30-year-old social media influencer, spoke about Al-Ghanim’s legacy and the impact of his work on Saudi society.
“I feel like the whole (of) Saudi society was heavily influenced by the stories of ‘Tash Ma Tash,’ it was ahead of its time and a lot of its stories are still imprinted on our minds,” he told Arab News.
“Tash Ma Tash” aired every Ramadan and tackled Saudi social issues, most of which were controversial at the time.
The show ran for 18 seasons and featured comedy sketches. Every episode had its own story and characters, with some popular characters reappearing in new storylines.
Most episodes mocked the flaws of Saudi society, while others showed a tendency for dark comedy and melodrama.
“Tash Ma Tash” was one of the pioneers of self-criticism in Saudi media, addressing sensitive topics such as terrorism, marital relations, and religion.
“‘Tash Ma Tash’ was considered to be the doorway for us, between us and the world,” Jambi said. “This is what Abdul Khaleq created, the door between us and the world. Until today we are sharing clips of the show. Yes, this person passed away, but no one will ever forget his work for the rest of their life. He will remain immortal through his stories. He brought so much value to Saudi society, no one will ever forget him.”
Cabin crew manager Ahmed Abdullatif, 28, recalled the fond memories he had of watching the show with his father every Ramadan while growing up.
“It is such a funny show, and a must-watch for a joyous and quality family time,” he told Arab News. “It did bring up sensitive societal issues and shared messages of forgiveness.”
He spent 12 years abroad, and watching clips of “Tash Ma Tash” made Abdullatif feel close to home. “I learned more about my own culture through the show, and I can say my country is full of generous creatives.”
Fan Salah Abu Qassem called the director’s death a “big loss” for Saudi drama and described him as an “exceptional” director.
“We have years-long memories with his show ‘Tash Ma Tash,’ eagerly waiting for the episodes in Ramadan. He was the hidden hero behind the screen, and he drew a smile on millions of people’s faces,” he said.
Al-Ghanim also directed the 2005 cultural Saudi show “Majadeef Al-Amal” that was created in Al-Ahsa, Dammam, and Kerala in India.
Saudi restaurant owner Mohammed Fadin, 26, said: “He is such a creative mind. He knew how to create Saudi drama and knew how to bring up and solve Saudi societal issues in a creative way with Nasser Al-Qasabi and Abdullah Al-Sadhan.”
The director touched on issues such as the religious police and terrorist groups in some episodes, a move that was criticized by some. “He was so strong to continue his artistic journey without letting people bring him down,” added Fadin.
Al-Ghanim was born in 1958 in the city of Saihat, Qatif governorate. He graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad.
After finishing his studies in Baghdad, he returned to Saudi Arabia only to find there was no local production industry.
He began his career in 1992, becoming famous for directing drama and comedy series over the course of his 30-year career.
In an interview on the Rotana Khalijia channel, he said he had loved acting from a young age and always imagined being an actor. He added that he used to save up his money to go to the movies.
Al-Ghanim had the idea of putting the director’s picture at the end of the closing credits, saying he had read about many directors without knowing what their faces looked like.
He saw it as his right, as a director, to appear to the viewers like actors did.