Soad Hosny: The many faces of the Egyptian icon

Soad Hosny: The many faces of the Egyptian icon
Soad Hosny was known as “The Cinderella of Egyptian cinema.” (Alamy)
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Updated 24 September 2022

Soad Hosny: The many faces of the Egyptian icon

Soad Hosny: The many faces of the Egyptian icon
  • For this week’s edition of our series on Arab icons, we profile one of the Arab world's most popular stars
  • The Egyptian singer and actress played a bewildering variety of roles during her decades-long peak

DUBAI: Even 22 years on from her untimely passing, few stars in the history of Arab cinema captivate the cultural imagination quite like Soad Hosny. The singer and actress known as “The Cinderella of Egyptian cinema” was a key part of the rise of her country’s movie culture, starring in a number of the most popular Arab films of the Sixties and Seventies, working with greats including Omar Sharif and director Youssef Chahine. 

But Hosny’s enduring popularity is due to something more than just her talent. As brilliant as she was an artist, it was her bewitching personality — both familiar and always out of reach — that even those who knew her are still attempting to figure out to this day. 

Soad Hosny with Hussein Fahmy in 1972’s ‘Watch Out for ZouZou.’ (Supplied)

“It was like she was split into two different personalities, and you could always see both on her face” famed Egyptian designer Karim Mekhtigian — who knew Hosny from his early childhood, being the nephew of her close friend and frequent collaborator, producer Takfour Antonian — tells Arab News.

“Either in life or in film, Soad’s face could convey opposing feelings simultaneously. It was genuinely remarkable. One eye (could be) full of sadness, the other radiating happiness. She was never one thing. That’s part of what made her talent so remarkable,” he continues. 

Soad Hosny holding Karim Mekhatagian as a baby. (Courtesy of Karim Mekhatagian)

For Hosny herself, the fact that she took such varying roles over the decades in which she dominated Egyptian cinema while also topping its music charts was simply because she could not force herself to stay in any one mode for too long, growing restless if she felt stagnant creatively.

“By nature, I am bored,” Hosny said in an Egyptian television interview in 1984. “I do not wish to repeat the same thing. I can make political films; I can make entertaining films. Every film will present something new. I can play the naughty girl or the innocent wife. I am always looking to play different personalities. Each character I play has an atmosphere I can present. I want to play women in all their many facets.”

Like many of her contemporaries, part of what made Hosny so suited to the career she chose was the fact that she grew up in an intensely artistic household, led by her father, the famed Islamic calligrapher Mohammad Hosny — a Kurdish artist who had settled in Egypt at the age of 19. 

Soad Hosny receives an honor from then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in the 1970s. (Alamy)

Young Soad, the daughter of her father’s second wife, grew up among 16 siblings and half-siblings, with numerous luminaries of the Arab world’s artistic community shuffling in and out of their home. Each of the children were affected by those interactions in different ways. Her sister Nagat, for example, also became an actress and singer, while her half-brother Ezz composed music for decades. Others played instruments or pursued fine arts, but none reached the heights of their sister Soad. 

While that environment was far from a formal means of preparation for a life in the arts, it was, ultimately, all that Hosny needed.

“I came into film unadulterated,” she said in an interview with Qatar TV in 1972, shortly after her career defining hit “Watch Out for ZouZou,” Hassan El-Imam’s classic film about a student who falls in love with her professor. “I did not enter an institute, or anything like that. I never took a lesson.” 

Hosny entered the film world early. Her debut, “Hassan and Nayima” (1959) began shooting when she was just 15. Throughout the Sixties, Hosny starred in hit after hit opposite top stars Omar Sharif, Salah Zulfikar and Rushdy Abaza, among others, finally collaborating with Egypt’s top director Youssef Chahine in 1970 with “The Choice,” by which time she had developed from a key collaborator with the film world’s biggest stars to the main draw in her own right. 

“Every film I have worked on gave me more education; every experience has taught me lessons. ‘ZouZou,’ for example, was a huge success and people loved it, and if I am to continue on from that success, I don’t need to take lessons in schools to do that,” Hosny told Qatar TV in that same interview. 

As the years went on, Hosny pushed for roles that would help define not only who Egyptian women were, but who they could be — pushing boundaries with overtly political films as well as biting satire that deliberately gave voice to the voiceless in Egyptian society, a move that made her a thought leader as well as a beloved cultural figure. 

“I love playing the modern girl of Egypt, and expressing her problems, the environment in which she lives, and her psyche. I want to play her hopes, her ambitions, her ideas, and dreams. I want to explore what it means for us to love Egypt, and express all that that means,” she said in 1972.

Hosny was a symbol of Egyptian femininity for many, something that current Egyptian superstar Mona Zaki said she initially struggled to embody when playing her in the 2006 TV series about Hosny’s life, “Cinderella,” co-starring acclaimed Egyptian screenwriter Tamer Habib.

 Mona Zaki (centre) as Soad Hosny in 2006’s ‘Cinderella.’ (AFP)

“Soad Hosny was so feminine both in appearance and substance, while I’m a tomboy. I could play Hosny’s character only after much searching. I built a new relationship with my femininity after this series,” Zaki told Vogue in 2021. 

“For the Egyptian people, she was like a princess in a fairytale. That is why they dubbed her Cinderella,” Habib tells Arab News. “For two years, we used to talk about everything on the phone for hours. She felt how much I loved her, so she opened her heart to me. I was so lucky — she was truly one of a kind.”

Hosny’s peak lasted for more than two decades. But by the late Eighties she was struggling with illness, ultimately retiring from acting in 1991 at just 48. 

Though she stepped away from the screen, Hosny never left the public eye. When she died in June 2001, tragically falling from the balcony of her friend Nadia Yousri’s apartment in London, England, it confounded and saddened all of Egypt, with her funeral attracting 10,000 mourners. Theories as to the exact circumstances of her death still circulate today. 

Despite the enduring love Hosny has inspired over the 63 years since she first debuted on the screen, those closest to her still feel that she is misunderstood and underappreciated. 

“Soad was incredibly talented. She had the ability to perfectly play any role whether it is comedic or tragic. She had charisma and charm. Yet, she was unappreciated and died alone," actor and friend Hassan Youssef told Egypt Today in 2018. 

While the mere fact that interest has never faded from her life or work seems to disprove his blanket statement that Hosny was unappreciated, there is perhaps a kernel of truth in his words. After all, is it even possible to fully appreciate the nuances and variety of a life and career such as Soad Hosny’s?

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week
Updated 06 October 2022

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week
  • Influencer collaborated with Net-a-Porter for many looks during fashion week season
  • Al-Gabbani pulled off number of fashion-forward ensembles with help of stylist Wafa Nasser

DUBAI: Saudi designer and fashion influencer Tamara Al-Gabbani is back from her “manic and exhilarating” Paris Fashion Week trip and it was one for the books, she told Arab News.

“It’s like that feeling you get after doing CrossFit for 10 days and you can’t feel your legs anymore,” she said.

Tamara Al-Gabbani at Paris Fashion Week. (Supplied)

She attributed part of the intense nature of the trip to having her stylist and assistant both miss the trip for various reasons.

“The main challenge was definitely that I didn’t have my stylist and assistant with me. Unpacking alone took me six hours. The second challenge was that we didn’t predict that the weather would be cold and rainy. We didn’t really prepare for that,” she added.

Tamara Al-Gabbani wearing Saint Laurent in Paris. (Supplied)

What followed was an intense shopping exercise in Paris, while Al-Gabbani had her stylist Wafa Nasser go over all the choices with her on the phone.

“She was on the phone with me the whole time and we were selecting all the boots and everything we needed because of the change of weather conditions. And we were re-creating looks while I was in Paris and shopping right before the shoot, which was in a few hours and we had to do all this last minute over the phone,” Al-Gabbani said.

But even before she arrived in Paris, Al-Gabbani had her work cut out for her. Behind the glitz and the glamor of an influencer’s life is steady teamwork, rigorous attention to detail, and a lot of preparation.

“My stylist and I began our prep three weeks in advance. But because she was in Riyadh and I was in Dubai and then at New York Fashion week, we had to work virtually to put all my looks together. We worked online for five days straight to decide on all the looks. And this time, we collaborated with Net-a-Porter for most of the looks,” she added.

On her favorite styles from her Paris trip, Al-Gabbani picked out her Saint Laurent and Coperni outfits. The Coperni ensemble combined a yellow twisted cutout cady blazer with an eye-catching mint-green crochet skirt, all perfectly brought together with season-favorite Barbie pink Bottega Veneta heels.

The Saint Laurent look featured a more masculine silhouette with a single-breasted tailored blazer dress in denim. Al-Gabbani paired this with thigh-high white boots and chunky gold hoops.

From the various shows she attended, Al-Gabbani said the Monot and Etam fashion shows stood out.

“And this time, I actually had time to eat. I know that sounds weird, but this is the first fashion week I actually went to lunch,” she added.

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
Oscar, Emmy and Tony-winning actress Viola Davis stars in ‘The Woman King.’ (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2022

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
  • Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis and other stars discuss their groundbreaking historical epic
  • The film is set to be released in Gulf cinemas on Oct. 6

DUBAI: In the 26 years since she debuted on the screen, 57-year-old American actress Viola Davis has become the only Black American to win the Triple Crown of acting — an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony, had her star included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has even been named by the New York Times as one of the top 10 actors of the century. Never, though, has she been prouder of a film than she is of “The Woman King.”

“For the first time in my career, I had agency — agency to be able to control the narrative for myself, to have a character that reflected me,” Davis tells Arab News. “It’s a story in which I don’t have to make my blackness disappear in order to make the role work. It meant freedom — that’s what it’s meant.” 

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”), “The Woman King” is the sort of film that many have called for for decades — a historical epic in the style of “Braveheart” or “Gladiator” that centers on the story of African leaders. It is set in the real-life West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823 and focuses on General Nanisca (Davis), the woman who would become Dahomey’s ‘king.’ 

For Bythewood, it’s the film she had been dreaming of making all her career. “‘Braveheart’ is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve always wanted to make our ‘Braveheart.’ So when the script came, I thought this might be the chance to do it,” says Bythewood.

Julius Tennon and Viola Davis attend a special screening of ‘The Woman King’ at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Getting it made, however, was anything but easy. Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, fought for seven years, with Bythewood coming in during the last year to help assemble a cast that was worthy of such an ambitious project. 

“To get from that desire to a green light is a lot. It’s a lot of fight. It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a lot of casting. But I feel like it just happened at the right time. And certainly, I feel like all my work up until this point got me to a position to be able to do this story and tell it the right way,” Bythewood says.

Viola Davis and John Boyega in ‘The Woman King.’ (Supplied)

The team assembled an all-star cast of up-and-coming talent, including Lashana Lynch (“Doctor Strange 2,” “No Time to Die”), John Boyega (the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy), and Thuso Mbedu (“The Underground Railroad”), each of whom took on different historical figures that showed the complicated nature of 19th-century Africa, in which prominent West African kingdoms worked with European slavers to sell those they defeated in battle, a practice they later rejected. 

“I really had to learn about this history, and once I did I had a responsibility in portraying this man to not shy away from his conflicts, especially the conflicts that are quite negative,” Boyega says. “I had to be open to the reality of the wrong, for the sake of good portrayal.”

Viola Davis in ‘The Woman King.’ (Supplied)

At the center of it all is Davis herself, giving perhaps the best performance of her career. 

“This movie wouldn’t have gotten made without Viola. No one else can be Nanisca, and she’s everything she is off the screen as she is on the screen. She’s so powerful,” says Bythewood.

“She wants collaboration, and we had a great time building this character. She wasn’t familiar with fighting and stunts because she hadn’t done it before, but I have, so I brought my athlete mentality to her and let her know what it really feels like to be in a ring, to hit or be hit, to swing a weapon. Once we had that, we could really build her from there, and once we had Viola’s performance, we had our key ingredient,” Bythewood continues.

For Lynch, this was not just about telling the story of an African kingdom — it was the story of a Black woman-led society, one that has never been explored on screen before, and she and the crew felt a huge responsibility to do it correctly.

“For these women, this is the first time that we’re telling their story. We have to do right by them. These are our ancestors. These women are the reason why we are here on this earth,” says Lynch.

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage
Updated 06 October 2022

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

MARBELLAA: One striking aspect of the Portuguese language is its historical link with the Arabic tongue. Along the country’s southern coast, for instance, one encounters small towns with names such as Almancil (meaning ‘the house’ in Arabic) in a region called Algarve, derived from ‘Al-gharb’ or ‘the West.’ In the 8th century, Moors from North Africa occupied Portugal for nearly 500 years, leaving a lasting effect on its culture. 

That effect is clearly seen in the ceramic square tiles that pepper the streets of Lisbon. Tiles are locally known as ‘azulejos’ and to understand their history, a visit to the capital’s National Azulejo Museum, which opened in the 1960s is a must. It is housed in a former convent that was founded by Queen Eleanor of Viseu in the 1500s. 

Home to more than 50,000 azulejos, the museum hosts a massive panel showing a panoramic view of ancient Lisbon; a gilded church; and a chapel studded with blue-and-white tiles, surprising visitors with its architectural splendor and diversity. 

“When people come to the museum, the reactions are very good,” the museum’s director, Alexandre Pais, told Arab News. “They don’t know what to expect and we are trying to make each area different, to create a variety of experiences.”

The term ‘azulejo’ comes from the Arabic word ‘zellig,’ a patterned type of mosaic tile work found in North Africa and Andalusia, Spain. “It started with the Arabs,” explained Pais. “We received azulejos in the beginning from Andalusia. The Arab heritage in Portuguese azulejos can be seen today in several aspects, including technique. For instance, we have the tradition of cutting the azulejos, which is very Arabic in terms of work.” 

Originally depicting scenes from the bible, mythology and everyday life, azulejos — which were also influenced by Dutch and Chinese porcelain — were a status symbol and reserved for private spaces, such as churches. They were only externalized to the facades of buildings by the bourgeoisie in the mid-19th century, becoming a national symbol. 

“The city became like a theatrical set,” said Pais. “Azulejos have a story of more than 500 years and it’s always changing. . . If you look at azulejos, you can understand the Portuguese, not just as a society but part of our soul — what it means to be Portuguese.”

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador
Razane Jammal most recently starred in blockbuster Netflix series “The Sandman.” (AFP)
Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

DUBAI: Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal has been unveiled as the Middle East’s brand ambassador for French luxury label Dior.

“I’m so unbelievably excited to finally announce that I will be joining Dior as a brand ambassador in the Middle East!” Jammal posted on Instagram on Wednesday.

“Ever since I joined the fashion community, I wanted to collaborate with people I can truly grow with, to join a family that I value as much as it values me. It’s been a long journey but I can confidently say I’ve found my home! The ME Dior team you have been so incredible. An extra special thank you to @sandrasawaya for believing in me and making this happen. This is the start of a wonderful collaboration. I cannot wait to embody the timeless creations of @mariagraziachiuri,” she added, referring to Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri and the Head of PR & Communications Middle East for Christian Dior Couture Sandra Sawaya Nehme.

Jammal most recently starred in blockbuster Netflix series “The Sandman,” based on the legendary graphic novels written by award-winning British author Neil Gaiman.

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition
Updated 05 October 2022

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition
  • Misk Art Institute’s ‘Tales of Nostalgia’ opened at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall on Oct. 2 to showcase conceptual artworks by creators from Europe and the Middle East
  • ‘Cold Flux’ by London-based Ben Cullen Williams, explores the effects of global warming on the Larsen-B ice shelf, which splintered and almost entirely collapsed 20 years ago

RIYADH: A Riyadh art gallery has opened an exhibition exploring time, the mind and the changing world through installations by a dozen local and international artists.

Misk Art Institute’s “Tales of Nostalgia” opened at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall on Oct. 2 to showcase conceptual artworks by creators from Europe and the Middle East.

“Cold Flux” by London-based Ben Cullen Williams, explores the effects of global warming on the Larsen-B ice shelf, which splintered and almost entirely collapsed 20 years ago. The artist’s installation uses video taken during his own trip to Antarctica, and comparisons with later satellite imagery. 

His footage was passed through an AI algorithm that distorts and morphs the images as the shelf changes and disappears over time.

“I thought it’d be interesting to kind of potentially rebuild these landscapes through the use of technology, a thing that kind of destroyed it,” Williams told Arab News. “Fundamentally, it talks about our changing planet, how our planet is constantly moving and morphing. But it also kind of brings the question, is technology the solution to our current problems?”

“Novae”, an audio-visuel work by the French art collective Lab212, uses a recreated star field to explore the constellations and the history of astronomy, while sounds of nature and a poem by Prince Badr bin Abdulmohsen, “Khouf wa Sikat,” plays.

Saudi artist Abeer Sultan’s work, “An Imagined Perpetual Past” focuses on Medini marital traditions, and the bride’s anonymity and the extravagance of her clothing.

Daniah Alsaleh’s “Rewind, Play, Glitch” explores nostalgia and the distortion of memory by time through the use of digital photos on a living room wall that change and morph.

The MAI also exhibits various works from artists Muhannad Shono, Ayman Zedani, Asma Belhamar, Sultan bin Fahad, Zimoun, Fuse, Katie Paterson, and Laurent Grasso.

Nawaf Al-Harbi, MAI’s acting strategy & development director, told Arab News that he hoped the exhibition could also be used as a platform for cultural exchange opportunities.

“The aim is to continue the conversations, to get artists, especially the international ones, to run some workshops and master classes, so it's also part of the connection,” 

The exhibition runs until January 15, and is open to the public from 4 pm to 10 pm.