‘The Cello’ star Muhanad Al-Hamdi: ‘It feels like anything is possible’

‘The Cello’ star Muhanad Al-Hamdi: ‘It feels like anything is possible’
Muhunad Al-Hamdi (right) with his 'The Cello' co-star Jeremy Irons. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 September 2023
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‘The Cello’ star Muhanad Al-Hamdi: ‘It feels like anything is possible’

‘The Cello’ star Muhanad Al-Hamdi: ‘It feels like anything is possible’
  • The Saudi actor is on the verge of a global breakthrough with his role opposite Jeremy Irons in ‘The Cello’ 

DUBAI: Ambition can be a frustrating thing. For Saudi actor Muhanad Al-Hamdi, it was almost unbearable. He could clearly see, in his mind’s eye, an image of himself opposite Hollywood royalty, starring in the sorts of films the region has never made. At times, he was embarrassed to share his dreams with others. After all, how could a young boy from the Kingdom, a place where cinemas had, at the time, been banned for years, ever will himself into that world? 

Thankfully, the rules that once held back Saudi Arabia’s boundless creativity are gone for good. Just five years after the Kingdom announced its intentions to create an international-standard film industry, history is being made on an almost weekly basis, and Al-Hamdi, a one-time beloved MBC personality, finds himself a major part of those leaps ahead. This week alone will see the release of two of his groundbreaking projects years in the making: “The Cello,” the first international Arabic-language horror film, and “Hard Broken,” a crime-thriller series getting a global Netflix release.  

“I’m so proud to be Saudi, now more than ever before,” Al-Hamdi tells Arab News. “Saudi Arabia feels like a rocket ship at the moment, everything is moving so fast. And the real beauty of these changes is that they’re lifting every industry up, so we can thrive in any direction we choose. It truly feels like anything is possible.” 

Every artist has their own journey to success — and their own definition of what that means. While Al-Hamdi has loved acting for years, he admits that the craft itself was not his main motivation. In fact, it was stardom that Al-Hamdi yearned for — the kind of fame and glory that only marquee talents achieve. Then, one day at the beginning of August 2020, while on vacation in Beirut, Lebanon, Al-Hamdi was changed forever.  

“It’s still hard to talk about, but I was very nearby when the (Beirut Port) explosion happened. I almost died. I came so close to death that I could smell it. For the first time in my life, I was keenly aware of my own mortality,” Al-Hamdi says.   

“After the explosion, I quite literally changed into a different person. In an instant, I didn’t want the fame anymore. All those numbers that used to consume me now felt meaningless. What I needed, I realized, was to do good art for my legacy. I need to make something to be proud of — something that I’ll show my kids someday,” he continues.  

Even in a changing Gulf region, however, creating art is easier said than done. Up until that point, Al-Hamdi had found success by chasing opportunity wherever it lay, eager to climb the ladder even when the rungs seemed non-existent at times.  

He wanted to study acting, for example, but no acting schools existed in Saudi Arabia. Undaunted, he went to study in Kuwait, the Gulf country with the richest theatrical culture, and, after graduation, met an Emirati man who told him that true success was to be found in Dubai, and he would help him.  

“He told me he had a meeting with MBC in two days, and that I had to book my ticket and join him. I told him ‘Of course.’ But at the time I didn’t even have money for a ticket. My friends lent me the cash, and I booked the flight and arrived. I didn’t even have a sim card or a place to stay,” Al-Hamdi recounts.  

“I took a cab to Dubai Mall, and sat on the mall’s Wi-Fi for four or five hours just waiting for him to message. I started thinking that maybe he wasn’t serious, and I’d come for nothing. Then finally he responded, telling me he was in the Armani Café, and the next day we went to MBC,” he continues.  

From that moment, his path to fame fell into place quickly. MBC agreed to try him out on their radio stations as a presenter, and after two months behind the microphone, a passing TV executive caught sight of his striking good looks, found out he was Saudi, and immediately ushered him into his office.  

“He said, ‘What the heck are you doing on the radio?’ Within minutes I was sitting in a chair with the radio and TV managers both standing above me, asking me what I wanted to do. I said I’d cook in the kitchen or clean the floors if they asked me to, but I couldn’t decide this myself. A short time later, they came back and told me I had to be on TV,” says Al-Hamdi.  

In 2019, just as MBC was about to make him one of the lead presenters on the morning show, Al-Hamdi landed one of the main roles on “Cairo Class,” a major MBC series, and audiences welcomed the turn. Within two weeks, he went from 30,000 followers to 1 million, and left presenting behind.  

But after the Beirut bombing changed everything for Al-Hamdi, the path forward felt a little less sure. He was being offered role after role, and began turning them down one by one, a dangerous move for an emerging star. He dreamed of something international, a dream that was realized with “The Cello,” written by Turki AlSheikh, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, and co-starring Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons and horror legend Tobin Bell (best known for his portrayal of Jigsaw in the “Saw” franchise). 

“I was genuinely shaking before my first scene with Jeremy. I never thought this moment would come,” says Al-Hamdi. “I told him I was his biggest fan and it’s true, but he told me that we are equals. On set, we are all actors working together to create something special. He told me not to think about proving to him or anyone else that I’m good. ‘You’ll be good if you believe in the character. Never perform for anyone else but yourself. And never forget that we’re doing something for love, first and foremost.’ I’ll never forget a word of what he told me.”  

Perhaps that was the moment Al-Hamdi decided what he needed to do once he left that set. He’s realized that he can no longer wait for the kind of stories that he wants to tell to come along so he can star in movies that he can tell his children about some day. If he wants to reach that point, he has to take fate into his own hands.  

“I have so many ideas, and I’m fully committed to bringing them to life. ‘Hard Broken’ is the first step on that journey, a series based on a story by my wife, herself a director. I’m now writing four different stories — one about a real Syrian man who died near me on that same day that I was spared in Beirut. I have so many stories to tell,” he says. “I’ve become hungry — starving — for real art.” 


Adidas apologizes to Bella Hadid after 1972 Olympics ad furor

Adidas apologizes to Bella Hadid after 1972 Olympics ad furor
Updated 24 July 2024
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Adidas apologizes to Bella Hadid after 1972 Olympics ad furor

Adidas apologizes to Bella Hadid after 1972 Olympics ad furor
  • Brand dropped supermodel from shoe campaign amid outrage from Israel-linked pressure groups
  • ‘We apologise for any negative impact and we are revising the campaign’

LONDON: Adidas has apologized to supermodel Bella Hadid after pulling her from an advertising campaign that referenced the 1972 Munich Olympics, Sky News reported on Wednesday.

Israel-linked pressure groups accused the campaign of causing offense due to Hadid’s part-Palestinian background.

At the 1972 games, 11 Israeli athletes and a German police officer were killed by the Black September group.

Hadid is reportedly considering legal action over Adidas’ decision to remove her from the campaign, which is promoting the relaunch of a shoe from the 1972 Olympics.

The brand said on Instagram: “Connections continue to be made to the terrible tragedy that occurred at the Munich Olympics due to our recent SL72 campaign.

“These connections are not meant, and we apologise for any upset or distress caused to communities around the world. We made an unintentional mistake.

“We also apologise to our partners, Bella Hadid, ASAP Nast, Jules Kounde, and others, for any negative impact on them and we are revising the campaign.”

A number of Israeli and Jewish pressure groups targeted Hadid’s involvement in the ad campaign.

The supermodel has long been an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian cause and has criticized Israel’s war in Gaza.

The American Jewish Committee claimed that Adidas was using “a vocal anti-Israel model” for a campaign that “is either a massive oversight or intentionally inflammatory.”

The CEO of the Combat Antisemitism Movement said: “To have her launch a shoe commemorating an Olympics when so much Jewish blood was shed is just sick.”


‘Hope in an Age of Dystopia’ exhibition depicts how ‘the world seems to be falling apart’

‘Hope in an Age of Dystopia’ exhibition depicts how ‘the world seems to be falling apart’
Updated 24 July 2024
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‘Hope in an Age of Dystopia’ exhibition depicts how ‘the world seems to be falling apart’

‘Hope in an Age of Dystopia’ exhibition depicts how ‘the world seems to be falling apart’

DUBAI: Beirut’s Dalloul Art Foundation latest exhibition, “Hope in an Age of Dystopia,” features 66 works by creatives from all over the Arab world — and beyond.
With pieces by artists such as Hady Sy and Selim Mawad of Lebanon, and Palestinian Amer Shomali, the event runs in Beirut until Aug. 15 and also showcases the work of Lebanese-Canadian creative Johanne Allard.
Director of Dalloul Art Foundation Wafa Roz told Arab News that the show captured how “the world seems to be falling apart.”
She said: “The past few years have been especially difficult. However, despite all this, there remains a sense of diffident hope — that even with all these terrible events and increasing power differences that seem inescapable, we are able to resist and to find different ways to move forward.”
Roz added the artistic pieces shared a glimpse into how global power structures affected people’s daily realities and shaped their needs, desires and feelings.
“The social issues depicted in the exhibition are both on the global and local scale … Each artwork depicts a part of the ongoing narrative of overarching systems of control,” she said.
Allard’s work from the “A Feast In The Ruins” series fits seamlessly into the theme.
“Each piece in this series uses embroidery on metal sculptures of moths to symbolize the destruction and erosion of cultural and societal fabrics caused by war and imperialism in the Levant and MENA regions,” explained the artist.
Allard said her work served as both a remembrance of the past and a critique of ongoing systemic issues, while also including elements of hope and resilience.
“Ultimately, ‘Hope in an Age of Dystopia’ is about acknowledging the challenges of our time without giving in to despair. It inspires us to confront difficult truths, reimagine possibilities, and actively contribute to change, where hope prevails over uncertainties,” she added.
Roz also spoke of how trends in the world of art constantly evolved.
“We are seeing more conceptual works that move away from direct depictions, most likely as a reflection of the complexities of the themes and concepts which the artists are exploring,” she said.


Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 
Updated 24 July 2024
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Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

LONDON: “Shadow of Erdtree” is the highly anticipated expansion for the critically acclaimed game, “Elden Ring.” The original game, released in 2022, swept numerous awards upon release and captivated players with its intricate world, challenging gameplay, and immersive lore. Within a week of its release, the expansion has seen over 5 million players dive into its dark world, a testament to the game’s allure and the reputation of its creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki. Miyazaki, also the president of FromSoftware since 2014, cemented his and the developer’s legacy with the release of “Dark Souls” in 2011, a game that defined a genre and set a new standard for difficulty and storytelling. 

Jumping into “Shadow of Erdtree” is no small feat. Even for seasoned players with over 130 hours invested, accessing the new content requires overcoming significant challenges, including defeating an optional boss to unlock the entrance to the “Land of Shadow.” This expansion continues the trend of demanding gameplay, rewarding perseverance with new content that expands the lore and challenges of “Elden Ring.”

The plot of “Shadow of Erdtree” continues the enigmatic and complex narrative established in the base game. Players find themselves amid the turmoil of demi-gods battling for fragments of the once all-powerful Elden Ring. Into this chaos steps a “tarnished,” an outcast whose journey is intertwined with the mysterious figure of Miquella the Kind. The story remains cryptic and layered, inviting players to piece together its many facets through exploration and discovery.

Fundamentally, “Shadow of Erdtree” offers more of the same elements that made “Elden Ring” a success. The expansion preserves the dark, epic, and dangerous atmosphere of The Lands Between. New areas and the addition of Scadutree fragments provide fresh content while maintaining the game’s signature aesthetic. Enemies are as unforgiving as ever, ensuring that players will face numerous deaths as they navigate the perilous landscape.

The sense of reward in “Shadow of Erdtree” is immense. The expansion enriches the game with a plethora of new items, crafting options, flasks, clothes, weapons, magic, key items, and Ashes of War. These additions enhance the depth of gameplay, offering new strategies and customization options for players to explore.

For those who love delving into the intricate lore and challenging gameplay of “Elden Ring,” “Shadow of Erdtree” is a must-play. It expands on the original game’s strengths, delivering a compelling and demanding experience that will test even the most seasoned players. Supporting wikis and community resources will undoubtedly be invaluable as players navigate the expansion’s new content and uncover its many secrets.


Ambani wedding brings spotlight to Mumbai’s oldest restaurant for South Indian food

Ambani wedding brings spotlight to Mumbai’s oldest restaurant for South Indian food
Updated 24 July 2024
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Ambani wedding brings spotlight to Mumbai’s oldest restaurant for South Indian food

Ambani wedding brings spotlight to Mumbai’s oldest restaurant for South Indian food
  • Cafe Mysore was established in Mumbai’s Matunga area in 1936
  • Viral clip shows India’s wealthiest family paying respect to its owner

MUMBAI: In the line of A-lister guests that Radhika Merchant and Anant Ambani greeted at their glitzy wedding, it was one elderly lady who had them bow and shout in reverence: “Thank you so much for coming! Every Sunday we eat your food.”
A short clip showing the scene soon went viral on social media, where the multimillion-dollar nuptials that took place over a week ago are still making the rounds.
The lady whom the son of Asia’s richest man and his bride received with so much warmth is Shateri Nayak, the owner of Cafe Mysore, the oldest restaurant in Mumbai for South Indian food.
Located near the King’s Circle railway station in Matunga area, it was founded in 1936 by Nayak’s father-in-law, Nagesh Rama Nayak, who moved to Mumbai from the southern state of Karnataka, and brought with him the flavors and quality that soon turned his business into a legendary spot.
But it was the recognition from the son and daughter-in-law of billionaire Mukesh Ambani that shot the place to Internet fame.
“I heard a lot about this, so I decided to visit,” Yashi Raj, a researcher at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, whose curiosity was piqued by India’s most expensive wedding.
She ordered Cafe Mysore’s special dosas — thin, savory crepes stuffed with paneer cheese, capsicum and vegetables — and dahi vada, or light round fritters with curd and spices on top.

“Both were superb and very tasty,” she told Arab News. “After visiting this cafe, I realized why it is so famous. It stays true to its taste and the food is very authentic.”
The restaurant’s nondescript interior is like of any other Indian eatery, but the flavors, diners say, are something else.
“I crave South Indian food quite a time and this is one of my very go-to places in Matunga, because they have an amazing rasam vada,” said Shrishti Tiwari, a student and Mumbai native.
She was referring to a popular appetizer made with lentil fritters in a soup that has tamarind juice as a base and is considered one of the healthiest South Indian comfort foods.
“I love their rasam, very frequently I come over for rasam vada,” Tiwari said. “I love this place because of the distinct flavors that come out in the masalas and the sambar ... and the people here treat you very nicely.”
Mythili Mistri, a business professional and the restaurant’s regular, comes almost every day for afternoon coffee and bonda, a crispy and savory potato snack.
Cafe Mysore’s coffee is typical filtered South Indian coffee — light and flavorful at the same time.
“I have been coming here for years actually ... I always come here for coffee and if I come in the afternoon they have this vegetable bonda which is excellent,” Mistri said.
She was not surprised that the restaurant appealed to all Indians, including the Ambanis.
“They are serving good food. We don’t get such good South Indian food in many locations,” she told Arab News.
“Just because you are rich it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to enjoy good food ... I think everybody likes to enjoy good food.”


Sofia Boutella unveils poster for ‘The Killer’s Game’

Sofia Boutella unveils poster for ‘The Killer’s Game’
Updated 24 July 2024
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Sofia Boutella unveils poster for ‘The Killer’s Game’

Sofia Boutella unveils poster for ‘The Killer’s Game’
  • Boutella plays the role of the protagonist’s love interest
  • Cast includes Dave Bautista, Terry Crews, Ben Kingsley

DUBAI: French Algerian actress Sofia Boutella took to social media recently to share the poster for her latest film “The Killer’s Game,” and revealed that it would hit theaters on Sept. 13.

Set against a bold red background, the poster features her alongside the ensemble cast, including Dave Bautista, Terry Crews, Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Pom Klementieff and Ben Kingsley.

Bautista stands at the center of the image, surrounded by his co-stars, each holding various weapons including knives, swords and axes. The tagline “Winning is all in the execution” appears at the bottom.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Boutella (@sofisia7)

Directed by JJ Perry and based on the novel by Jay R. Bonansinga, the screenplay was written by Rand Ravich and James Coyne.

Diagnosed with a terminal illness, hit man Joe Flood (Bautista) decides to take a hit out on himself. However — and here is where the comedy kicks in — the hospital made a mistake and Flood is not dying at all. And now he has to escape a steady stream of hit men who will not be called off.

Boutella plays the role of the protagonist’s love interest, who gets caught up in the mayhem.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Boutella (@sofisia7)

Boutella this week also shared the trailer of the director’s cut of her film “Rebel Moon,” directed by Zack Snyder.

Both “Rebel Moon – Chapter One: Chalice of Blood” and “Rebel Moon – Chapter Two: Curse of Forgiveness” will be released on Netflix on Aug. 2, Boutella wrote on Instagram.

The cuts are the extended and more intense versions of the initial releases. The new drops will include entirely new scenes, alternate takes, and a different sequence of events.

Boutella plays the role of Kora, a mysterious stranger living on a peaceful moon settlement threatened by the armies of the tyrannical Regent Balisarius. Kora, a former soldier of the Imperium, becomes the settlement’s best hope for survival.

She is tasked with finding and assembling a group of warriors — outsiders, insurgents, peasants, and orphans of war — to make a stand against the oppressive forces of the Motherworld.

Her journey delves into themes of redemption and revenge as she leads this diverse group to defend their home.