Behind the scenes at Mazen Laham’s Middle East media powerhouse 

Behind the scenes at Mazen Laham’s Middle East media powerhouse 
Lebanese producer Mazen Laham’s Different Productions celebrated its 10th anniversary this month. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 April 2024
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Behind the scenes at Mazen Laham’s Middle East media powerhouse 

Behind the scenes at Mazen Laham’s Middle East media powerhouse 
  • Mazen Laham’s Different Productions, the company behind “Dubai Bling” and the regional version of “Shark Tank,” just celebrated its 10th anniversary 
  • Discussing Arabic-language adaptations of global shows, he said they preserve the original concept while respecting cultural sensitivities

DUBAI: Lebanese producer Mazen Laham’s Different Productions celebrated its 10th anniversary this month. The company is one of the driving forces of the television industry in the region, responsible for the creation of acclaimed shows including Netflix’s “Dubai Bling,” and “It’s OK” — a docuseries about the Lebanese pop superstar Elissa — as well as Arabic adaptations of popular franchises “Shark Tank,” “Say Yes to the Dress,” and “Chopped.”  

Laham told Arab News that shooting for the third season of “Dubai Bling” has already concluded, adding that it is “even bigger than the two previous seasons.” He confirmed that Emirati-Egyptian TV host Mahira Abdeaziz and Iraqi influencer Jwana Karim will be joining the cast, which already includes Zeina Khoury, Safa and Fahad Siddiqui, DJ Bliss, Danya Mohammed, Kris and Brianna Fade, Mona Kattan Al-Amin, Hassan Al-Amin, Loujain Adada, Ebraheem Al-Samadi, and Farhana Bodi.  

The previous two seasons both ranked in the global top 10 for non-English series on Netflix. “I believe in numbers,” Laham said. “It was (popular) globally. What I will say is that season three is a very big season.”  

While they suspected the show would be popular, Laham admitted that he and his team were not expecting it to get quite so big. “What we were aiming for is to have a good show but we never thought that it will be this successful,” he said.  

The show may be popular, but it has also attracted plenty of criticism online for its depiction of life in Dubai. Laham, though, seems unperturbed. 

“We never said that this is Dubai. From day one, we said it is about a group of friends living in Dubai,” he said. “It is not a documentary about the city. We are not saying ‘This is Dubai and this is life in Dubai,’ we only focused on a group of friends living in Dubai.” 

Discussing his company’s various Arabic-language adaptations of international shows, Laham said that they try to preserve the original concept of the show while ensuring they cater to the cultural sensitivities and preferences of the region. 

“Before getting the shows, we make sure that they fit our culture — anything that, culturally, does not pass, we do not even get it in the first place,” he said. “But, whenever we see something that could be adapted, yes, we (try to) get the rights for it. The most important thing is to keep the structure and the main spirit of the format the same.” 

Laham believes there are now two distinct audiences for shows: those for traditional television networks and those for streaming services such as Netflix, Shahid, Starzplay.  

“What is on TV does not work on a platform and vice versa, because the new generation want something fast — they want something will keep them hooked. So, it’s very challenging to make content for them,” he said.  

What Laham believes works best are docuseries such as “Dubai Bling” and “It’s OK.” 

“These are non-scripted, but they are serialized; they’re sticky,” he explained. “You want to keep on watching to follow the stories and this is when you binge watch. On TV channels, you still get to see classical standalone episodes.” 

Laham said Different Productions is currently working on an original reality competition show for Starzplay called “Unstoppable.”  

“It’s a football-based reality show where children between the ages of 16 and 18 compete. There will be one winner, and the winner will hopefully play for one of the big Italian teams,” he said.  

Laham described the Saudi Arabia market as “promising,” not only due to the growing number of original productions but also because “the infrastructure, whether it’s Neom or AlUla,” is drawing in creatives from around the world. “I think it’s going to the biggest media hub out there very soon,” he added.  

“We care a lot about the viewership in Saudi Arabia because it’s the biggest market,” Laham said. “So we always look into the ratings — even if it’s not a pure Saudi show, we want our shows to be watched in Saudi Arabia.”  


Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening
Updated 26 min 59 sec ago
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Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

DUBAI: Saudi film “Norah” had its official screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, becoming the first film from the Kingdom to screen as part of the official calendar at the event.

The movie, filmed entirely in AlUla and directed by Tawfik Al-Zaidi, is running in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival.

The movie is running in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival. (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

The film is set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the prefessional pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon. It stars Maria Bahrawi, Yaqoub Al-Farhan, and Abdullah Al-Satian and follows the story of Norah and failed artist Nader as they encourage each other to realize their artistic potential in rural Saudi Arabia.

“Norah” is in competition with 19 other films from around the world.

The cast, director and CEO and chairwoman of the Red Sea International Film Festival appeared together on the red carpet for French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.” (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

On Wednesday, the cast, director and CEO and chairwoman of the Red Sea International Film Festival Mohammed Al-Turki and Jumana Al-Rashed, respectively, appeared together on the red carpet for French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.”

“Norah” was backed by the Red Sea Fund — one of the Red Sea Film Foundation's programs — and was filmed entirely in AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast and a 40 percent Saudi crew.


‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’

‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’
Updated 23 May 2024
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‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’

‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’
  • The first four episodes of Season 3, in which Nicola Coughlan plays the revolving lead role, reached 45.1 million views during its opening weekend

DUBAI: Irish actress Nicola Coughlan, known for her role as Penelope Featherington in Netflix’s hit series “Bridgerton,” demonstrated her solidarity with Palestine this week by wearing the Artists for Ceasefire pin during an interview with USA Today as she promoted the latest season of the show, in which she plays the lead role.

When asked about the pin, the artist said: “It’s very important for me because I feel like I’m a very privileged person. I’m doing my dream job and I’m getting to travel the world, but then I’m hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah at the moment.”

The actress, whose family lived in Jerusalem in the late 70s, said her father was in the Irish army and was part of the United Nation’s Truce Supervision Organisation which worked towards brokering peace in the Middle East.

@splendiferous Nicola Coughlan speaks about her Ceasefire pin she has been wearing during the Bridgerton Press Tour #NicolaCoughlan original sound - splendiferous

“I feel very passionately about it. I’m Irish also, so it’s sort of a different perspective,” Coughlan added. “I just feel, if I have this global platform, which I do at the minute, I think if I can hopefully raise funds for aid organizations — I have a fundraiser on my Instagram right now for Medical Aid for Palestine and if people would like to donate to that or share it, I think it would be a wonderful thing to do.”

Coughlan has continuously shown her support by wearing the pin during various occasions, including the premieres of the third season of “Bridgerton,” promotional events and her television appearances such as “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “Good Morning America.”

Season three of Netflix’s Regency-era drama has become the most successful season so far based on viewership numbers, Forbes reported this week.

With part two set to drop in June, “Bridgerton” Season 3: Part 1 was the most-watched title on Netflix from the period of May 13 - 18, according to Variety. The first four episodes, released on May 16, reached 45.1 million views during its opening weekend.


Cannes fashion highlights: Mila Al-Zahrani, Bella Hadid steal the spotlight

Cannes fashion highlights: Mila Al-Zahrani, Bella Hadid steal the spotlight
Updated 23 May 2024
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Cannes fashion highlights: Mila Al-Zahrani, Bella Hadid steal the spotlight

Cannes fashion highlights: Mila Al-Zahrani, Bella Hadid steal the spotlight

DUBAI: Saudi actress Mila Al-Zahrani attended the 77th Cannes Film Festival this week in a gown by Syrian designer Rami Al-Ali.

The star, who attended the screening of Kevin Costner’s “Horizon: An American Saga,” dazzled in a strapless, voluminous dress that was cinched at the waist from the designer’s ready-to-wear 2024/2025 collection.

US Dutch Palestinian model Bella Hadid turned heads with stylish appearances in Cannes too. 

The supermodel was spotted in a striking silver dress from the DSquared Fall-Winter 2006 collection for Chopard’s “Once Upon A Time” Gala this week.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

She was also seen in a vintage silk yellow Versace minidress at the Hotel Martinez. 

Hadid wore a vintage silk yellow Versace minidress at the Hotel Martinez. (Getty Images)

During her time in Cannes, she was also photographed in a vintage beige low-cut halter neck midi dress, with a plunging neckline, from Gucci’s Spring/Summer 2005 collection. 

Hadid was also photographed in a vintage beige low-cut halter neck midi dress. (Getty Images)

For the “The Apprentice” red carpet, she opted for a sheer halter neck dress from Saint Laurent’s Fall 2024 collection. 

Meanwhile, Arab designers have been dominating the red carpet with their creations worn by celebrities from around the world.

Canadian model Winnie Harlow was spotted on the red carpet of French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo,” wearing a black lace dress with a mesh train and purple floral details from the Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad’s Fall 2023 collection. 

Murad, the celebrity-loved designer, also dressed Brazilian model Izabel Goulart. She opted for a white chiffon gown with a black lace bodysuit and floral appliques that was also from the couturier’s Fall 2023 collection.

Rami Kadi also made a splash on the red carpet this week with his designs.

He was championed by US actress Loreto Peralta at the same screening as Harlow and Goulart. 

She wore a mauve, off-the-shoulder gown embroidered with three-dimensional flowers from his “Les Miroirs” collection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Juliana Paes (@julianapaes)

Brazilian actress and model Juliana Paes chose a metallic off-white gown by Emirati designer Hamda Al-Fahim. The dress featured side pleats, sequin detailing and a side-attached train.


Recipes for success: Chef John Mark offers advice and a salmon batayaki recipe

Recipes for success: Chef John Mark offers advice and a salmon batayaki recipe
Updated 23 May 2024
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Recipes for success: Chef John Mark offers advice and a salmon batayaki recipe

Recipes for success: Chef John Mark offers advice and a salmon batayaki recipe

DUBAI: Chef John Mark has worked at a number of prestigious establishments over the years, in the Maldives, Mauritius, the UAE, and India, among others. Now, he’s the chef de cuisine at Japanese restaurant Gishiki 45 in The St. Regis Red Sea Resort. 

Here, Mark discusses embracing mistakes, his favorite dish to make, and the importance of a healthy working environment. 

Gishiki 45. (Supplied)

What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?  

I love the smell of garlic and the smell of onion. These two ingredients are very important in Asian cuisine; they give the dishes a nice aroma and flavor, and can enhance any dish.  

When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food?  

I’m not one to criticize any chef or restaurant unless there are mistakes in the dish that I ordered. I respect chefs. I respect people who are working in the hospitality. And if I do need to say something, I make sure to say it in the right manner. 

What’s the most common mistake that you find in other restaurants? 

That the service team and the kitchen are at war. This is the chef’s responsibility. We need to make sure that the service team and the kitchen are one. It’s so important, because, as chefs, we cook, but the service team deal with the guests. The only thing that we want is to make the guests happy. So we need to be a team. 

What’s your favorite cuisine? 

Thai food. I love coconut flavors and Thai food has coconut in almost all the dishes. The flavors and the smell are rich. It makes me happy.  

What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly at home? 

My daughter loves to eat. I let my family try different cuisines, but she really loves pasta. So, I cook pasta for my daughter — and for my wife of course. We also have a famous dish in the Philippines called chicken adobo, and when I am home I like to cook that for my family. 

Gishiki 45. (Supplied)

What customer request most annoys you? 

You cannot be annoyed at your guests as a chef. You need to be flexible. We are here, in this world, to learn, and this is a huge opportunity. I can’t just focus on one thing like a horse; I have to keep an open mind. Why not try what they ask for, if this is what they want? 

What’s your favorite dish to cook and why?  

It’s something we’re famous for in the Philippines. It’s very authentic, you only really see it in the villages. It’s called beggar’s chicken. It’s so delicate. It’s a long process. You need to marinate the chicken and stuff it, then you wrap it in banana leaf. Then, you put mud on it. You cook it in the mud. So, when its cooked, you need to break the mud and open it. It smells amazing.  

As a head chef, what are you like? 

When I started as a chef, there was a lot of tension and a lot of shouting, but I don’t think this is a good environment. I don’t want it to be quiet in my kitchen, but I don’t want tension. Of course, I can be a little strict, but I don’t want anyone to shout at my staff. I have to talk to them nicely. Shouting is not on my menu. 

Chef Mark’s Salmon Batayaki recipe    

INGREDIENTS: 

160g salmon; 1 oyster mushroom 

For the dashi water:  

Mix 100ml water; 5g konbu; 2g katsuobushi 

For the batayaki sauce: 

Mix 2 spoons soy sauce; 20g butter; 50ml dashi water; 1 spoon yuzu juice 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

1. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and dust with corn flour. 

2. Heat fryer to 180 celsius and fry the salmon for 2 minutes. 

3. ⁠Prepare a heated non-stick pan. Heat your batayaki sauce. 

4. ⁠Put your salmon and mushroom in the batayaki sauce and simmer until the sauce becomes shiny and has a buttery texture. 

5.  Garnish with crispy leek and serve.  


Review: ‘99’ captures the drama of Manchester United’s annus mirabilis

Review: ‘99’ captures the drama of Manchester United’s annus mirabilis
Updated 23 May 2024
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Review: ‘99’ captures the drama of Manchester United’s annus mirabilis

Review: ‘99’ captures the drama of Manchester United’s annus mirabilis

DUBAI: The documentary series “99” celebrates the 25th anniversary of one of the most remarkable achievements in sporting history: when Manchester United won England’s two biggest domestic trophies — the Premier League and the FA Cup — and the most prestigious tournament in European club competition — the UEFA Champions League — to complete a (then) unprecedented treble.

The fact that the feat has since been repeated (most recently by United’s arch rivals Manchester City), has taken some of the shine off it, but this was still one of the greatest single seasons in the history of any sport.

The show is stacked with interviews with the players who made history, as well as their fearsome manager, Alex Ferguson, whose obsession with winning the Champions League has been well-documented elsewhere. There isn’t much new insight here, and footballers aren’t renowned for their eloquence, but the filmmakers have done a good job of getting them to dig beyond the platitudes and explore the sometimes-thorny relationships between certain players, the pressure of playing for (at least then) arguably the biggest club in the world, and the self-doubt that could creep in during the biggest games.

But even if its makers had managed to get nothing from the interviewees, they would have known that “99” couldn’t fail to grip even the most casual of sports fans, because the story of the actual football during the season is so outlandish that even a Hollywood exec might question anyone pitching it. Throughout the season, and particularly in the last couple of months, United staged numerous late comebacks in situations where it seemed they’d blown their chance of making history — not least in the last game, the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, when they famously scored two goals in three minutes of injury time to turn almost-certain defeat into the unlikeliest of victories: an act of what seemed like sheer willpower, inspired by the manager’s self-belief. As Ferguson said at the end of that game, “Football. Bloody hell!” The makers of “99” have successfully captured that expression.