When the Egyptian cinema industry first put Hind Rostom's name on a film poster back in 1955, the Alexandrian girl, born on 12 November 1929, had already spent nine whole years without acknowledgement. Before this pivotal day in her artistic career, upon which she was to appear in her first lead role in "Prostitutes," she had already acted in twenty-three film roles -- ranging from extra to supporting -- since her debut in "Flowers and Thorns."
Although Hind Rostom began her cinematic career almost at the same time as Faten Hamama began hers in “Dunia” (1946), and Shadia hers in “The Mind on Vacation” (1947), and years before the beginnings of Magda in “Felfel” (1949) and Mariam Fakhr-Eddine in “A Passionate Night” (1951), all of them preceded her in being casted as leading ladies. So why did Hind have to wait nine years?
Hind's Turkish looks left film producers unenthusiastic about casting her amidst the predominance of brunettes bearing pure Egyptian features such as Madiha Youssri, Faten Hamama, Magda, and Shadia. Those looks were also suitable for the poor and helpless girl roles in melodramas that dominated the cinema before the July 1952 Revolution. And as for Shadia, she had the sweet melodious voice that Hind lacked.
More importantly, she didn’t catch the director’s eye to discover her potential and outline her artistic personality, until Hassan Al-Imam cast her for “Prostitutes,” which he produced and directed especially for her after she caught his attention in a passing scene in the “The Unjust Angel,” which he directed in 1954 starring Faten Hamama. Why didn’t Hassan Al-Imam discover Hind Rostom earlier?
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Hassan Al-Imam was totally preoccupied with reinventing another actress, Faten Hamama. He viewed her as the suitable leading lady for tragedies and melodrama. So drawn to her was Al-Imam that he directed ten films featuring Hamama before 1955. Yet following his discovery of Hind in 1955 he would go on to direct the Alexandrian in eleven films before his death in 1988. In this time he would only cast Hamama in a lead role twice more.
The ten years following the end of WWII witnessed a noticeable interest in melodramas, of which Al-Imam was among Egypt's leading directors. Such films often involved seduction and temptation, or a woman trying to drive a wedge between lovers or a married couple -- a model best played by Samiha Tawfik and the sisters Zouzou and Mimi Chakib.
Hassan Al-Imam went on to direct three consecutive films for Rostom in 1955, namely “Prostitutes," “The Body,” and “A Wife’s Confessions,” transforming her from a supporting actress to a lead lady. Her impact was so overwhelming that in 1957 and 1958 she played the leading lady in seventeen films, bringing her total of eighty six over the course of her career. What were the reasons for the increase in demand on Hind?
Social developments caused by the July 1952 Revolution, especially regarding the role of the Egyptian young woman, led to a decline in appeal of the helpless girl model to cinematic public mood.
It was necessary to portray a counter female model that possessed a strong, mature character who could even be seductive and attractive. Thus Tahia Carioca’s and Hind Rostom’s chances were high at the time. That was before the emergence of the third kind of leading ladies -- a blend of the helpless girl’s innocence and the mature woman’s strong character, exemplified by Lobna Adel-Aziz and Soad Hosni in the late 1950s.
Moreover there was a psychological impact that permeated from President Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s leadership and couldn’t be ignored in the 1950s. Egypt at the time was witnessing what can be called "political machismo," mirroring Abdel-Nasser’s personality that inclined Egyptians towards heroism and strength.
A cinematic equivalent was demanded, and it was delivered by Farid Shawqi, Rushdy Abaza, and Ahmed Ramzy among other lead male actors. Their female counterparts were represented by leading ladies possessing a very manifest sexual charm topped by Hind Rostom, Hoda Sultan, and Tahia Carioca.
Furthermore, traditionally seductive actresses Zouzou Chakib, Mimi Chakib, and Samiha Tawfik had already exceeded the age for playing those roles convincingly. Hind therefore emerged as the leader of her generation in this field.
However she was different in that she fit perfectly in every environment and milieu, whether she was a low-class young woman as in “Cairo Station,” directed by Youssef Chahine, and “Ismail Yassin in the Madhouse” by Isa Karama (both in 1958), or as a country girl in “Conflict in the Nile” (1959) by Atef Salem, or a young aristocrat as in “I Can’t Sleep” (1957) by Salah Abu-Seif and “A Husband's Confessions” (1964) by Fateen Abdel-Wahab.
Unlike Hoda Sultan and Tahia Carioca, who were suitable in the low-class milieus, or Zummuruda and Sherifa Maher, who embodied the aristocratic class, Hind Rostom was a truly versatile actress.
Hind Rostom was particularly talented in oriental dancing in contrast to all the previous names, except Tahia Carioca, who surprised everyone by announcing her retirement in 1956, only one year after Hind Rostom’s ascendency to stardom. Perhaps this may explain why directors insisted on presenting Hind Rostom in the role of a belly dancer. She played this role in nineteen films.
It is true that the belly dancer who abandoned her daughter in "Prostitutes" was different from the one who worked as a member in a narcotics smuggling ring in "The Big Brother" (1958), directed by Fateen Abdel-Wahab.
The belly dancer in "You are My Love" (1957), directed by Youssef Chahine, who was seeking to snatch once again her ex-boyfriend from his wife, was also unlike the one who appeared in "My Heart is Restored" (1957) by Ezzel-Dine Zulfikar, who was loving and loyal in her silence. A belly dancer's world usually doesn't change. If not for the big effort Hind Rostom exerted to break free from the stereotypical performance of this profession, audiences would have kept away from her films.
The problem was that Hind had also played a prostitute in another seven films, twice already in "Women and Wolves" and "Men in the Storm," both directed by Hossam Eddine Mostafa in 1960. It is noteworthy to mention that since belly dancers, prostitutes, and unfaithful wives were the embodiment of sin and vice in Egyptian cinema of the fifties and sixties, and also because Rostom emerged in the time of weepy melodramas and fantastic coincidences, it wasn't seen as strange that death was the fate of the leading lady in thirteen of her films.
Due to the smashing success achieved in Hollywood by the American superstar Marilyn Monroe, Hassan Al-Imam and other directors were encouraged to present an oriental counterpart in the form of Hind Rostom. Thus the features of Hind that were an obstacle in her beginnings became her single highest selling point later among the actresses of her generation, eventually being dubbed the "Marilyn Monroe of the Orient."
However, anyone who contemplates Hind Rostom’s roles in this period will realise that hers was a different sort of seduction; a seduction with boundaries that Hind placed upon herself. Her seduction didn’t reach the limit of temptation as was the case of Hoda Sultan in “Forbidden Women” (1959), directed by Mahmoud Zulfikar, and Tahia Carioca in “A Woman’s Youth” (1956) by Salah Abu-Seif, and Zummuruda in “Birds of Paradise” (1955) by Seif El-Din Shawkat.
There are no hot scenes with Hind Rostom, but there is a lot of seduction and a flirtatiously playful behaviour, sometimes as a way of taking revenge as in “A Heartless Man” (1960), directed by Seif El-Din Shawkat, or committing robbery as in “Conflict in the Nile” (1959) by Atef Salem.
The only exception may be her role in “A Love Crime” (1955, also Atef Salem), in which seduction is coupled with temptation and the ruining of a happy family. Consequently, she was killed as a punishment before the film ends.
It is entirely unfair to reduce Hind Rostom’s cinematic career to that of a big-screen seductress, in spite of what this kind of role demands of special acting capabilities and a rare capacity not to transcend the fine line between art and vulgarity. If one recalled her roles, for instance, in “My Heart is Restored," “Night Lovers” (1958), directed by Kamal Attia, and “Shafiqa the Copt” (1963) by Hassan Al-Imam, one will realise this fact.
Although she played the role of belly dancer nineteen times, the prostitute seven times and the famous actress four times, the most prominent was “Rumour of Love” (1960) directed by Fateen Abdel-Wahab, she also performed fifty-six other kind of characters, demonstrating that she was a unique actress who didn’t solely rely on her physical features, but rather upon her superb acting capabilities.
It is enough to mention her roles as an Upper Egyptian woman seeking revenge in “Blood on the Nile” (1961), directed by Niazi Mostafa, an ascetic uninterested in life’s pleasures in “The Nun” (1965), by Hassan El-Seify, a crippled lady in “The Deposit” (1965) by Hussein Helmy Al-Mohandes, a famous authoress in “Exit from Heaven” (1967) by Mahmoud Zulfikar, a loving wife in “A Word of Honour” (1972) by Hossam Eddine Mostafa, and a mature mother in “My Life is Agony” (1979) by Ali Reda.
The latter was her final film appearance, after which she refused all attempts to coax her back from retirement until her death on 8th of August 2011.
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture