Egyptian cinema’s famous male villains are many, but only one actress achieved great fame in similar roles.
Negma Ibrahim will forever be remembered for her role as the serial killer Raya in the 1953 film Raya and Sakina, directed by Salah Abu-Seif.
She became known for her ability to portray evil female characters thanks to this role.
Ibrahim’s birth name was Pauline Edmond – according to her certificate of conversion to Islam – and she was most likely born on 25 February 1914, although some sources say that she was born on 19 January 1915.
The little girl was attracted to acting through her elder sister Serena, who was an actress who achieved some fame, before immigrating to Israel after 1948.
Pauline was taught in both French and Arabic schools and was fluent in the two languages.
She learned many surahs from the Quran by heart, converting from the Judaism of her birth family to Islam in 1932 when she wasn’t yet 18. She married the multi-talented writer and director Abbas Younis in 1944.
During the 1920s, Ibrahim moved from one famous theatrical company to another, from that of Youssef Wahbi’s to Naguib Al-Rihani’s to Mounira El-Mahdeya’s, as an actress and songstress.
She was endowed with a sweet voice to the extent that she thought seriously about singing solo through imitating Oum Kalthoum’s songs, which were famous at the time. But her real beginning on stage was in 1930 when she joined the Fatma Rushdy Company in its tour to Iraq where she sang in Shahrazad and The Ten of Diamonds, two musical plays composed by the renowned musician Sayed Darwish.
In the end, her ingenious talents as a tragedian and a comedian overcame her musical gifts.
On her return to Cairo, she left that company and formed her own; then she joined the National Company on its formation in 1935.
She performed in prominent plays under the direction of the pioneer Zaki Tuleimat, such as George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, Ahmed Shawqi’s comedy Madam Huda and in his musical play The Madman of Layla, where she played a singing role.
However, her love for drama was stronger than for musicals.
Her cinema debut was in The Marriage (1933, directed by Fatma Rushdy), starring Rushdy along with Mahmoud El-Meligy.
She participated in a number of films, the most prominent of which were Tita Wong (1937, directed by Amina Mohammed), Rabha (1945, directed by Niazi Mostafa) and Angel of Mercy (1946, directed by Youssef Wahbi).
Ibrahim’s first major role was when Hassan Al-Imam cast her as the villain in The Orphans (1948) along with Faten Hamama and Thoraya Helmy, putting her on the path to specialising in roles as a baddie, or a domineering woman.
Despite being gentle and good-natured in her private life, her stern visage, unflinching hawkish expression, and cold-as-ice voice became her trademarks as a big-screen villain.
Her noteworthy films in this phase are A Passionate Night (1951, directed by Ahmed Badrkhan) adapted from Mohammed Abdel-Halim Abdullah’s novel Foundling, Sacrificed My Love (1951, directed by Ibrahim Emara), Deprivation (1953, directed by Atef Salem) and I’ll Never Cry (1957, directed by Hassan Al-Imam).
None of these roles would have brought her such wide fame, however; that came with her unforgettable role in Raya and Sakina.
The film was based on a gruesome true story of two sisters who committed murder in Alexandria in the 1920s.
She reprised this role in the comedy film Ismail Yassin meets Raya and Sakina (1955, directed by Hamada Abdel-Wahab).
Later that year she reprised the same role on stage in The Secret of Raya and Sakina with the theatrical company she formed with her husband Younis.
Simultaneously, she was playing other memorable roles on screen, such as in Four Girls and an Officer (1954, directed by Anwar Wagdi), They Made Me a Criminal (1954, directed by Atef Salem) and Crime and Punishment (1957, directed by Ibrahim Emara), adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel of the same name.
Although Ibrahim’s theatrical company didn’t last long, its heroine didn’t stop performing until she went blind in 1963. She was sent to Spain to be treated at the state’s expense, and she immediately returned to act, albeit on a limited scale during the 1960s.
She was obliged to retire due to a number of illnesses that befell her after her final role in Three Thieves (1966, directed by Fateen Abdel-Wahab), and she died ten years later in 1976.
Ibrahim was distinguished for her patriotic sentiments. During the climax of the Arab-Israeli conflict, she devoted the returns from her plays to the Egyptian army.
She also totally disowned her sister.
As a result, the state awarded her the Medal of Science and Arts, as well as an exceptional pension that enabled her to lead a dignified life until her death.
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