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Saturday, 20 July 2019

Remembering Wedad Hamdy: The Egyptian actress who took maids' roles to a new level

Wedad Mohammed Zarara, known as Wedad Hamdy, was born on 3 July 1924 and died on 26 March 1994

Ashraf Gharib, Wednesday 3 Jul 2019
Wedad Hamdy
Wedad Hamdy
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Throughout Egyptian cinema history, it is rare to find a film that doesn’t have a maid character. Although many have acted this role such as Zeinat Sedky, Thurayya Fakhry and Khairaya Ahmed, Wedad Hamdy remains the most famous of those in portraying this character to the extent that it became attached to her due to the numerous many times she performed it.

Wedad Hamdy was born in 3rd July 1924 (a few sources mistakenly place her birth date as 7 March 1924) in Kafr El-Sheikh Governorate and her full name is Wedad Mohammed Zarara. But she was brought up in Al-Mahlla Al-Kubra, El-Gharbia Governorate, where her father worked in the Spinning and Weaving Company there.

Coincidentally, she entered the world of entertainment for her father faced economic hardships that forced the seventeen year old girl to come to Cairo to find a job to help her family make ends meet. Most of those surrounding her kept praising her beautiful voice. Thus, she decided to be a professional songstress in one of the Cairene theatrical companies.

However, her mingling with theatrical companies showed her acting abilities, especially comedy, quite obvious. After participating in comedy sketches in both Ahmed El-Messiry’s and Aziz Eid's Companies, she was picked up by director Niazi Mostafa to play a small role in My Daughter (1944) followed shortly by another role in Nour-Eddine and the Three Sailors (1944, Togo Mizrahi). Director Henri Barakat gave her a more prominent role in This is What My Father did to Me in the following year.

Despite the small roles played by Wedad Hamdy in her early beginnings, starting as a maid in her debut My Daughter stuck to her most of her cinematic career. However, she owes much to actor and director Anwar Wagdi, who cast her in an important role in The Divorce of Lady Soad (1948) then Henri Barakat chose her to act in Passion Beach in (1950).

It is quite hard to number the films in which she played the maid character, but it is far easier for film fans to remember her roles in The House No.13 (1952, Kamal Al-Sheikh), The Charming Mothers-in-law (1953, Helmy Rafla), Rumour of Love (1960) and The Thirteenth Wife (1962, both by Fateen Abdel-Wahab).

While Zeinat Sedki played the maid character, she was closer to being the female heroine’s companion without doing the house chores noticeably. On the other hand, directors confined Wedad Hamdy in the traditional cleaning role of the maid accompanied with this maid’s desire to stick her nose in the affairs of her employers. If not for the comedic abilities enjoyed by this actress which she used perfectly as well as her costumes, she would have lost much of her appeal and perhaps the audience would have shunned her quickly.

But there were some directors who saw in her another side different from the maid role and accordingly they cast her in roles away from this narrow frame. On the other hand, Wedad Hamdy was successful in being cast against type. For instance, she acted the fiancée in The Millionaire (1950, Helmy Rafla), the teacher along with Faten Hamama The Blocked Road (1957, Salah Abu-Seif) and “Zaza” the cattle merchant’s wife in Soft Hands (1963, Mahmoud Zulfikar).

It is quite evident that the low-class woman roles dominated the directors’ choices for Wedad Hamdy away from being the maid yet close to her stereotypical image among audience.

Although Wedad Hamdy succumbed for too long to playing the maid character, she was obliged to be cast in other roles due to her age and this reduced her opportunities in films.

It started with Thirteen and One Lies (1977, Nadia Hamza) where she played coffee-reader then Ilham Shahin’s mother in The Nonentity (1984, Samir Seif) and Ahmed Zaki’s sister in The Nasties (1989, Sherif Yehia) and her final role was a mother in the TV film The Truth’s Name is Salem (1994, Ahmed Saqr). This coincided with her many roles in TV series such as Ghawayesh (1986, Mohammed Shaker), He and She (1985, Yehia El-Alamy) and The Wife is the First to know (1987, Fayez Hegab).

Wedad Hamdy’s name will remain associated with her murder on 26 March 1994 at the hands of régisseur who stabbed her 36 times to steal her money. The murderer received a death sentence.

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