In the history of comedy films in Egypt and the Arab world, it is impossible to ignore an important actor such as Bishara Wakim. Although he wasn’t the leading man in several films and placed in the forefront of film posters, he had an obvious presence and his stardom may have outlived other actors who had leading roles, such as the comedian Fawzi El-Gazayerly.
El-Gazayerly used to compete with Wakim during the 1920s and 1930s on stage and in films. Nevertheless, Wakim participated in a greater number of films most of which weren’t damaged by the years. Thus, Wakim remained present more than other actors in the eyes of the posterity.
Bishara Wakim was of Syrian origins and his real name was Bishara Yoaqim and Egyptians shortened it, as they always do with foreign names, in order to facilitate pronouncing them. He was born in El-Faggala neighbourhood, Cairo; most likely in 1892, because the stage giant George Abyad mentioned that his first meeting with Wakim was in 1914 when the latter was 22 years old. During that time, Wakim had just finished his law studies and was a trainee with a lawyer in the Mixed Courts.
Abyad recounted that this enthusiastic young man met him at the door of the theatre house and started to express his fascination with acting and desire to work with him. But Abyad feared for Wakim's professional career so he advised him to focus on being a lawyer.
However, Wakim’s love of acting was overwhelming since he watched Sheikh Salama Hegazi’s Company in a younger age. He continued to watch theatrical performances until he got to know another lawyer, Abdel-Rahman Rushdy, who left this profession for the sake of acting and encouraged him to join his company in 1917. Unfortunately, the company’s activity stopped soon so Wakim made another attempt to join George Abyad’s Company and this time he succeeded; after three years from their first meeting.
Bishara kept moving from one company to another until he became a familiar face to the audience. For instance, he joined the companies of Amin Attallah, Badia Masabni and also worked with Youssef Wahbi’s Ramses Company and translated a number of French plays, such as The Crime, The Licentious and others. All those plays were staged in 1928 and Wakim participated in them. Moreover, Wakim joined Naguib Al-Rihani’s Company but he didn’t remain for long in the company despite the success he achieved.
As for the cinema, Wakim was one of the first actors to stand before the camera even before the shooting of the first Egyptian feature film, when he acted in the short film The Chief Clerk (1923, Mohamed Bayoumi). He was supposed to have participated in a series of films titled Master Barsoom by the same director but the project stopped for good because of the death of the director’s son.
Wakim’s real cinematic experiment was in 1934 when he established with director Eli Eptikmann a production company they named Film El-Nasr. Its first film was Son of the People in which Serag Mounir, Mimi Shakeeb and Mary Mounib acted as well as Wakim. It isn’t known the role played by Wakim in the film. Anyway, Wakim’s cinematic fame was achieved in the subsequent year, when he played the role of Goha (the popular philosopher) in The Dandy (1935) along with the renowned songstress Munira Al-Mahdiyya in her only cinematic venture.
He followed it by two films The Theatres' Queen along with Badia Masabni, and His Highness Wants to Marry with Naguib Al-Rihani. These three roles were enough for Wakim to stand on solid ground on screen. From there, his career skyrocketed.
He became a common denominator in the films of stars such as Laila Mourad, Anwar Wagdi, Farid Al-Atrash and Sabah to the extent that he became the most prolific among his coevals on screen. Suffice it to say that he acted in 100 films from his beginning in 1934 until his death in 1949 in which he impersonated the role of the pasha or the well-off man in most of them. It it had not been for his paralysis and subsequent death, Wakim would have certainly been one of the top 10 leading figures in the Golden Age of the Egyptian cinema during the two decades following the end of WWII.
The main difference between Bishara Wakim and Naguib Al-Rihani, who also died in 1949, was that the latter began as a cinema leading man and ended as such and his influence didn’t end with his death. Directors kept adapting his plays into films and his students remained at the fore of the comedy genre during the last decades.
Bishara Wakim’s talent is undoubted as well as his capability to affect his audience whether as a comedian or a tragedian. However, he fell captive to supporting actor and even if he tried to throw some diversification through playing the Levantine as in both Passion and Revenge (1944, Yousef Wahbi) and The Lady's Game (1946, Wali Eldin Sameh). It was just an outward alteration without touching the character's inward core. If Wakim didn’t enjoy such an overwhelming presence, he would have lost much of his attraction among his fans.
Wakim’s final months were tragic for after he ended the shooting of A Night’s dream (1949, Salah Badrkhan), he suffered a sudden brain stroke following the death of Naguib Al-Rihani at the same year whom he held in high regard despite the artistic differences between the two.
After he was paralysed, he was bedridden home alone. Due to his psychological and physical decline, he died on 30 November 1949 at the age of 57 after spending most of his life as an author and actor on stage and on screen.
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