In 1959, when Soad Hosny debuted in Hassan and Naima, directed by Helmy Barakat, it marked the fourth year after the retirement of the first box office starlet Leila Mourad with her last film, The Unknown Lover by Hassan El-Siefi.
During those four years no other actress was able to reach this level of popularity in spite of the high artistic successes achieved by many well established actresses such as Faten Hamama, Shadia and Sabah, or by those who managed to reinvent themselves, such as Hind Rostom and Hoda Sultan. The same goes to those who were ascending the tall tower of fame, such as Lubna Abdel-Aziz and Nadia Lutfi.
Thus, the cinematic scene was eager to find an actress who would fill the vacuum resulting from the abrupt retirement of Leila Mourad in 1955. The throne of the box office female star was without a queen.
Egyptian society was witnessing deep changes and Egyptian girls were keen to express themselves and were aspiring for a decent social life.
Egyptian cinema was in need of a female starlet with a natural, easy nonchalance, one that can be similar to a girl you can see as a family relative, a neighbour or a university colleague.
Serious actresses such as Faten Hamama and Mariam Fakhreddine weren’t capable of representing this kind of girl and definitely not seductive actresses like Hind Rostom and Hoda Sultan.
The scene was ready to shed the damsel in distress model dominating films since their beginning and until the end of the 1950s.
Meanwhile, filmmakers began to realise that the public’s taste had changed and began to produce a relatively good number of family drama films, which continued throughout the 1960s. Another factor was the emergence of actresses who fitted this kind of drama, such as Lubna Abdel-Aziz, Zubaida Tharwat, Laila Taher, Zizi Al-Badrawi and naturally, Soad Hosny.
Among these actresses, Soad Hosny was the most suitable to ride the tide of family drama, reflecting her distinctive charm on the films of this period.
Indeed, Hosny was a natural as an adolescent in Rumour of Love (1960), a familiar sister in The Girls and the Summer (1960), both directed by Fateen Abdel-Wahab, an ordinary wife in Money and Women (1960) by Hassan Al-Imam, but also a deviant girl in Cairo 30 (1966) and a killer in A Little Bit of Torment (1969), both by Salah Abu-Seif.
She was extremely gifted in portraying totally different roles convincingly; for instance, she wasn’t entirely innocent in The Three Naughty Boys (1962), directed by Hossam Eddine Mostafa, nor wholly guilty in The Well of Deprivation (1969), by Kamal El-Sheikh, while treading a line in-between in The Olive Branch (1962), by El-Sayed Bedeir.
Her characters often fell into a grey area, being naturally benevolent, but in their human weakness or circumstances, erring from social norms.
Even among the actresses of her generation, Soad was unique. She was searching for a simple meaning of life; not searching for herself as much as wanting to feel alive.
All this was done in perfect harmony with truly Egyptian features, and a light spirit along with high competence; dramatically employing her tools as an actress through controlling her intonation, body movements or using her eyes in expressiveness.
Consequently, Soad Hosny was capable of eliminating the distance between the silver screen and her audience, and quite uniquely in Egyptian cinema history.
There is another important factor that shouldn’t be ignored, which is the suitability of Soad Hosny’s real age. Born on 26 January 1943, she was the right age at the right time for her adolescent role in Rumour of Love when she was 17, and a high school girl in The Olive Branch at the age of 19.
This was at a time when other actresses were playing roles much younger than their age, such as Faten Hamama portraying a university student in The Open Door (1963) when she was 32, and Shadia ageing 31 in The Student (1960).
Hosny’s talent was of the dangerously explosive kind. Following her first three films (Hassan and Nayima, The Girls and the Summer and Rumour of Love), everyone — audience, critics and directors alike — realised that a new cinematic era had emerged.
Naturally, this explosive stardom was reflected in the number of films in which Soad starred in her early years. In 1960, the year after her debut, she starred in five films.
The trend continued and rose to the extent that Soad’s films between 1959 and 1968 amounted to 52 films out of the 82 she starred in up to 1991.
Undoubtedly, Soad fell in the trap of quantity over quality. Some of these films can only be viewed as entertaining escapades. But this doesn’t mean that her first 10 years were without distinctive artistics marks. Suffice to mention Cairo 30 and The Second Wife (1967), both directed by Salah Abu-Seif, as irrefutable proof of her wide-ranging talent.
This talent that enabled her to move easily from playing a low-class girl in Ambassador Aziza (1961), directed by Tolba Radwan, to an educated girl in Zizi’s Family (1963). by Fateen Abdel-Wahab, to an urban girl succumbing to degrading compromises in Cairo 30, and the tough country woman refusing to bow to oppression and injustice in The Second Wife.
Hosny then suddenly became very selective after the first 10 years. If we exclude the eight films she starred in 1968 as film contracts she signed before or films produced in 1967 and were released in the following year, we will find clearly that there was a difference between this period and afterwards.
In my opinion, the 1967 Defeat was the reason for this sudden change since Soad Hosny was surrounded by a number of leftist intellectuals headed by Salah Jahin, the well-known poet and cartoonist, as well as her fiancé and later her husband, director Ali Badrakhan.
Suddenly after Beautiful and Naughty directed by Essa Karama and Papa wants It Like That by Niazi Mostafa (both in 1968), Soad was a star in many films adapted from literature.
Those include Nadia (1969) adapted from a novel by Youssef El-Sibai and directed by Ahmed Badrkhan, A Little Bit of Torment adapted from a story by Ahmed Rageb and directed by Salah Abu-Seif, The Lost Love (1970) adapted from a novel by Taha Hussein and directed by Barakat, Sunset Sunrise (1970) adapted from a novel by Gamal Hammad and directed by Kamal El-Sheikh, and The Choice (1971) adapted from a story by Naguib Mahfouz and directed by Youssef Chahine.
It is worth mentioning that Soad Hosny’s awareness saved her from the abyss in which Egyptian cinema fell between 1968 and 1974, with the production of its weakest films. Through a qualitative leap, Soad Hosny attracted a considerable segment of intellectuals who saw in her roles a reflection of frustration, oppression and perplexity that Egypt has undergone between 1967 and 1973.
Then came Salah Jahin’s and Hassan Al-Imam’s masterpiece, Take Care of Zouzou (1972), which remained in cinemas for 55 weeks, breaking a record. Based on a story written by its director, Hassan Al-Imam, and adapted to the screen by Mohammed Othman and Salah Jahin, the film was a smash hit.
It was a variation on the Cindrella story where Saeed (Hussein Fahmy) — the male star — played an aristocrat professor who falls in love with top student Zouzou, or Zeinab Abdel-Karim (Soad Hosny), whose mother was a former belly dancer.
Zouzou possesses a strong, positive character, bold in her relationship with her prince charming. Hosny was mesmirising in her exquisite performance, as an actress, songstress and dancer, to which the audience responded with admiration.
Unfortunately, the success of Take Care of Zouzou came at a price. It became an obsession that made Soad Hosny somewhat fearful towards new projects. Although her subsequent films performed acceptably at the box office in comparison to other films she made in the 1970s.
Some films from this era include Amira is the Love of My Life (1975), directed by Hussein Mahmoud, Al-Karnak (1975), Shafiqa and Metwalli (1978), both by Ali Badrakhan, and The Wild Girl (1979), by Samir Seif.
During the 1980s, Soad Hosny’s relationship with her audience fluctuated. She went through a period of relative decline after The Untouchables, directed by Ali Badrkahan, Appointment at Dinner, by Mohamed Khan, and Al Qadisiyya, by Salah Abu-Seif, all released in 1981.
She sought to regain what she has lost by acting in two consecutive films with 1980s star Adel Imam: The Suspect (1981), directed by Samir Seif, and Love in a Prison Cell (1983), by Mohamed Fadel. She ventured once in acting in a TV series, He and She (1985), which maintained her popularity for some time.
The failure of The Third Class (1988), directed by Sherif Arafa, was so humiliating that she stopped acting for three years, returning only once, in The Shepherd and the Women (1991) by Ali Badrkhan.
Although the film achieved critical success and won her a number of awards, it wasn’t enough for her to continue. She went abroad to receive treatment for an undisclosed illness. She died in mysterious circumstances 21 June 2001, after reportedly falling from her London flat balcony.
No actress — whether from her generation or the following ones — was capable of being the box office female star Soad Hosny was.
This article was originally published on Soad Hosny's 75th birthday in 2018.
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