When WWII was coming to an end in the mid-1940s, Egyptian cinema was about to usher in a new stage in which it soared by the use of two wings, comedy and singing, relying on new names in most cases. This explains the reason behind the Egyptian cinema welcoming, at the time, singers and songstresses, especially those coming from the Levant courting attention of the Arab audience. This was precisely what happened with Sabah and her companion and countrywoman Nour Al-Hoda.
Nour Al-Hoda, whose real name was Alexandra Nicholas Badran, was born in Turkey on 24 December 1924. Her childhood years were spent in Lebanon where she received her primary education. Through her school activity, Nour Al-Hoda discovered she had a beautiful voice, to the extent that they dubbed her “Lebanon’s Umm Kulthum,” with the encouragement of her father, who used to write poetry. Although she attained widespread fame in Lebanon at 17 years old, it didn’t satisfy her artistic ambition.
At the time, the director and actor Youssef Wahbi was visiting Beirut and one of his friends advised him to listen to this girl dubbed Lebanon’s Umm Kulthum.
Immediately after listening to her, he decided to take her with him on his return to Cairo along with her father Nicholas Badran. In Egypt, Wahbi provided his new discovery with all she needed to accomplish her training. It was agreed that she should change her name to Nour Al-Hoda instead of Alexandra Badran. Wahbi cast her as the leading lady in Jawhara (1943, Youssef Wahbi) and Berlanty the following year.
In 1945, she was the leading lady in two films, Miss Bousa (Niazi Mostafa) and Princess of Dreams (Ahmed Galal). Yet, all these films did not satisfy her artistic ambition, which was attained the following year when she starred alongside the most famous Arab composer, Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, in his last film I am not an Angel (1946, Mohamed Karim). It was an acknowledgment from the cinematic and singing fields of Nour Al-Hoda’s stardom and her ability to bring success to any film she starred in.
Despite the fact that Nour Al-Hoda’s artistic career was very brief, acting in only 25 films, she succeeded in becoming an integral part of Egyptian musical films at the time. This was established after she became one of the most capable songstresses by participating in duets with singers and performing musical dialogues on the silver screen.
This was the reason behind Nour Al-Hoda’s appearance alongside big names in musical films, the first of which was Mohamed Abdel-Wahab. It was followed by pairing with Mohamed Fawzi in Glory and Tears (1946, Ahmed Badrkhan), Nargess (1948, Abdel-Fattah Hassan), Farid Al-Atrash in I want to Marry (1952, Ahmed Badrkhan) and Tell No One (1952, Henri Barakat), Abdel-Aziz Mahmoud in My Lover’s Window (1951, Abbas Kamel) and Mohamed El-Kahlawi in Congratulations to You (1949, Abdel Fattah Hassan). It seemed that Nour Al-Hoda was part and parcel of a guaranteed successful commercial formula.
However, this approach did not prevent Nour Al-Hoda from simultaneously acting in some important tragedy films. She starred in Betrayal and Torment (1947, Hussein Sedki) and The Avenger (1947, Salah Abu-Seif), among others. Although Nour Al-Hoda did not have exceptional acting abilities, her keenness to choose the simple, helpless girl role made her occupy a special place in the hearts of the 40s audience. In addition, she enjoyed a singing voice that had a singular stamp and suited tragedies, melodramas and light musical comedies.
After Nour Al-Hoda acted in Time’s Verdict (Henri Barakat) and Qaraqoush’s Rule (both 1953, Fateen Abdel-Wahab), her fans were shocked when she vanished from Egypt only to appear in Lebanon, announcing that the 10 years she had spent in Cairo were enough. Rumours began to circulate that she left Egypt due to a dispute with the Tax Authority, and another rumour suggested that her father, who entered the field of film production, was restricting her artistic choices. It was reportedly said that her yearning to go back to the Cairo limelight would drive her to return to Egypt once again. However, this did not materialise.
It seemed that she had retired from acting altogether and confined herself to singing on Lebanese Radio. But in 1958 she returned to act in For Whom the Sun Rises (Youssef Fahda) starring Abdel-Hamid Rushdi and Gilda. The film failed spectacularly which pushed her back into retirement. Her retirement continued for 40 years except for a transient participation in the TV series Alhambra Palace (1971). She was keen to appear on TV talk shows in Beirut and Damascus until she was unable to do so due to illness and senility. She died on 9 July 1998 at the age of 74.
It is astonishing that Nour Al-Hoda achieved all this fame and immortality in only 10 years. What she presented was original and unique amid a climate that inspired proficiency and perfection.
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