Ramadan in Egypt has recently become synonymous with the television series, Mosalsalat. From the 40 television series competing for viewership this month, Citizen X (El Mowaten X) stands out as a favourite, and according to director Osman Abu Laban, the series is not riding the “revolution wave.”
No longer revolving around actors and singers, Egyptian pop culture has a newfound obsession with the ongoing revolution and current affairs. Producers and directors were quick to notice this alteration in mainstream preference, and reacted accordingly.
This Ramadan, most TV shows have been infected with revolution fever.
With heavy themes delving into social issues, corruption and police brutality, rumours started circulating that Citizen X was based on the events that led to the January 25 Revolution. Viewers and the press speculated that the murder of the show’s protagonist by the police is based on that of Khaled Said, whose death is considered one of the major sparks of the uprising that toppled former president Mubarak.
The show’s creator Mohamed Nayer denies these rumors. “As a society, we are used to drawing similarities and clinging to what is familiar,” he tells Ahram Online. “There are a thousand incidents that are similar but the events of the show are not based on a specific story.”
Nayer wanted to create a story that people could relate to. The characters of the show are compelling for that specific reason; the viewer can identify with their problems, concerns, and struggles.
Citizen X is a mystery drama about a group of friends whose lives have been altered by the death of their close friend, Ahmed Kassem, who goes by the name “X”. Played by Youssef El Sherif, Kassem was killed in a police chase in the early scenes of the show. Through a series of flashbacks, the viewer gets to know all about the amiable Kassem, who was everyone’s best friend. He is accused of drug dealing – a claim that his friends and family refuse to believe.
Kassem’s parents receive a phone call informing them that their elder son fell off his motorcycle and died as a result of the accident. This is revealed to be only partly true; a video of policemen beating Kassem to his death soon starts circulating via mobile phones and goes viral.
Riding the motorcycle with Kassem was Farah El Tarabeely, the daughter of a rich businessmen. In stark contrast to her previous roles, Rasha Mahdy leaves her familiar soft on-screen characters and plays the role of the wild, unruly Farah. Left in a coma since the accident, the viewer gets glimpses of her rowdy behaviour through flashbacks.
Citizen X abandons the accustomed idea of a one-man show; the entire acting team was given equal status. They each deliver great performances. Arwa Gouda stands out as Laila, the tough yet charming biker girl who owns a motorcycle agency and is married to Khaled, a wealthy man responsible for a hit and run accident, after which he fled the country to avoid conviction. Typically clad in leather boots and designer purses, Laila proclaims, “My clothes are western but my heart is Egyptian.” The woman of contrasts is slowly revealed to be strong but vulnerable, as she starts opening up to detective Sherif El-Gohary, masterfully played by Jordanian actor, Eyad Nassar. The detective’s role is perhaps the most critical, as he tries to put together the pieces to solve the case of Kassem’s alleged drug dealership, while dealing with a past of his own.
Meanwhile, the viewers get to make their own assumptions. Nayer regularly keeps up with feedback on social networking sites and enjoys the speculations and guesswork directed at his show.
With previous work in movies, this is Nayer’s first TV project. The filmmaker claims to hardly ever watch television. “I wanted to create a show that I would watch,” he explains. Writing a television series, spread over 30 episodes, allowed him to deal with different topics to those of 90-minute movies.
This allowed Nayer to go beyond social themes to deal with personal issues as well, most of which reflect contemporary issues of life in Cairo; such as the marital problems of the young couple Sarah Gibreel (Sherry Adel) and Karim George (Amr Youssef).
Karim, the successful advertising director cannot fathom why Sarah, a teacher and a blogger, refuses to bring his child into the world – a world she believes is full of sorrow and suffering. “The husband puts in a lot of effort to love his wife, but not to listen to her,” says Nayer, who believes this communication problem between couples is a very important issue.
Another theme Nayer chooses to depict is personal redemption, most evident in the character of Tarek, played by Mahmoud Abdelmoghny. As a young lawyer, Tarek worked with a prominent lawyer on a case against Ahmed Kassem’s father. He ended up hurting his best friend’s family. Now, Tarek is trying to make amends, with himself just as much as his deceased friend, by helping Kassem’s family. “This is one of the most important roles in my career,” Abdelmoghny told Ahram Online.
Nayer was extremely pleased with the consistently great performances of the cast. Two actors were especially astounding: “Amir Karara has been amazing,” said Nayer. Used to Karara taking on simpler roles, the audience has been equally blown away with his powerful portrayal of Hossam, the anti-hero who seems to have everything working against him.
The other breakthrough act comes from Dina El Sherbiny, who plays the loud and quirky Dalia, secretary of Tarek, the lawyer. Speaking in local slang and providing constant humour, Dalia spends much of her time on Facebook, chatting with guys while pretending to be Shakira, the beautiful pop singer. “She is not just there for comedic relief, though.” Nayer reveals. “Her role will become very critical later on.”
Nayer paid special attention to the personal development of each character. “I wanted to emphasise their individual personal journeys,” he says. Perhaps this is what makes Citizen X so compelling. The show represents characters that struggle with a range of issues. The viewer gets a view into their personal lives, empathises with their conflicts, and sees more clearly the motivations behind their decisions, while anxiously waiting to find out the truth behind the death of Ahmed Kassem – citizen X.