The good attorney

Hani Mustafa , Tuesday 13 Feb 2024

Hani Mustafa found much to think about in the new TV series Halah Khasah

Halah Khasah
Taha Al-Dessouki

 

Autism has always been an intriguing subject for screenwriters and filmmakers. Rain Man (1988) directed by Barry Levinson is among the most successful examples of this. Not only did it prove popular, it also won the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear and four academy awards: best picture, best direction, best screenplay and best actor in a leading role for Dustin Hoffman.

Last month the streaming on Watch It of the ten-episode Halah Khasah (Special Case), director Abdel-Aziz Al-Naggar’s television debut, written by Mohab Tarek, marked a new and welcome foray into this territory. The Egyptian drama, some felt, was based on Sony and ABC’s The Good Doctor (2017), itself a remake of a South Korean series from 2013, which revolves around the struggles of an autistic but brilliant surgeon to integrate into a hospital environment. Others compared Halah Khasah to another

South Korean show, Extraordinary Attorney Woo, aired on Netflix in 2022, which has a similar subject and structure.

The credit sequence is a sharp edit of the daily routine of Nadim Abu-Serie (Taha Al-Dessouki), a young man living alone, reflecting the repetitive routine of an autistic protagonist. The house itself, a huge apartment on the ground floor of a very old building in a posh neighbourhood, is carefully chosen to reflect Nadim’s social background, removing the element of poverty from the equation.

The first episode opens with Nadim in a competition show like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, demonstrating his exceptional intelligence and knowledge level. This barely affects the story: the money Nadim wins, he spends on helping his friend Gamil (Nabil Ali Maher), an old bookshop owner who has cared for Nadim since his mother passed away while he was a child, and is now in debt.

In that first episode the focus is rather on Nadim interviewing to join the stellar law firm of Amani Al-Naggar (Ghada Adel) as an intern. Though he answers all the questions she and her assistant Khaled (Ahmed Al-Azaar) ask, Nadim is not accepted. The rest of the episode shows Nadim’s persistence in trying again. Later in the show it is revealed that working at Amani Al-Naggar’s office was his mother’s wish for him as she breathed her last. He eventually earns the trust of Amani, who sympathises with him because, as it turns out, she has an autistic son of her own, Ali. As she tells him, Ali has nothing to do with her decision to take him on.

Obstacles to rising in the ranks take the form of legal riddles and criminal mysteries, which Nadim and fellow interns have to solve. But other issues have more disturbing dimensions. Ramallah Maher (Hagar Al-Serag), a Syrian refugee with a Palestinian mother, is facing challenges regarding her legal residence in Egypt. Yasser (Ahmed Tarek), Amani’s musician husband — a selfish and irresponsible man whom Amani will eventually divorce — has an affair with her. But it is Nadim who offers to marry her on paper to enable her to stay in the country.

Other episodes delve into Nadim’s new community of interns, including Nada Al-Wakil (Lina Ihab), the daughter of a businessman named Mohamed Al-Wakil (Abdel-Rahim Hassan), who has recently become Amani’s principal client. In a flashback scene, Al-Wakil refuses to recognise the child Nadim as his nephew, kicking him and his mother out of the house following the death of Nadim’s father, Ahmed Abu Serie Al-Wakil. Nadim now tells him he doesn’t want anything at all from him.

Not all the subplots in the series are as coherent or cogent. The intern Youssef (Ali Al-Sabae), who tries to win Nada’s heart in order to steal a document of her father’s from the office and falsely frame Nadim, for example, isn’t very convincing. Nor is the stressful, negative relationship between two interns, Ezz (Hassan Abul-Rous) and Abeer (Weam Magdi), which suddenly transforms when Ezz proposes to Abeer and she immediately accepts.

In his first television lead role — following strong performances in both seasons of Mawdu’ A’ili (2021 and 2022) and last Ramadan’s comedy Al-Soffara (The Whistle) — Taha Al-Dessouki gives a beautiful performance. So do Ghada Adel and Hassan Abul-Rous, while the rest of the cast prove adequate.

One very strong element is the soundtrack, made up almost entirely of songs by the pop band El-Masryeen, founded by Hani Shenouda in 1977 and lasting till 1988, as if the whole series were dedicated to it. Shenouda’s music was groundbreaking, but their lyrics by the great poet Salah Jahin have a rare power. The series takes on a sense of nostalgia as a result. But it also has dramatic justification.

This is the only band Nadim listens to, he even tells his colleagues about it in a kind of tribute scene, and he is always listening to music on his headphones. The reason Nadim is so hooked on this band is that it was the way his mother used to calm him while she was alive.

This series is a delightful drama that recalls Egyptian television 1970s and 1980s. During that era, TV directors and writers not only tackled profound social and political issues but also crafted ordinary stories that captivated and enchanted viewers. In Halah Khasah, too, everyone can relate to the main character who, despite his uniqueness, is a kind of everyman who stands for increasingly rare virtues like honesty, empathy, and compassion.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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