Egypt's 50s cinema star Hind Rostom, through her daughter’s eyes

Deena Adel, Thursday 18 Aug 2011

The world remains in mourning for the First Lady of Egyptian Cinema - Passant Reda, Rostom's daughter, walks us through the star's life behind the scenes

One of Rostom portraits in her house

At 82, Hind Rostom died of a heart attack on August 8, but in her cosy apartment nestled in the upscale neighbourhood of Zamalek, her eternal legacy and powerful presence continue to live on.

Hind Rostom’s exquisite spirit lives on through an exuberant smile lighting up her portraits in every corner, through her extensive personal collection of antiques juxtaposed tastefully around the house, and most strongly, through her only daughter, Passant Reda­– daughter of her first husband, director Hassan Reda.

In a room with a gorgeous, unobstructed view of the Nile, Passant smiles through tears of sadness. “The past two years were the best days we spent together as mother and daughter,” she tells Ahram Online. “We were so attached. She even left her bedroom and we stayed together in my room. We would wake up together, have our meals together, and sleep at night together.”

The mother and daughter were always close, but with each new phase in their lives, Rostom would modify the way she dealt with Passant accordingly. She went from being an overprotective parent, to a best friend, to a fragile daughter– for the roles were switched in her last days.

Passant looks back at her mother’s strictness when she was young. She knows now that it was largely due to Rostom’s own background and upbringing. Little Hind grew up in a strict Turkish family ­– her father’s. She soon left the aristocratic family’s house, to their apparent dismay, and went into cinema at the tender age of 16.

Another reason Rostom was overprotective was due to worrying about the stigma that may be associated with artists’ children ­— that they had no parental supervision.

“She was extremely stern, even with my friends,” Passant recalls. She was not allowed to join her friends on trips and outings. “They were more than welcome to come over to our house, but I was only allowed to visit a select few, whose parents she knew and approved of.”

In fact, Passant’s first time to hang out in a social club was with her husband. But as soon as she got married and gave birth to a child, Rostom was no longer the strict mother; she was the loving friend. “But she was still a little tough,” smiles Passant.

Growing up, Passant would visit her mother on set and witness the making of some of cinema’s timeless classics. The bright lights dazzled little Passant, and so did her mother’s charming co-stars —Rushdy Abaza, Omar El Cherif and Emad Hamdy, to name a few. Despite all that, Passant never wanted to go into cinema.

With all the allure of movie making, things are not always glamorous behind the scenes. Passant saw that first-hand. The make-up artist would ring their doorbell, as early as 6 am or as late as 11pm, and Rostom would be out filming until the early hours of dawn. “She could not take any days off, even if she was sick,” Passant says, “not even if it was a public holiday. It was a life full of constraints.”

Perhaps this made Rostom’s decision to retire in 1979 an easy one. Rostom had acted in over 60 movies, and was at the peak of her career, when she decided to leave the glitz and glamour, and step away from the limelight. It was a surprising decision, but she never once regretted it.

After retirement, Rostom finally had the time to pursue her hobbies. She loved plants, decorating her house, collecting art and antiques, and reading. The rest of her time was devoted to her dogs. Rostom was a famous dog lover; in fact, her house was, at some point, home to 22 dogs. Along with her pets, her home, daughter and husband always came first.

On-screen, Rostom was bold and loud, a bit of a mischief-maker, and the life of the party. However, according to her daughter, Rostom was completely different off-screen. “She was very quiet, and avoided trouble at all costs,” Passant reveals. “She didn’t like to go out. She could stay home for up to three months, enjoying the quiet life.”

Rostom was always referred to as the “Queen of Seduction,” a term she disliked greatly. She objected to being confined to one persona, when she had taken on a diverse variety of roles and genres, ranging from comedy to melodrama, action and romance.

Off-screen, Rostom experienced a supreme romance of her own and was happily married to her second husband, Dr. Mohammad Fayad, for 50 years. He was the love of her life. Photographs of the couple laughing, holding hands, and dancing can be found all over the house, depicting their beautiful relationship. “They completed each other,” Passant says affectionately. Dr. Fayad passed away shortly before Rostom.

Dr. Fayad’s death affected Rostom deeply, so her concerned daughter stayed by her side at all times. “In her last days, she was in a bad emotional state,” Passant says sadly.

A particular incident had the most damaging effect on Rostom’s emotional state and health. After Dr. Fayad passed away, Rostom was shocked to find that his relatives had taken legal action against her, demanding inheritance and money that was rightfully hers.

Rostom was distressed. After 50 years of happiness with the man she loved, she was being sued by his relatives. After successfully staying out of the tabloids throughout her life and career, she was suddenly in the press for unjust reasons.

Of the five cases Fayad’s relatives filed against her, the verdict for two of them was in Rostom’s favour. The three other cases are still ongoing. Passant believes this matter led to her depression and hence, her deteriorating health.

Nonetheless, Passant is glad her mother got to see a copy of a book released earlier this year that was devoted to the career of none other than Lady Rostom herself. Written by Maximillien De Lafayette, a veteran Hollywood and cinema historian and author, the book is entitled, ‘Hind Rostom: The World’s Greatest Actress’.

The book contains hundreds of photos of the legendary star. It explains how a cinema legend was created in Egyptian Cinema and why Hind Rostom is in fact the world’s greatest actress of all time. This has astonished fans of the most famous Hollywood icons and legends such as Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor.

De Lafayette was deeply impressed by the wide range of styles, genres and roles Rostom played; no other Egyptian actress has ever accomplished this. “This extraordinary talent transmutes Lady Rostom into an international star and an unmatched diva of the golden years of cinema, both Egyptian and foreign,” he says in the book.

Passant flicks through the copies De Lafayette had sent Rostom, each with a personalised message hand-written on the inside cover. The doorbell rings and she prepares for the arrival of more people. Countless friends and family have been pouring in the house to grieve the loss of a true icon. Not everyone has showed up, however. The aforementioned relatives of Dr Fayad are yet to offer their condolences.

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