Remembering Hoda Sultan: The 'Bella Donna' of Egyptian cinema

Ahram Online , Sunday 5 Jun 2022

Sunday marks 16th death anniversary of Egyptian film star Hoda Sultan (15 August 1925 – 5 June 2006).

Hoda Sultan


One of the brightest stars of the 20th century, Sultan made a mark in Egyptian cinema history as an actress and singer in many musical films. 

Born Gamalat Bahiga Abdel-Aal Al-Haww in Kafr Abu-Gendy in Gharbiya governorate on 15 August 1925 to a mother of Turkish descent and a father who married several times and had many children.

Sultan married at a young age and divorced after the birth of her first daughter.

She embarked on the cinematic career inspired by her brother, renowned singer Mohamed Fawzi, taking steps into Egyptian radio with her first song in 1949.

As Ashraf Gharib writes for Ahram Online: “She auditioned for a role that was announced by Nahas Studio, who was searching for a new face capable of singing to participate in Bella Donna (1950), directed by Niazi Mostafa, and landed it. Despite the fact that it was a small part, she emerged closer to the world of fame.”

She then began receiving numerous roles starting with El-Usta Hassan (Foreman Hassan, 1952), directed by Salah Abu-Seif, and Hokm El-'Awy (The Rule of the Powerful, 1951) and Tager El-Fadayeh (The Scandalmonger, 1953), both directed by Hassan El-Imam.

She landed starring roles in many musical films such as Habib Albi (The Love of My Heart, 1952) by Helmy Rafla and Taxi El-Gharam (Love Taxi, 1954) by Niazi Mostafa.

In addition, Sultan also appeared in Hamido (1953) by Niazi Mostafa, Ga'alouni Mograman (They Made Me a Criminal, 1954) by Atef Salem, El-Mouhtal (The Swindler, 1954) by Helmy Rafla, Sawaq Nos El-Leil (Midnight Driver, 1958) by Niazi Mostafa, Abeed El-Gasad (Slaves of the Flesh, 1962) by Kamal Attiya, and two of her more important films with Hassan El-Imam: Zawga Min El-Sharea (A Wife From the Street) and Sai'dat El-Regal (Men’s Huntress) both in 1960.

"However, Hoda Sultan’s artistic and feminine climax represented itself best in Ezzeddine Zulfikar’s masterpiece Emra'ah Fi El-Tariq (A Woman on the Road, 1958) where she played the she-devil crossing your path and stinging you with her carnal desires," writes Gharib.

"When Egyptian cinema turned towards duos, Hoda Sultan formed one with Farid Shawqi, her husband at the time. Between the pair, the remarkable duo made 19 films together, starting with Bella Donna and The Rule of the Powerful."

Her artistic maturity became obvious in El-Sirk (The Circus, 1968) by Atef Salem, DalalEl-Masriya (Dalal the Egyptian, 1970) by Hassan El-Imam, El-Ikhtiyar (The Choice, 1971) by Youssef Chahine, and Shai' Fi Qalbi (Something In My Heart, 1971) by Kamal El-Sheikh.

She then became the first-choice actress for the film and television roles which needed a maternal character. This landed her the role of Amina in Naguib Mahfouz’s famous trilogy adapted to TV and that of Tafida in Something in my Heart, adapted from Ihsan Abdel-Quddous’ novel.

Her important TV appearances included Layali El-Helmiya (El-Helmiya Nights, 1987), Arabesque (1994), El-Wattad (The Tent Pole, 1996), and Zizinia (1997).

Sultan passed away on 5 June 2006 in Cairo.

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