From Amina Rizk to Abla Kamel: Mothers of Egyptian cinema

Ahram Online , Tuesday 21 Mar 2023

Celebrating Mother's Day, Ahram Online pays tribute to the iconic actresses of Egyptian cinema whose maternal roles have left a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of all Egyptians.

Mother s Day

Amina Rizk (1910-2003)

Amina Rizk is undeniably the best known “mother” in Egyptian cinema as she left a legacy of hundreds of roles between theatre and cinema with a unique focus on the role of mothers.

Curiously Rizk, who never married or gave birth, and when once asked how she could perform all the motherhood roles with such dexterity without being a real mother, “she replied briefly – while fighting back tears – that it was probably due to not feeling these emotions in reality, which meant she wanted to make up for it on the silver screen,” writes Ashraf Gharib in his article published on these pages in 2018.

Gharib continues, saying “Rizk began portraying mothers in the 1940s, starting with The Mother (1945). Although at the time she was not even 35-years-old, she played a mother to grown-up characters played by adult actors. She reprised the same role in Dearest of the Beloved Ones (1961). 

Since then, she played good-hearted mother in The Black Candles (1962), the aristocratic mother in Where is My Life (1956), then the very stiff and tough mother in Shafiqa The Copt (1962), the helpless rural mother in The Curlew’s Prayer (1959), the urban mother in A Beginning and an End (1960) based on the novel by Egyptian Nobel Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz, the weak and submissive mother in I Want a Solution (1975) and finally, the comic mother in His Sisters (1976) and on stage in It’s Really a Respectable Family (1979). 

With this amount of roles portraying different mother characters - a narrow framework - “Rizk was able to diversify her options, keeping them wide open due to her unlimited acting abilities, as well as her ability to change her voice from tough to kind – and the whole spectrum of emotional expressions in between,” writes Gharib underscoring her facial expressions and body movements resulting from an excellent understanding of fine differences between one mother's role and another.

Ferdous Mohamed (1906-1961)

Her portrayals of mothers brought her the name of “the mother of Egyptian cinema.”

One of the most important roles was in Youth of a Woman, a 1956 film directed by Salah Abouseif and starring Shadia, Tahia Karioka, Shukri Sarhan, Abdel Wareth Asser and Siraj Mounir.

Another important role of a mother was in Youssef Chahine’s Dark Water (1956) in which she was a mother to Ragab, portrayed by Omar Sharif. She also joined Sharif, as well as his then wife Faten Hamama in the role of a mother in Women of the Castle (1958) directed by Kamal El-Shaikh

Other films featuring the actress as a mother include The Flowers’ Sellers (1959) written and directed by Mahmoud Ismail where, again, she joined Tahia Karioka and Shukri Sarhan.

Another such role was in Ezz El-Dine Zulficar’s Back Again (Rodd Qalbi, 1959), where she portrayed a mother to Ali Abdul Wahed (Shukri Sarhan) and Hussein Abdul Wahed (Salah Zulfikar)

Karima Mokhtar (1934-2017)

Her best known role was that of Zeinab, wife of Abdel Moneim Madbouly and a mother of seven, in the highly successful film Al-Hafeed (The Grandson, 1974), opposite the late Nour El-Sharif and Mervat Amin.

She presented the character of Souad Hosni’s mother in the Amira My Love (1974), a film directed by Hasan Al Imam to the screenplay by Salah Jaheen. 

Karima Mokhtar's role in the classic play El-Eyal Kebret (The Kids Have Grown Up, 1979) – where she played Zeinab, a wife dealing with a cheating husband while coping with four troublesome children – cemented her reputation as the ultimate mother character in the Egyptian art scene.

She also starred in other important films including Al-Shaytan Yaez (The Devil Preaches, 1981), opposite the late Farid Shawki; and more recently, Al-Farah (The Wedding, 2009), opposite Khaled El-Sawy.

Her roles on TV included classic soap operas such as Yetraba Fi Ezo (May He Grow Up Prosperous, 2007) in which she was Mama Nona, a mother spoiling her son portrayed by Yehia El-Fakharany.

Dalal Abdel-Aziz (1960-2021)

The late star is considered one of the most important actresses who succeeded in embodying the roles of mothers, especially in the last years of her artistic life. 

One of her best known roles is that of a mother to Yasmine (Maya Shiha) in 2011 film A Girl's Secret. The story of sixteen-year-old Yasmin, whose out-of-wedlock pregnancy sparked a lot of controversies among the film’s viewers.  

She also embodied the role of the mother in the movie Neither Retreat nor Surrender (2010), starring Ahmed Mekki.

In 2017 TV series Seventh Neighbor, Dalal Abdel-Aziz was in the leading role of a character named Lamia, a mother closely attached to her children, with who she shares all her joys and sadness. One of the famed scenes of the series is when Lamia sings and dances with her children. 

Abla Kamel

Born in 1960, Abla Kamel’s portrayals of mothers differs from other actresses, as she often infused the role of a strong mother figure with comedic elements.

Her most famous works are the TV series I Won't Live in My Father's Robes (1996) in which she starred opposite Noul Al-Sharif; and Morning and Evening Talk (2001), based on a novel by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz with a same title (1987) and starring Dalal Abdulaziz, Salwa Khattab and Ahmed Zaher.

She also played the role of the mother Faransa in the movie Ellembi (2002) starring Mohamed Saad.

In Sayed Al-Atefi (Sayed the Romantic, 2005) Abla Kamel portrayed Um Sayed / Hanifa who raises her son portrayed by Tamer Hosni after his father died. To face the life’s burdent she works a taxi driver, while her son gets fired from his college.  

This article is based on works published by Ashraf Gharib (Ahram Online) and Maha Mohamed (Ahram Arabic)


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