Egyptian cinema lost one of its best known actors, Youssef Shaaban, who died last Sunday at the age 90 after being hospitalised due to Covid-19 complications. The talented actor left unique marks on cinema, theatre, television and radio.
He was born in Shobra, Cairo on 16 July 1931, and studied acting, graduating from the Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts, but it wasn’t long before he made his way from stage to screen. His first break was Henry Barakat’s Fi Baytouna Ragol (A Man in Our House, 1961), in which he starred alongside stars Omar Sharif, Roushdy Abaza, Hassan Youssef, Zebeida Tharwat and Zahret Al-Ola.
Through the 1960s he starred in such successful films as Ana Al-Hareb (I’m the Fugitive, 1962), directed by Niazi Mustafa and starring Farid Shawky and Zahret Al-Ola, and Hassan Al-Imam’s Al-Mougeza (The Miracle, 1962), starring Faten Hamama and Shadia. He took part Cairo (1963), directed by Wolf Rilla, starring Faten Hamama, Ahmed Mazhar, Kamal Al-Shinawy and Shwikar along with foreign actors George Sanders and Richard Johnson, which revolves around an international gang stealing ancient Egyptian monuments.
Al-Mal wal Banoun
He played the role of Galal in Atef Salem’s Oum Al-Arousa (Mother of the Bride, 1963), starring Emad Hamdi, Tahia Kariouka, Hassan Youssef and Samir Ahmed. He also played Amin in the comedy Lel Regal Faqat (For Men Only, 1964), directed by Mahmoud Zulfikar, starring alongside Soad Hosni, Nadia Lotfi, Ehab Nafie and Hassan Youssef. He collaborated with Zulfikar again on the film Al-Thalatha Yehobonaha (The Three Love Her, 1965), starring Soad Hosni and Hassan Youssef.
Shaaban starred along with Shadia and Salah Zulfikar in Fatin Abdel-Wahab’s comedy Merati Modier Aam (My Wife Is the General Director, 1966), the film that introduced numerous actors who would go on to become stars including Adel Imam, Tawfik Al-Deken and Al-Deif Ahmed. Shaaban also starred in Helmy Rafla’s Maaboudet Al-Gamaheir (People’s Idol, 1967), alongside singers Abdel-Halim Hafez and Shadia.
Lel Regal Fakat
With director Kamal Al-Sheikh, he played Anwar Samy in Al-Ragol Aladhi Faqad Dhelo (The Man Who Lost His Shadow, 1968), starring Magda, Kamal Al-Shinawy, Emad Hamdy, Nelly and Salah Zulfikar, as well as the unforgettable Sarhan Al-Beheiry in Miramar (1969), starring Shadia, Youssef Wahbi, Emad Hamdi, Abdel-Moneim Ibrahim and Abu Bakr Ezzat.
In the next decade, Shaaban starred in films like Hadthet Sharaf (An Incident of Honour, 1971), Raghabat Mamnuaa (Forbidden Desires, 1972). He also starred in Henry Barakat’s Emraa Sayaat Al-Somaa (A Woman with Bad Reputation, 1973), starring Shams Al-Baroudi and Mahmoud Yassin, and Salah Abu Seif’s Hammam Al-Malatily (Malatily Bathhouse, 1973) and Hossameddin Mustafa’s Al-Rosasa La Tazal Fi Gaybi (The Bullet Is Still in My Pocket, 1974).
Despite his cinematic triumphs, Shaaban managed to revisit the theatre every once in a while. He starred in the play Arousa Teganen (A Thrilling Bride, 1980), directed by Samir El-Asfory, and Meit Messa (One Hundred Evenings, 1989), directed by Al-Sayed Radi.
He also played some of his most famous roles in television series like Al-Shahd wal Domou (Honey and Tears, 1983), with director Ismail Abdel-Hafez, Al-Zeer Salem (1977) and Antara (1978). But it is for his role as the intelligence officer Mohsen Momtaz in director Yehia Al-Alami’s espionage television series Rafaat Al-Haggan (1988-1992), based on the life of real-life spy Refaat Al-Gammal and starring with Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, Youssra, Afaf Shoieb and Mustafa Metwalli, that Shaaban remains best known.
Shaaban played the famous role of Salama Farawila in the TV series Al-Mal wal Banoun (Money and Sons, 1992), directed by Magdi Abu Emera, starring alongside Abdallah Gheith, Ahmed Abdel-Aziz, Sherif Mounir, Fadia Abdel-Ghani, Abla Kamel, Ragaa Hussein and Ahmed Rateb.
In the TV series Al-Dou Al-Sharid (The Stray Light, 1998), he gave a brilliant performance as Wahbi Al-Sawalmi, a man from Upper Egypt willing to do whatever it takes to win the elections. The hit TV series had an ensemble cast including Samiha Ayoub, Mamdouh Abdel-Alim, Mona Zaki, Rania Farid Shawky, Somya Al-Khashab and Mohamed Riyad.
More recent television appearances include Siret Al-Hilali (Al-Hilali Biography, 1997), Emraa Min Zaman Al-Hob (A Woman from the Time of Love, 1998), starring Samira Ahmed and directed by Ismail Abdel-Hafez, Al-Aela wal Nas (Family and People, 2000), Leilet Maktal Al-Omda (The Night of Killing the Mayor, 2000), Al-Hakika wi Al-Sarab (Truth and Illusion, 2003), Asmahan (2008), Ganna wi Nar (Heaven and Hell, 2009) and Awrak Al-Tout (Mulberry Leaves, 2015),
His last film appearances were Al-Haram Al-Rabei (The Fourth Pyramid, 2016) and Bard Al-Shita (Winter Cold, 2015), both directed by Peter Mimi, and Al-Mishkhsati (The Actor, 2016), playing the role of Mohsen Momtaz again, directed by Mohamed Abu Seif.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly