The renowned Egyptian actress and stage icon Soheir El-Bably passed away last Sunday at the age 86, having spent three weeks in hospital following the onset of a coma. El-Bably carved her name with a number of unforgettable roles especially with roles, notably like Bakiza Hanem Al-Daramaly on screen, and Effat Abdel-Kerim, then Sekina on stage, making of her distinctive style of performance – the way she uttered now statements – a trademark, and facilitating the adoption of many of them in everyday speech.
El-Bably was born in 1937 in Damietta and raised in the vicinity. After completing secondary school she joined the Institute of Theatrical Arts and the Musical Institute at the same time. Her talent had been obvious since a very early age as she excelled at imitating actors and her father encouraged her to pursue acting despite her mother’s disapproval.
Her career started in the radio, after which she performed small roles on screen, making her debut appearance in Eghraa (Seduction, 1957), directed by Hassan Al-Imam and featuring Sabah, Shokri Sarhan and Zaki Rostom. The first film she starred in was Lokandet Al-Mofagaat (The Hotel of Surprises, 1959) with Hind Rostom and Ismail Yassin, directed by Eissa Karama. In 1960 she also starred in Ezzeddine Zulfakar’s Nahr Al-Hob (Love River), with Faten Hamama, Omar Sharif and Zaki Rostom. She also starred opposite the great comedy duo Fouad Al-Mohandes and Shwikar together with Adel Adham in Niazi Mustafa’s Akhtar Ragol fil Allam (The Most Dangerous Man in the World, 1967). She also starred alongside Soad Hosni and Hussein Fahmi in Hassan Al-Imam’s Amira Hobi Ana (Amira, My Love, 1975), playing the daughter of a company owner who is married to high-profile company employee (Hussein Fahmy), whose plans for upward mobility are interrupted when he falls in love with and secretly marries the poor girl Amira (Soad Hosni).
In 1990, she starred alongside Ezzat Al-Alaili, Samah Anwar, Mimi Gamal and Hassan Mustafa in Mohamed Abdel-Aziz’s Leilet Assal (Honey Night), playing Nazek, a family planning employee married to a gynecologist who finds out she is pregnant shortly after her daughter’s wedding. With remarkable humour, the film depicts the social challenges of this delicate situation.
El-Bably made her name on stage with her remarkable wit and charisma, becoming a cornerstone of commercial theatre in Egypt and the Middle East, and starring in the timeless classic Madraset Al-Moshaghbeen (The School of Mischief, 1973), directed by Galal Al-Sharkawy, playing the memorable role of the teacher Effat Abdel-Kerim who takes on the challenge of a problem class of five. The play features Hassan Mustafa and the renowned comedian Adel Imam who was then at the beginning of his acting career, as well as Said Saleh and the late, legendary Ahmed Zaki.
El-Bably also joined Abdel-Moneim Madbouli and Shadia along with actor Ahmed Bedeir in Raya wi Sakina (1982), directed by Hussein Kamal and written by Bahgat Amar, to create one of commercial theatre’s most unforgettable pieces. She also starred in Al-Dokhoul Bel Malabes Al-Rasmiya (Formal Dress Required, 1979), with Abu Bakr Ezzat, Isaad Younis and Ahmed Nabil, directed by Al-Sayed Radi. In 1991, she also starred in Al-Alma Basha, directed by Hassan Abdul-Salam and written by Abdel-Kader Naguib, appearing alongside Abu Bakr Ezzat, Gamal Ismail and Al-Montaser Bellah. A year later she starred alongside Hussein Al-Sherbiny, Reda Hamed and Ahmed Adam in Atiya Al-Irhabeya (Atiya the Terrorist), directed by Galal Al-Sharkawy and written by Ibrahim Massoud.
As for her television career, she brilliantly played the role of Bakiza Hanem in the memorable TV series Bakiza wi Zaghloul (1987), with Essad Younis (who also wrote the series), directed by Ahmed Badreddine and starring, besides Younes and El-Bably, Mustafa Metwalli, Salah Qabil, Zouzou Nabil and Hassan Mustafa. Bakiza was the widow of a millionaire, Al-Ashmawi, who leaves her a large villa and huge debts as well as a previously unknown daughter with the male name of Zaghloul. A year later El-Bably appeared in the spinoff film Leilet Al-Qabd ala Bakiza wi Zaghloul (The Night of the Arrest of Bakiza and Zaghloul), directed by Mohamed Abdel-Aziz.
She also appeared in the late auteur Youssef Chahine’s film Hadouta Masriya (An Egyptian Story, 1982), starring alongside Nour Al-Sherif, Youssra, Mohamed Mounir and Mohsen Mohieddin and Mahmoud Al-Meligy. She retired in the 1990s, making a 2005 comeback in hijab with the TV series Qalb Habiba (Habiba’s Heart).
El-Bably is survived by her only child, a daughter, Neveen.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.