The return of Ola

Soha Hesham , Wednesday 16 Feb 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly delves into the world of the recently released Finding Ola.

Finding Ola
Finding Ola

Twelve years ago, actress Hind Sabri explored television comedy playing Ola Abdel-Sabour, a pharmacist in her mid-20s who under pressure from her mother and society is eager to be married before turning 30.

Based on the eponymous book by Ghada Abdel-Aal, who also wrote the screenplay, the 30-episode Aayza Atgawez (I Want to Be Married), directed by Rami Imam, screened in Ramadan 2010. It was praised for boldly tackling a sensitive issue in a comic framework.

Presenting Ola one more time, at a later stage in her life – also by Hind Sabri – was relatively easy, since she already existed in the popular imagination as a familiar and sympathetic character. Ayza Atgawez became available on Netflix in June 2020, perhaps to pave the way to the new Netflix original series Al-Bahth Aan Ola (Finding Ola), a six-episode series cowritten by Maha Al-Wazir and Ghada Abdel-Aal and directed by Hadi El Bagoury and starring, alongside Sabri, Sawsan Badr, Hani Adel, Nada Moussa and Mahmoud Al-Leithy.

Finding Ola offers a different perspective on the character of Ola, who is now learning to live and to find her way in life without a man by her side and at the same time to let go of the man she shared her life with for over ten years. That goes hand-in-hand with the new wave of feminist issues being forced on most Netflix productions, though in this case the message is subtly woven into the drama.

The first episode opens with Ola in the car, in the passenger seat, breaking the fourth wall as she talks straight to the camera – just as she did in Ayza Atgawez – announcing that she is back and introducing the viewer to her husband Hisham (Hani Adel) who is driving the car, and her two children Nadia (Asile Mohamed Ramzi) and Salim (Omar Sherif) and reminding the viewers of her mother Soheir brilliantly played by Sawsan Badr. They appear to be on their way to the house of her mother-in-law Nazli (Latifa Fahmi), where Soheir and Nazli will have a showdown in which the latter blames Ola for Hisham’s heart attack. She doesn’t want to go, but as she indicates Hisham cannot say no to his mother.

On their return home Hisham announces that he wants a divorce. A few scenes show Ola depressed and oversleeping, but rather too fast the former couple have moved on and are dealing amicably with financial problems with the help of Hisham’s cousin Soha played by the rising star Sarah Essam, who happens to work at a bank.

Ola suddenly decides that she doesn’t want alimony from Hisham, which he is willing to give. Having been a homemaker she will now start working. She also accepts an invitation to dinner from a mutual friend, and while eating it occurs to her that she could start commercializing the beauty creams and home remedies she has been preparing. She discusses the business with Tarek Zohny (Khaled Al-Nabawi), a famous business coach that she meets for the first time during that dinner and of whom Hisham appears to be jealous.

While embarking on her small business Ola is rejoined by her best friend Nesrin (Nada Moussa), whom she hadn’t been seeing for years because she didn’t get on with Hisham. Aided by Moatasem (Mahmoud Al-Leithy), a talented fragrance wizard, the two friends make speedy progress. Everyone in the family is now involved, including Ola’s teenage daughter Nadia and her best friend Zeina, who practically lives with them, who help promote the business on social media. Soheir becomes the brand’s “second chance” face as well.

The series is keen to introduce the term “consciously uncoupling” and other capitalist-American phenomena not necessarily homegrown or relevant to Egyptian society. Ola uses dating apps before she falls in love with Zeina’s father Marwan (even though they don’t actually start a relationship). In every episode there was a new guest of honour including, as well Khaled El Nabawi, Youssra, Sherine Reda, Dina, Fathy Abdel-Wahab, Bayoumy Fouad, Abbas Abul-Hassan and Amr Saleh.

On the one hand, the drama successfully captures each and every obstacle a women might suffer on her journey of self-exploration at this stage of life. On the other hand, the drama undervalues the male side of the story – Hisham’s mid-life crisis, for example, which involves him buying a motorcycle and falling in love with a very young influencer –  and adopting an American-media perspective on life.

After Hisham’s second heart attack, he realises that he made the wrong choice and starts questioning whether he and Ola might get back together. But the series wisely has an open end, leaving it open to the possibility of a new season.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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