It is believed that drama started in the Stone Age with a group of cavemen talking about the hunt. One of them stood up and began acting out his adventures while the others watched. At one point his companion joined him with a slightly different account, and everyone started to argue about which version of the story was true. In a way, looking at Ramadan TV today, surprisingly little has changed since then.
In fact the most basic concept of how to come up with a strong premise to create a narrative hook for the viewer — not to mention a convincing hero with a meaningful hero’s journey to be argued about — are missing from many of this year’s dramas, including the most watched show that shall not be named. Due to the questionable pre-eminence of its makers, that show gained popularity before it even started screening, and no one seems to have noticed that it is little more than a dramatisation of preachy Facebook posts about romantic relationships and child rearing. It has neither vision nor genuine human interest, but captures the attention of the audience by appearing progressive and taboo-breaking. In fact it feels generic and mass-produced, without even a convincing sense of its cultural setting here in Egypt.
A far better watch — also about marriage — is Mozakkirat Zog (Diary of Husband), director Tamer Nadi’s relationship drama based on an eponymous novel by the late humorist Ahmed Bahgat and starring Tarek Lotfi and Aisha bin Ahmed as Raouf and Sherine, the couple at the centre of the action. Raouf is an air traffic controller and Sherine is the head of a leading real estate company. They have been married for 16 years and they have a boy and a girl. For the duration of their marriage, Sherine has implemented a strict, tedious and almost loveless routine, with Raouf’s attempts to break out of it or rekindle their romance through grand gestures always failing. She also spends far too much time and energy on her work and friends.
Mohamed Soliman Abdel-Malek’s well crafted screenplay creates a gripping setup by featuring Raouf and Sherine’s dreams, revealing their subconscious. It gives way to the main event of Raouf leaving the house to pursue his own journey, introducing many sub-plots as he seeks the help of life coach Taha Ayad (Khaled Al-Sawi) introduced to him by his dentist friend Youssef (Omar Al-Shinnawi). Taha himself is in an unconventional marriage with Nagiba (Samaa Ibrahim), an energy healer. In addition, while alienating Raouf when he decides to spend a few days with her, Raouf’s mother (Hanaa Al-Shorbagi) is trying to push his brother Seif (Hazem Ihab) into marriage.
While the audience awaits Taht Al-Wesaya (In Custody) and Taghyir Gaw (Change of Scenery), starring Mona Zaki and Menna Shalabi, respectively — which won’t screen until the second half of the holy month — Mozakkirat Zog has proved both entertaining and well thought out. Another light comedy about marriage is director Khaled Al-Halafawi’s Kamel Al-Adad (Full House). Based on Mohamed Abdel-Aziz’s 1976 cinematic hit Alam Eyal Eyal (A Children’s World), starring Roushdi Abaza and Samira Ahmed, Kamel Al-Adad stars Dina Al-Sherbini and Sherif Salama as a couple, Laila and Ahmed, who meet as single parents on a Nile Cruise and decide to move in together with seven children from both their previous marriages.
Co-written by Youssr Taher and Rana Abul-Reish, the screenplay does a great job of the resulting predicament, with Laila’s four children resenting having to live with Ahmed’s three and vice versa until the couple are forced to admit that they have failed and recant their decision to move in together as impulsive. Salam’s performance in particular is precise and subtle, with a unique capacity for humour that makes a huge change from his role last year as the grim villain opposite Nelly Karim in Faten Amal Harbi, about a woman subjected to all kinds of abuses by her cruel husband who has the benefit of laws and attitudes controlled by the patriarchy. For her part this year Karim stars in Omla Nadra (Rare breed), directed by Mohamed Al-Adl, which tackles a different aspect of women’s struggle and the personal status law in Upper Egypt.
In Omla Nadra (Rare breed) the screenplay by Medhat Al-Adl portrays a typical, powerful family in Upper Egypt headed by Abdel-Gabbar (Gamal Soliman) and employed in the arms trade. As a consequence of greed within the family, one brother, Massoud (Ahmed Eid), kills another, Belal (Ali Al-Tayeb), for the sake of the land that Abdel-Gabbar recently gifted to his newborn grandson Youssef, whose mother, Nadra, must now escape with her child. Eid’s brilliant performance after years of absence from the screen in a role unlike anything he had played was a pleasant surprise.
Another highlight that falls out of the matrimonial theme this year, Rasheed, stars the very talented Mohamed Mamdouh and Riham Abdel-Ghaffour. Mai Mamdouh’s directorial debut after her work as executive director in Wahet Al-Ghoroub (Sunset Oasis, 2017) and the film Bibo and Beshir (2011), Rasheed is an adaptation of the great French author Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
Featuring an interesting blend of betrayal and revenge following the unjust imprisonment of a man named Rasheed, the drama written by Wessam Sabri follows two parallel lines. The first unfolds in the past while Rasheed — flanked by his two best friends Salah and Amir (Khaled Kamal and Tamer Nabil, respectively) — is planning to marry Asmaa. Rasheed works in a giant company headed by Hajj Fahmi (played by the renowned actor Salah Abdallah) who treats Rasheed like a son and confidante.
The night before Rasheed and Asmaa’s wedding, Amir, who as it turns out is a drug addict, borrows Rasheed’s car. As a result Rasheed is convicted of killing Hajj Fahmi and Hajj Fahmi’s wife as well as stealing a large amount of money. This — the second line — is where Rasheed’s revenge journey begins after he manages to escape from prison and transform his appearance, naming himself Hassan, as he begins to search for Amir as well as his lost son Seif (Hassan Malek) who grew up to be drug dealer with the help of Asmaa when she reappeared as a wealthy, fashionable woman unlike her previous character and personality.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly