What to watch this Ramadan season

We asked a real insider in the Gulf, Bahraini filmmaker Ali Ali to give us his top picks for this Ramadan TV season.
What to watch this Ramadan season

We asked Ali Ali, a celebrated filmmaker from Bahrain, to give us insight into his favourite shows for Ramadan 2022. Some he's watched already, some he admits to having on his to-view list but all are keepers.

"Ramadan is extra generous this year, women's actors are shining and women’s characters and creators are ROCKING. Women characters in Ramadan shows are not limited to protagonist’s characters on the screen. Directors and screenwriters join this race with names that are much awaited among their fans," Ali told us. He names Kamla Abou Zekry, the Egyptian filmmaker with whom our Managing Editor E. Nina Rothe shared the Short Film Competition jury duties at the 2021 El Gouna Film Festival. She's all about women's rights and a cool woman all around so we agree wholeheartedly. And she happens to have a series on this season, starring the gorgeous Menna Shalabi, also a favourite of ours since meeting her in Gouna this past year.

Betlou' Al-Rouh is the name of their joint venture and Ali helps us decode it: "I could translate it into English “Soul Rising” and among the many Zekri’s fans it is considered to be on their Ramadan waiting list. The TV series is postponed till mid-of Ramadan so we are staying tuned dear Kamla. It is a must," because of Shalabi of course too.

Ahlam Saeeda ("Sweet Dreams") is a series written by Hala Khalil and starring the legendary Yousra as a comedic, fun but also challenging character as Ali writes, continuing "her character loses one of her senses while living alone. Technically, Yousra is a well-established actress. However, like many of her colleagues, I would assume would be so attracted to playing such a role. And although we may have seen Yousra 100 of times in different roles; this one offers new insight. So, grab your sahour, remote control and turn on Happy Dreams." The series also stars Ghada Adel, who was introduced to audiences by iconic Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah in Minawara Be Ahlaha.

Nelly Karim stars in Faten Amal Harbi which has been stirring controversy in the last few days regarding the issues it raises around the Personal Status Law in Egypt, and the problems faced by women after divorce. Ali explains the plot premise for us: "Right from the first episode, Faten celebrates an event with her close friends. This celebration hints to be a small wedding party. However, that is not the case. Although Faten is wearing a white gown, she is getting ready to celebrate her divorce from an abusive husband, played bravely by actor Sherif Salama. Salama is bold enough to offer his large fan audience this new “monstrous” character. And I have read some hate comments by viewers on Instagram directed at the actor as a result. This character shall remain with people for decades," for better or for worse.

Ali also points to the power of cinema by explaining: "According to scriptwriter Ibrahim Isa, who writes TV for the first time, the name of the show and its main character played by Nelly Karim are inspired by three aspects, one being the name ‘Faten’ which is influenced by the great actress Faten Hamama. In 1975, Faten Hamama played a powerful character in her film I Want a Solution, where she was fighting for her rights to get divorced. This film is not just like any film, because it actually helped in changing women’s civil laws in Egypt. Yes, Cinema, with capital C achieved that!" The other two inspirations include "the middle name of the character Faten -- ‘Amal’ -- means ‘Hope’ in English. In an interview with presenter Lameese Al Hadidi, Issa stated that Amal is inspired by the Greek-influenced Egyptian poet Amal Dongol," also according to Ali. And of course, the literal meaning of the term 'Harbi' is military and Issa indicated that Faten will continue to fight for her rights.

From Al Haram Street to has also been stirring up controversies, especially in Kuwait where activists launched the hashtag “We reject immorality and immorality series." The series was written by Heba Mishari Hamada, is directed by Al-Muthanna Sobh, and stars Hoda Hussein, Khaled Al-Buraiki, Nour Al-Ghandour, Laila Abdullah, Maram Al-Balushi, Ahmed Iraj, Abdulmohsen Al-Qaffas, Lulwa Al-Mulla, Farah Al-Sarraf, Muhammad Al-Ramadan, Khaled Al-Shaer, Nour Al-Sheikh, Iman. Al-Husseini, Nasser Al-Dosari.

Ali gives us his thoughts: "In a controversial story, Heba Meshari Hamada keeps Khaliji audience engaged with a complicated plot. Directed by the Palestinian/Syrian Almuthana Subh, From Al Haram Street to -- or if I could translate it into English “From the Pyramids Street to” -- is another stand out TV series. The Kuwaiti-based actress Hoda Hussein has over 40+ years experience of being on TV. She proudly drops this number during many interviews. However, the well experienced Hoda or ‘Abla’ as her character is called, shocks her fans with an outstanding performance. **spoilers ahead -- Abla is confronted by the death of one of her sons. In our real world of the Arabian Gulf, social media was buzzing that night, as people exchanged trending posts over the death scene where Hoda screams out her soul after seeing her son goes away. Her voice changes like we have never heard it before."

Ali also tries to explain what could have lead to the uproar regarding this series: "Hoda plays a strong role as an obstetrician and gynecologist and an even tougher mother to her sons. The screenwriter emphasizes on polygamous cases in this family. And in some scenes she supports her view by religious contexts. Moreover, women in this story continue to fight for their rights. Although the main character Abla is shown to be a manipulative mother, she is doing her best to protect her family. 

"On the other hand, the screenwriter Heba Hamada, suggests that one of Abla’s sons Zuhair has tendencies to feminism. Despite his soft, girly attitude, he still married and shares pillow talk with his beautiful wife. They even share face cream before going to sleep. This character created ‘boom talk’ on social media and even in majlis’s conversations (family gathering places). This antagonist role as seen so far is played by Ahmed Iraj.

"I would like to ask Heba Hamada if she thinks that the timing to portray an antagonistic, ‘gayish’ character is right at the moment? Enormous numbers of audiences dislike Zuhair so far. At a time when LGBTQ+ communities in MENA region are living with daily discrimination, and while she is giving voice to discriminated women, I wish she had included another minority character to be empathized and create balance in his arc.     

"And for a surprise coming soon -- as the title of the show suggests Al Haram Street is well-known for its belly dancing night clubs. Dr. Abla wants an Egyptian belly dancer to perform during her son’s wedding. The belly dancer role is played by Kuwaiti-based Noor Ghandour, of Egyptian descent. Will the belly dancer ever go back home? This is yet to be revealed in the upcoming episodes."

Happy watching and stay tuned for more recommendations.

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