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Vertigo: Highly Promising Ramadan Thriller
Sabry stars as Fareeda, a photographer who witnesses a hitman murder one business tycoon and seriously injure another in a bar named Vertigo in which two of her friends, both of whom were killed in the attack, worked. Armed with photographs of the assassin, Fareeda tries to find out the identity of both the killer and the people who ordered the hit without exposing herself and her sister Fawzeyya (El Sibai) to their wrath. She becomes entangled in a web of filth and corruption that spreads far higher and wider than she ever thought possible; a web that includes not only business types but politicians, journalists and artists as well.
We’re kind of loving Vertigo in a way that we previously thought impossible for a Ramadan TV show. While most of the shows this year look nothing like the serials of yore when it comes to production design and camera work, Vertigo goes the extra mile. The score is one of the first things that pops out at you and while it can occasionally be slightly overwrought, with it’s cold, electronic pulses it’s unlike anything you’d associate with Egyptian TV and goes perfectly with the show. But the really great thing about Vertigo is that it in no way feels like an American knock off. The show doesn’t tow the line between Egyptian and American styles so much as it integrates them beautifully. It occupies this sweet spot where everything is aspirational and TV glossy without veering into the ridiculous. Both wealth and poverty look glamorous without being offensive or obscene and the actors all look like normal people - just prettier, shinier.
At the centre of the show is not the web that Fareeda gets caught up in but the friendship between her and her best friend and co-worker Omar (El Shafei). Fingers crossed that their relationship stays platonic throughout the season, but even if they do become romantically entangled later on - as is becoming more and more likely with every passing episode and with each sigh from Omar about how lonely he is - we’re happy that we’re getting to see what looks like a gloriously real and strong friendship between a guy and a girl. El Shafei, in addition to being adorable, provides most of the show’s humour.
While the very talented Sabry is the undisputed star of the show, she’s surrounded by quite a vast and stellar supporting cast that includes, among others, El Lozy and Hatem as a journalist couple working at rival newspapers. As the episodes pass the story grows in scope very organically and the web of corruption becomes more intricate. The number of characters swells and the connections between them grow more obvious. But because the characters are so interesting and so diverse, the story acquires a very personal and intimate vibe despite being one that encompasses a huge swath of society.
Although it will inevitably attract criticism as an adaptation of Ahmed Murad’s book, as a standalone TV show it’s given us more than enough reason to be optimistic and keep watching. We’re hooked.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
Two weeks after he throws a burglar out of his house, Ali (El Sherif), a lawyer, gets a phone call from an unknown number telling him that he’s won a prize of a hundred grand; a sum that would help him keep his house out of the bank’s clutches. He goes to the specified address to find a hooker in a flat pulling a gun on him and demanding his car keys. Not one to lie down without a fight, Ali attempts to wrestle the gun away from her leading to her accidental death. In shock, he wipes the gun down and flees the premises.
His problems really start the next morning, though. An envelope full of pictures of him standing next to the body gets delivered to his house as the beginning of the mystery caller’s blackmail campaign. With problems piling up at home and at work, Ali attempts to find out the identity of the caller who somehow seems to have him under constant surveillance.
Raqam Maghool has everything you’d want in a thriller; characters you care about, a constant state of tension, a level of suspense that keeps climbing, an awesome score and not one character that you can unequivocally single out as innocent. However, it has issues with the plotting - issues that might be ironed out as the series progresses, but ones that create a certain sense of dissatisfaction nonetheless.
Fingers are frequently pointed at characters behaving suspiciously - people that could be tied to the unknown caller. The suspense rises and you’re absolutely certain that this thread will add in some way to the overall story and that'll lead Ali in the right direction at the very least. However, what usually happens is that after a lengthy amount of time, the cause for suspicion is disproved and Ali’s back to square one again. The show is ace at keeping you guessing, but the story doesn’t make any headway and Ali doesn’t get any closer to finding out anything about the caller. There aren’t even any links between the various suspicious activities that pique Ali’s interest; they just slip away and it’s rather anticlimactic.
The show has plenty of positive points though, chief amongst them being the score, which really sets the mood and highlights the dynamic camera work. El Sherif is a great lead as a guy under an inordinate amount of stress yet forced to keep it all in due, for both his and his family’s safety, as well as living up to what society expects men to be capable of. He and Adel make a highly believable couple in a relationship fraught with tension due to their differing backgrounds, turning Adel’s role into something far more interesting than your typical wife/girlfriend.
Raqam Maghool has a lot of things going for it, here’s to hoping that our quibble with the story gets sorted out soon.