Loosely based on the classic 80s film of the same name, Ramadan TV series El Aar ('The Disgrace') tells the story of a struggling family that ultimately succumbs to greed. It’s a modern-day pulp serial, where characters are constantly exposed to temptation and forced to make tough choices.

Part of the fun of watching El Aar is to see how it deviates from the original film. Some of the dramatic alterations are included to stretch the story into a month-long series, while most of the updates are added to inject more relevance into the classic text. Both the original 1982 film and the new version are written by members of the Abu Zaid family. The old script was written by Mahmoud Abu Zaid, while the new serial is the work of his son Ahmed Abu-Zaid. The son-father relationship allowed a great deal of creative freedom for Abu Zaid Junior to take his father’s original material and turn it into a grander saga.

In the new El Aar, there are no drug lords; in fact, the Abdel Sataar family members are all honest working individuals. The father (played by Hassan Hosny) works in the leather business and owns a huge dye shop. His older son, Mokhtar (Shaaban) is a street-smart fellow that dropped out of school to join his dad’s business. Ashraf (Salama), the second son, works in the police force, while the youngest, Saad works as a stock market broker. The youngest of the four is Nora, a sweet girl with a strong sense of integrity.

Everything is fine until the father meets a younger woman named Naama and decides to marry her. The father lets his sons in on his secret but he instructs them to keep the news from their mother. Naama then starts advising the old Abdel Sataar to invest his small fortune in shady operations and the old man adheres. After getting a taste of easy money, he goes ahead and puts all his eggs in one basket by investing in a huge shipment of expired medical supplies.

Then the unthinkable happens, the old made dies from a heart attack and leaves his family in huge debt, and the only way they can get out of this mess is by going ahead with the expired medical supplies deal. It’s at this point that every family member’s true colours show. Mokhtar and Saad take the devil’s route and decide to finish what their father started, while Ashraf the cop, Nora, and the mother take a vow to shun the dirty money.

El Aar asks to what extent people are willing to go for the sake of money, regardless of the means. Ashraf, the honest cop is faced with a tough ultimatum. His only son suffers from a rare heart condition and the only way that he can survive is if he undergoes an expensive operation abroad. At first Ashraf refuses to treat his son with his family’s money, but under the pressure of losing him, Ashraf crumbles and gives in. The lines between what’s right and wrong gets more hazy as the characters become more entangled in crime; and redemption seems less and less of a possibility.

The show has a distinct Egyptian flavour much like its big screen predecessor. Unlike other dramas from the season, the picture isn’t crisp nor is it glossy; instead, it’s ghetto-vibrant and organic, shot using the same Betacams used for Egyptian series in the 90s. The colourful set designs and costume choices also heighten the modern pulp quality of the story, but what truly takes it over the top is the choice of music, from the urgent score filling the soundtrack with cheap thrills to the opening and closing cues sung by shaabi crooner Adham.

El Aar’s players all do a great job on screen and it’s all due to great casting. At first, the casting seems a little odd, but after watching the show and seeing how harmoniously they all work together, it makes sense. The standout is Shaaban, who despite a long history of imbuing his characters with useless sleaze, plays Mokhtar with an infections sense of fun. He’s like the insatiable bad guy that you find yourself rooting for while watching a film.