Al Shaware’ Al Khalfeya: Nostalgic Ramadan TV Drama
Gamal SuleimanJehan Fadl...
Gamal Abdel Hamid
Period dramas are a staple of the Ramadan
TV buffet. Unfortunately, few have been convincing in their ability to capture
all the subtle nuances of the era that they are set in. In fact, very few have been
able to get the costumes and hair-do’s right let alone subtleties. However, Al Shaware’ Al Khalfeya (the Back Streets) excels at
offering a comprehensive historical package: the costumes, the hair, the set
décor, even the manner of speaking and the golden-era expressions.
Based on the
novel of the same name by Abdel Rahman El Sharkawy, it’s clear that the
production budget spared no expense. Starring Layla Elwi and Syrian import
Gamal Suleiman, Al Shaware’ Al Khalfeya is
set in 1940s Cairo during the British colonisation, just as public opinion was
increasingly calling for independence. The series focuses on a
group of neighbours, whose lives intertwine on several
levels; some in deeper ways than others.
What is heart-warming about Al Shaware’ Al Khalfeya is how it
captures the traits of the time. So much emphasis was placed on public image
that taboos were approached behind closed doors often far away from the home;
lest any of the neighbours get a whiff of scandal.
The main plotline is that of the unspoken love
story between Soaad (Elwi), a widowed mother of two, and her neighbour Shokri
Beh (Suleiman), a widowed father of two and military officer. Sustaining social
decorum in public with the appropriate ‘ya hanem’ and ‘ya beh’, the two often
steal fleeting moments on the building staircase at night. Love is never
declared in these moments, rather veiled words and ambiguous glances hint at
the great affection that they harbour for one another.
Al Khalfeya summons an immense feeling of nostalgia
through a brilliantly executed set décor, making every character’s apartment
seem like your grandma’s house. Legendary TV director Gamal Abdel Hamid was able
to capture and convey a sense of quiet desperation that many of the characters
live in due to the restraints and social oppression of the time, against a
backdrop of political oppression and British colonisation.
Although not all of
the characters have depth, many of them only expose to us what they would
have in public at the time. The character of Shokri Beh seems to be the most
human, the most flawed. Presenting himself as a correct and upstanding man,
Shokri Beh indulges in private parties at a rich heiress’s house, keeping it a
secret from his daughters and the rest of the people in his life.
Al Khalfeya may not have the most engaging plot line
or the strongest performances, but it is pretty to look at so to speak, and
relies greatly on the sentimentality of the viewer. It’s a warm trip down
nostalgia lane, strongly reminiscent of the old black and white films of
Egypt’s golden era of cinema. Even the colour correction done in the post
production, known in the industry as ‘telescening’, gives the show an old hue