Egypt’s silver screen is full of series adopted from previous literary works. Combining the creativity and imagination of a prominent writer with the artistic taste of a director, along with the performance of well-known, charismatic actors, brings out the different strength points of both artistic works.
Last Ramadan, the Egyptian audience was introduced to Wahet El-Ghoroub (The Sunset Oasis) series, adopted from the novel of the same name for outstanding novelist Bahaa’ Taher. The novel won International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in 2008.
Directed by Kamla Abo Zekry, co-written by Mariem Na’om and Hala El-Zaghandy and starring international stars Khaled El-Nabawy and Menna Shalaby, the series smoothly takes audience back in time to the 18th century to live with Mahmoud Abdel Zaher, a police officer who is transferred to the abandoned Siwa oasis, with his Irish wife Catherine after being accused of supporting the revolutionary thoughts of Ahmed Oraby.
Both novel and series perfectly draw the lines of self-struggle, and Mahmoud desperately lives after he was forced to say that Oraby’s revolution against British occupation was only a set of temporary violence actions taken by a frivolous person aiming to set the country on fire. Otherwise, he will be excusted.
Through a chain of self-hatred thoughts, the plot of both artistic works take place, letting readers and viewers be drawn at the world of darkness that takes over a man’s soul as his wife tries to get him out of it.
After being transferred to Siwa, in order to collect taxes from the people who are showed to live without any hospitals, schools, or even proper housing, Mahmoud starts another journey of frustration. As he refuses to use violence against “his own people” as he always describes them, the residents of the closed society of Siwa consider him an outsider and refuse to willingly surrender to the unfair amount of taxes required of them.
Both the novel and series open new gates for the audience to explore Siwa, a neglected part of Egypt, where the close society rarely allows an outsider to get to know their culture and heritage. The art works feature Siwa’s culture, including wedding ceremonies, celebrations, food, and even funerals.
Unlike many similar series, “Wahet El-Ghoroub” portrays the exact same events taking place in the novel without adding any further elements, characters, or plots.
The series marvelously portraits the details of Mahmoud and Cathrine’s relationship in a heart-touching way—starting from the moment they met all the way to the glorious days of happily living together, until the degrading separation they start feeling while the yellowish desert take over their souls.
The script portrays well the self-talk of each character and allows the audience to invade the souls, struggles, and fears of each one on screen. This leads them eventually to personally connect with the characters despite the unfamiliarity with time, place, and living circumstances. Something that was not as clear and connecting in the novel.
No matter how clearly the novel described scenes, it was not as intimate or connecting as the acts showed. The chemistry between El-Nabawy and Shalaby fleshed out their characters very well.
Portraying the details between the couple is not the only thing the series outclasses the novel at. The secondary role of “Malika” is portrayed in a much more significant and detailed fashion that she is in the novel.
Malika, played by Jordanian actress Rakeen Saad, is the nephew of the head of a western tribe in Siwa. The young beautiful woman, who is all about revolting against inherited traditions, is passionate about sculpting statues, which in their culture represents the devil. As Malika fights for her rights to do what she adores the most in life after her husband passes away, she is regularly beaten by her brother.
In the novel, Malika’s role is limited to only a few chapters, resembling women who fight to change the disappointing rituals aggrieving them. One of these rituals are when a man dies leaving a woman behind, she is called “ghoula” (an ogre) and believed to curse anyone who will set their eyes on her. Therefore, “ghoula” is not to see anyone or to leave her room. She is not to even shower for four months and ten days, which is when she will be cured from the curse.
When Malika decides to get out of the house and visits Cathrine, as she is the only one that culturally accepts her, her fate was death, as the broke the ultimate role of Siwa and brought destruction to the oasis.
As for the series, Malika was a main character in it, where there were numerous details of her life and thoughts. The bigger role she was allocated in the series than the one in the novel was a gate for the audience to get inside the traditions and beliefs of the oasis.
Only after watching few episodes of “Wahet El-Ghoroub”, the viscous desert becomes familiar to one’s heart and soul—a feeling that also received limited details in the novel.
As an inseparable part of Siwa’s legacy, the role of Alexander the Great’s death was also the focus of the novel, dedicating the life of Catherine at the oasis in order to figure out his tombs place. Yet, that was not much focus on as much as the culture side on the series.
In the novel, Alexander the Great gets to have a voice to reveal parts of his life at Siwa, including his ruling era and dreams. The written information, according to Bahaa Taher, was taken from authentic historical sources. That eventually allowed readers to invade the political turmoil of two different eras at the same time, something that was hugely missing in the series.
Moreover, featuring the slightest details of each characters led the rhythm of the series to be slow, which leads for some episodes of boredom with slight plot developments.
Focusing on the sociological transfer each character goes through had a greater scope than the general plot, which eventually led to the mid-episodes to be filled with mostly self-talk and emotion.
In the end, the series presents a well-balanced TV show that features human nature and fear, as well as explores a new place rarely seen in media outlets. As for the novel, it marvelously features a historical era in a creative way.