Thursday, June 10, 2010

Goodbye Osama Anwar Okasha

I was asked after Osama Anwar Okasha's death if my blog was named after him. It's not. Okasha is my mom's family name but I always told mommy how I wished he'd be one of her relatives.

This is late, it's very late actually but I'm not going to let that be an excuse not to do it like many things in my life!It's been almost a month now since the death of one of Egypt's and the Arab world's most important and influential television writers. But that's not why I'm writing this.

I'm writing this tribute to Osama Anwar Okasha because he's helped shape my life with his work and not in the cheesy sense of 'the big message and inspiring a generation'(even though he did do that and it's not cheesy at all) .. What's very special about my relationship with the late Mr.Okasha was that his influence on me started long before I became inspired by him and began to understand his influence as a writer and historian and how important his work is.

Oh and this is in no way an attempt on my part to analyse his work and technique it's not my place and I'm not equipped to do it. This is about a writer whose characters came to life right in front of me for so many years. I loved some, hated many,fell in love with a handful and remained loyal to the man behind them.

Ramadan and the sound of my childhood

El Shahd Wel Demoo' Intro

Osama Anwar Oksaha had become synonymous with many things for me over the years but first and foremost he was synonymous with Ramadan. Among the many sounds of my childhood the intros to his TV series which mainly aired in the holy month remain engraved in my memory and associated with family gatherings and after-Ifatr teas and sweets. His series brought families together around TV sets to watch his characters live their lives.

El Shahd Wel Domoo', Layaly El Helmeya, Ana Wenta We baba Fel Mish Mish, El Raya EL Bedaa, Dameer Abla Hekmat, Arabisque, Zizinya and many others were the staples of Ramadan and companions of my youth. Even though I caught up late on some of them after we came back from the US they remain part of me.

By no means do I intend to narrow him down to this list and the effect they had on me, but this is how he came into my life and many other millions of lives; in our homes, through our televosion sets. He came into our lives with the struggles of Zeinab in El Shahd Wel Domoo,through the eternal animosity between Seleem El Badry and Suleiman Ghanem in Layaly EL Helmeya that for the years of it's existence remained amicable and amusing. He came into out lives with Ali and Zuhra's epic love story in the same series and through the fallen hero that is Hassan Arabisque.

He dared to challenge TV tradition by presenting 2 seaons (parts) of El Shahd Wel Domoo' when it was unheard of and 5 whole seasons of Layali El Helmya. He confused and baffled audiences and critics alike with his quirky and innovative Ana Wenta We Baba Fel Mish Mish, changing the shape of Arabic TV drama and discussing everything from corruption to the freedom of press.

Ana Wenta We Baba Fel Mish Mish Intro

He stole our hearts and minds completely when he took us to school with Dameer Abla Hekmat with the legendary Faten Hamama hitting it right in the head with a question about why education in Egypt is in the dire state it is.Is it the lack of educational facilities or the lack of human resources or both? (Twenty years later the question remains unanswered and Egyptian education goes from bad to worse..That is another blog post!)

He managed to transform Sanaa Gameel into the notorious Fada El Me'addawy in El Raya El Beda where in the end of the last episode I was so ready to go out and join the sit-in in front of Dr.Abulghar's villa in Alexandria to save it!

El Raya El Beda clip

This is why, in my view, Osama Anwar Okasha will remain alive; because his characters are. They're real and alive because they were real and alive in Okasha's mind when he wrote them. Everyone had a story that was intricately related to the stroy of another that was all linked in the end to the story of a country ..told by those who loved and lived her.

Mommy and Layaly El Helmeya

Layaly EL Helmeya Intro

I once asked my mom why she,an avid TV hater and despiser, was a keen follower to Layaly El Helmeya and she said "because Osama Anwar Okasha writes life, when you watch you feel you're watching people's lives, you feel they are real." Only he could manage to get my mom away from her books and lecture preparations. He'd also managed to get conversations between me and mommy started on so many things starting with my questions as a youngster on why the King was bad and why the July 23rd revolution was good and why everyone loved Gamal Abdel Nasser so much and why Zuhra was so cruel to her mom when she grew up and what she'd suffered and why I should be grateful for mine and why Tawfiq El Badry was mommy's favourite character and what was so noble about him.

The other reason why Layaly El Helmeya in particular is so special to me is that I, quite literally, grew up with it. The series started in the mid eighties when I was a child and ended in the mid nineties when I was a teenager. Through the years the characters changed and grew and so did I ...How can you not connect with that? How can that not be part of who you are!


Zizinya Outro

The other major reason why Mr.Okasha holds a special spot in my heart is his love for my home town Alexandria. I fall in love with it over and over and over again when I see it through his eyes and I live in it with his characters. I get tears in my eyes everytime I hear the outro to Zizinya and remember Ramadan nights watching the series and listening to that song in the end; how it felt, where I was and man oh man how things have changed sisnce then!

There's so much I still haven't grasped in Mr.Okasha's work, a- because I don't see it often enough and b-because when I do see it I watch it with a sentimental nostalgic eye. I think one of my missions should be finding his work on DVD and watching it closely.

Okasha was an immaculate historical dramatist and a writer of the highest calibre some call him the Naguib Mahfouz of televesion and it's true; both the men's charachets are so alive you can smell them. Their dialogues ring so true you could swear someone you know had said that before! Okasha has managed to create a niche in Arabic television drama I have yet to see someone else fill.

He always had an eye on our past and was keen for us to understand and learn from it. He was constantly critical of the present and ever so worried about the future. Okasha was desperately in love with Egypt and I think it's safe to say that over the years Egypt grew desperately in love with him.


Ola said...

Wow, I like what you wrote very much & I was very much touched with the emotional flood in your words when you talked about Alexandria, Egypt & your mother:)
And now, I need to see you right now!! May be I can wait for a while till you come here!1 By the way, how often do you come here? Every summer or what?
Allah yer7amo & may GOD bless you and keep your very sweet memories:)

Anonymous said...

Awesome Work hunn,i never knew u had this beautiful blog befor,Also i never thought that u have the ability to write in this proffessional way,you're like spilling all of your thoughts on papers in a very intresting way,begad i really loved reading it and owuld love to read more and more of your thoughts ...
Please let me updated ..

N.B : The Intros of the old sitcoms threw me waaay baack when i was a child and i loved that ;)

Zeyad El-Deeb
a.k.a XeeK

Anonymous said...

U must be my age our memories are identical! But iam from cairo and he influenced everything in my life . I thought no1 could understand how i felt at his death but you proved me wrong. Thankyou.

Okasha's Kid said...

Hey Anonymous! (not you xeek I know exactly who you are!)

Thanks so much for your comment. You made my day in a way you can't imagine, it's a weird feeling knowing that someone you don't know shares your most intimate memories!

I'm glad you liked the blog and thanks for your kind words.