First Published: 2013-06-12

 

Syrian soap opera recreates Damascus in Abu Dhabi desert

 

Traditional Damascene bath comes to life in Emirates, as Syrian actors bustle around in wooden clogs on film set built far away from Syria.

 

Middle East Online

By Lynne AL-NAHHAS - ABU DHABI

‘Damascus Bath’ will be broadcast during Ramadan

A traditional Damascene bath comes to life in the Emirates, as a team of Syrian actors bustle around in wooden clogs on a film set built far away from war-torn Syria.

"Here's the rose water bucket ready with a mix of ginger, cinnamon and lemon," an actress in a traditional off-white dress and red headscarf tells Umm Sakher, wife of the owner of the hammam, or Turkish bath.

The scene is from "Hammam Shami" (Damascus Bath), a Syrian soap opera to be broadcast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in July, and for which the settings have been built for the first time outside Syria.

"I wish this neighbourhood and this hammam had been created in their own natural environment, in Damascus," said set decorator Muhanad Abu Shanab.

The series is a light social comedy set in the 1950s and takes place mainly inside a traditional Turkish bath in an ancient Damascus neighbourhood, reconstructed in the Abu Dhabi desert to avoid the unrest that has left more than 94,000 people dead in Syria since 2011.

Actress Sahar Fawzy, who plays Umm Mwaffaq, a simple woman whose husband has taken a second wife, explains that in the Damascene culture, the hammam was a place for people to socialise.

Men made business deals and women discussed daily life and even found brides for their sons, she said.

Such traditional Damascene soaps, whose popularity surged in past years across the Arab world, have previously always been filmed inside Syria, where many traditional houses, neighbourhoods and hammams have been preserved for decades.

However, the battles between rebels and regime troops have driven producers away from financing the country's once-booming film industry.

"I couldn't hold back my tears" after seeing the set built at an indoor studio in Abu Dhabi, said actress Waha al-Raheb who plays Umm Sakher.

"I felt nostalgic, and in pain over what has happened to my country."

The hammam has been recreated in fine detail, right down to the old copper kettles, colourful Ottoman-era chandeliers, straw stools, the black-and-white brick walls and mosaic marble floors.

Actors and actresses are dressed in traditional Syrian costumes and make a distinctive clacking sound as they walk around the hammam in old wooden clogs.

"The decoration alone was so very real that it made us feel for a while that we were back in Syria and that all our troubles were gone. It was a sweet illusion," said Raheb.

The preparations for the daily show took around four months and all the accessories were shipped in from Damascus.

United Arab Emirates-based Issam al-Awwa, the production manager, said the costs had doubled because of having to film outside Syria.

Around 45 technicians, all brought in from Syria, and some 70 actors and actresses took part in the project. Secondary characters were mostly Syrians living in the Emirates.

Raheb said she moved to Dubai a year ago after "shabiha" (pro-regime thugs) "used to send me threats on Facebook."

The soap aims to "put a smile on people's faces ... while at the same time keeping Syria alive" on the drama scene, she said.

Syrian drama production has plunged since the uprising, from over 40 soap operas produced for Ramadan in 2010 to less than half of that being made now, many outside Syria - in Lebanon and Egypt as well as the Emirates.

Many artists have fled Syria, while some of those opposing the regime have been arrested and others killed over the past two years.

Last month, regime forces briefly arrested prominent actress May Skaf for the second time since she took part in 2012 in a Damascus protest referred to as the "intellectuals' demonstration."

In February, popular comedian Yassin Bakush was killed when a shell hit his car in southern Damascus.

Raheb acknowledges that the series has no bearing on current events but says "no producers are financing anything linked to the Syrian revolt."

"Most producers are linked to regimes which have no interest in seeing the Syrian revolt achieve victory and become a model for the rest of the world," said Raheb, a filmmaker herself.

"But the time will come when this legendary revolt will be written about."

 

Is this the end for the South Sudan government?

Washington easing aid freeze to Cairo

Israel weighs response to Palestinian unity deal

Jordan amends anti-terror law to curb Jihadist threat

Dubai's Emaar posts huge Q1 profit

Armenia leader accuses Ankara of 'utter denial' on genocide

Eight killed in Iraq car bomb attack

Mauritanian president will stand for re-election

France, US mull sanctions against South Sudan

South Sudan leader sacks army chief

Netayahu to Abbas: Does you want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel?

Bahrain expels representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Witnesses in Morsi trial: Hamas and Hezbollah attacked Egypt prisons

Family of detained Al-Jazeera reporter in Egypt call for his release

Bomb targets convoy of Education Minister in north Iraq

After Ervin scandal, Iran Prisons Chief becomes Head of Justice Department

Egypt FM travels to US as Washington relaxes hold on military aid

No Qatar ‘concessions’ on end of dispute with fellow Gulf states

US diplomat visits Libya amid political upheaval

Blair calls on West to combat ‘growing’ danger of Islamist extremism

Jarba asks Saudi Arabia to increase support for Syria rebels

Better late than never: Erdogan offers condolences over mass WWI killings of Armenians

Hezbollah veto dashes Geagea dreams of presidency

UN aid chiefs make impassionate call for Syria access

Police brigadier general killed in Cairo bomb attack

11 new MERS infections registered in Saudi

EU denounces Syria plans for June 3 election

Iran envoy row fails to make headway at UN

Amnesty: Qatar fails to protect domestic workers

US will deliver 10 Apache choppers to Egypt to counter terrorism

US expresses horror at South Sudan violence

Egypt's next president will have to deal with frustrated workers

Rival Palestinian leaders agree on national unity govt

Jumblatt backs lawmaker Henri Helou for Lebanon presidency

Global chemical watchdog: Syria weapons handover at 86.5 percent

Kerry ‘prefers’ Cold War-like situation to current complex challenges

Israel to call up Christian Arabs for military service

Egypt prosecutors submit new evidence in Jazeera trial

Families of Iran prisoners break silence over abuses at notorious Evin

Lebanon sends rare aid to its territory in Syria

Iran divorce rate increases amid slow population growth

Suspected militant attacks kill four Yemen officers in two days

Distrust casts shadow over South Kordofan peace talks

Ali Tarhuni heads Libya constituent assembly

Washington revisits story of Syria chemical weapons