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 bid to seize Kobane stalls amid air strikes

Six Tunisians killed in police-gunmen standoff

Iraq MPs divide over Kurds deployment to aid Kobane

Suspicious envelopes to consulates in Istanbul prompt alert

Morocco fossils: A rare and vanishing treasure

Germany offers to help Armenia forge peace with Turkey

Libya wakes up from ‘Dubai dream’ to face Somalia-like ‘failed state’

South Yemen separatists vow to intensify secession protests

Relatives of Iraq massacre victims: Blackwater guards should be killed

Ghannouchi makes it clear to Tunisia: It’s either political Islam or Daesh!

Deadly clashes erupt after army raid in northern Lebanon

200 Iraqi Kurd fighters to travel through Turkey to Kobane

Coalition strikes in Syria eliminate more than 500 jihadists in one month

Ahead of elections, new clashes remind Tunisia of need to fight terror

Saudi Arabia jails mothers for preparing sons to wage jihad

Jury finds Blackwater guards guilty of 2007 'massacre' in Iraq

Iraq Kurds approve reinforcements for Kobane

Israel classifies car crash as ‘hit and run terror attack’

Turkish woman arrested for stepping on Koran

Erdogan criticises US for airdrops on Kobane

Iraq schools provide shelter but late to open for classes

Syria air force shoots down two of three 'IS warplanes'

Egypt court rules on ‘Nasr City terror cell’

Fire from Egypt wounds two Israeli soldiers near border

By hook or by crook, settlers notch up property gains in East Jerusalem

Turkey envoy meets leader of parallel government in Libya

Israel arrests seven Palestinian fishermen off northern Gaza

Khamenei to Abadi: Iraq can beat 'Islamic State' without foreign troops

Saudi special court rules in cases of riots and terrorism

Libya army scores small victory in Benghazi

Only in Libya: Government calls for civil disobedience

Kasserine reaps bitter harvest from Tunisia revolution: Poverty and terrorism

Iraq Kurds set to vote on deployment of Peshmerga forces to Syria

Islamic State ‘share in US weapons’ embarrasses Pentagon

Alderton: Morocco unrivalled business gateway to sub-Saharan Africa

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane