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."

 

UN Syria peace talks begin in Geneva

Israel to deny Human Rights Watch visas for being ‘biased’

Iraqi forces enter IS-held west Mosul

Suicide bomb attack on rebels kills 51 near Al-Bab

Marrakesh clinches top ranking of African urban life

UN considers Syria sanctions over chemical attacks

Saudi Comic-Con slammed as ‘sin’ in online backlash

Jordanians protest government price hikes

Baghdad coordinated anti-IS airstrikes with Damascus says source

New Hamas Gaza leader makes first public appearance

Palestinian protestors clash with Israeli soldiers in West Bank

Jordanian F-16 crashes in Saudi, pilot survives

Iraqi PM says air force strikes IS targets in Syria

UN slams light sentence for Israeli soldier

Saudi king seeks investment on rare Asia tour

Saudi minister discusses hajj with Iran

136 Turkish diplomats, soldiers seek German asylum since coup

New Hamas ‘strongman’ could spell fresh Israeli conflict

Suicide car bomb kills eight outside Yemen army base

Fired Turkish academics protest ‘unjust’ dismissals

Iraqi forces jovial after Mosul airport entry

Syrian rebels announce capture of flashpoint town from IS

Iraqi forces enter IS-held Mosul airport

Swedish citizen jailed for IS Facebook post

Somalia names new prime minister

Netanyahu backs pardon for Israel soldier who shot Palestinian

UN envoy meets Syrian rivals, hopes of breakthrough slim

Yemeni government forces pin back rebels on coast

Israeli Supreme Court appoints deeply right-wing judges

Hundreds of Australians protest Netanyahu

Yemen rebel fire kills policeman on Saudi border

UN condemns Israel's new West Bank demolition plans

UN envoy says Russia asked Syria to halt bombing during talks

Bahrain arrests 20, approves military trials for civilians

Israel blocks EU lawmakers from Gaza entry

Syrian migrant on trial in Austria over 20 murders

UN says rapes, killings still blight Darfur

Yemen president says Saudi saving $10 bn for reconstruction

Top Yemen commander killed in missile strike

New Somali president says ability to deal with nation's problems 'limited'

Israel lifts ban on basketball team playing in Turkey

Arab League condemns Israeli soldier’s lenient sentence

Turkey lifts ban on Islamic headscarves in army

Israeli ministry orders removal of Haifa ammonia tank

Iraqi forces ready for assault on Mosul airport