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."

 

Brexit vote lays bare depth of division across Britain

US-backed Syria fighters edge further into ISIS border hub

Tunisia flaunts seaside security to bring back tourists

Car bomb kills four civilians in Libya's Benghazi

Iran cracks down on ‘Western culture’ of canine ownership

Young Britons vent anger at grey Brexit vote

Russia planes pound Aleppo as Syria regime forces closes in

Britain and EU: A fraught divorce

Libya govt. forces repel ISIS counterattack in Sirte

Oil slides on British referendum result

Crashed EgyptAir black boxes to go to France for repairs

5,000 migrants rescued from rubber dinghies in Mediterranean

Britain votes to break away from EU, PM resigns

Turkey acquits British academic over 'terror propaganda' charges

24 jailed in Bahrain for forming IS cell

Iraq commander says forces control over 80% of Fallujah

Israel sentences 4 Palestinians to life

Turkey in new quest to patch up with regional foes

Defiant Bahrain moves to dissolve opposition bloc

Kurdish-Arab forces push into IS Syria bastion of Manbij

Yemen govt says rebels must withdraw before any transition

Turkey confirms new accession talks with EU

Saudi suspect found dead after gunfight in Shiite town

Suspended Kuwait sues IOC for damages

Erdogan lashes out at EU treatment of Turkey

UN Chief, Saudi prince discuss situation in Yemen

Turkey blocks visit of German delegation to Incirlik air base

Trump goes on blistering offensive against Clinton

EU negotiators endorse new border force proposal

Head of EU parliament hopes to arrange meeting of Israeli, Palestinian leaders

Turkish prosecutors demand 14 years for activists

Final push for votes as EU leaders warn over Brexit

Egypt government appeals court block on islands’ transfer to Saudis

Heat, long fasting days take their toll on Cairo residents

Assad names Imad Khamis as new Prime Minister

Turkey wants Britain to stay in EU 'under any circumstances'

EU to open new membership talks with Turkey

Turkey arrests 3 IS suspects over 'LGBT rally plot'

Yemen rebels say consensus president crucial for peace deal

Fallujah 'almost cleared' of ISIS jihadists

Dawn prayers stoke fears for Turkey's Hagia Sophia

Turkish FM says normalisation deal depends on Israel

25 civilians killed in air raids on Syria’s Raqa

UN urges international community to aid civilians who fled Fallujah

UN envoy proposes roadmap for Yemen peace