Monday, April 27, 2009

Jodhaa Akbar : far away form the Mediterranean sea

“Hindi movie”: used since a long time in a very pejorative way, will the expression take a very different meaning in the Arab world after the unprecedented success of the last serial aired by the Middle-East Broadcasting Channel?

The Dubai based and Saudi-financed channel has hit new record audience with Akbar Jodhaa, its hindi saga. Based on historical facts, it relates the story of Akbar, the muslim Moghol emperor, and Jodhha, his hindi wife, who remained an everlasting example of tolerance.

Questions raised in the Arab world after such a success: what is the reason for the lack of such works in the Arab world? If all the TV blockbuster are to be dubbed from Turkish or Hindi into Arabic, what is the future for the local productions?

But did MBC take a real risk airing a dubbed Hindi serial? Adding to the fact that a large number of Hindi speaking people already live there, many Arabs from the Gulf countries feel at ease with the cultures of the Indian Subcontinent, a place where they very often travel to for business or leisure.

At the time of the difficult launch of the ill-fated Mediterranean Union, it is worth seeing that this part of the Arab world has already started to look East, far away from the Mediterranean shores.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Images of War and War of Images in the Shiite Crescent

Since King Abdallah II’s famous declaration about the threat of the Shiite crescent, tensions become more obvious day after day. After Morocco broke its diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran last March, it is Egypt’s turn to denounce Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah.

The coming fights and the secrets thoughts of the political scene could easily find in the “war of images” a very fertile ground as the two main branches of Islam do not have exactly the same doctrine about the question of the representation of human faces.

In modern times, sunnism usually proscribes it when shiism shows a more flexible position. Since the XIXth century at least, Shiite artists commonly represent Muhammad’s cousin, Ali, and his two sons, Husayn and Hasan.

Because of this divergence about the question of representation, the making of Asbat, a kuwaiti financed TV serial about the first Shiites “martyrs”, has created a lot of opposition from various local authorities, especially in Syria where the work is due to be filmed.

Al-Buti, a well-known local imam, has said for instance that such a project was a very first step toward the representation of the prophet Muhammad himself. Something which is not totally unlikely regarding the making of various Iranian movies like the last Jesus, the spirit of God, a film directed by Nader Talebzadeh.

For his defence, Al-Anzi, the Kuwaiti producer, explained that the TV serial describes a period when Islam was united. He also said that distinguished religious authorities do not condemn the use of figurative images, including those of the prophets.

He could have said that even in Saudi Arabia, land of the Wahhabis who profess the more restrictive doctrine on the subject of representation, children books use such pictures, for pedagogical purposes, and that it has been a long time that royal features grace the country bank notes.

But, certainly, all Saudi kings are not holy people.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mahmud Darwish : the story of an heritage

As they have been told by Mahmud Darwish that he had a collection of poems almost ready to be published, some of his friends looked in his papers for those works, and found different pieces.

Regarding their publication, some thought they could publish a selection of the works who looked finished or almost but Elias Khury, the famous Lebanese novelist and critic, convinced them to publish everything, arguing that nobody could take Darwish’s place and choose for him what was to be published or not. It was also suggested to entitle the book “The Last Poems” instead of “The Last Collection”, in order to emphasize the different character of this last publication.

But problems appeared when Riyad El-Rayyes, Darwish’s exclusive publisher since the 1990’s, printed the book, أريد لهذه القصيدة ان تنتهي (I don’t want this poem to end) which was distributed with a little booklet, written by Elias Khury, explaining the founding of those poems and the circumstances of the publication.

Various articles published in the Arab press, sometimes by well-known poets, have mentioned quite an amount of mistakes in Darwish’s last publication, especially at the rhythmical level. Something people could notice as the Palestinian poet used to write a “cadenced poetry,” in a way opened in the 1950’ in Iraq, which only follows some of the rhythmical laws of the classical Arabic versification.

Following a bitter exchange in the press of justifications and renewed critics, the publisher, Riyad El-Rayyes, publicly declared that he could not be considered responsible of such failure, as he could not see the original manuscript as he used to do when Mahmud Darwish was alive. It was then Elias Khury’s fault, who did not give him access to the original text and who had insisted very much in order to have his own text, explaining the founding of the poems, published as a preface or a postface, something which never occurred during Darwish’s life and that Rayyes totally refused.

Obviously, the real question is that of Mahmud Darwish’s symbolical heritage, and there are people who think that Elias Khury tried to sing his own praise and at least has given the impression that he was willing to do so.

The various episodes of this heritage story must be only mentioned because they show how terrible is the lack of some real great names on today’s Arabic cultural stage. Such a desire for great cultural icons makes thus natural the project that Fares Ibrahim announced to the press some months ago: after Umm Kulthum, Ismahane and Nizar Kabbani, this famous Syrian producer of TV serial wants to make a TV novella based on Mahmud Darwish’s life…

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lebanon: in the area, first of all!

Once again, political ads invade Beirut streets and TV screens. Three months before the coming elections, people are reminded that Freedom is in their hands according to a dubious motto: Lebanon first! Criticised in the daily Al-Akhbar, the advertising campaign depicts its political opponents as people not only radically wrong but even dangerous. According with the political grammar of today’s Arabic, those “localist” ads use “pure” vernacular Lebanese (when more “arabist” political trends are prone to use a more classical wording).

Once again, it is not difficult to find who stays behind those ads and billboards: the graphic composition, the red, white and green colors, the typographic composition were already used for previous campaigns like Independence05 or I love life… (see previous posts 1 and 2.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that the famous Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency officially denies to have played any role in this new campaign: even those who speak out for "Lebanon first" do not forget that there are regional realities that must be respected.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.