Khaleeji TV: Money And Heartbreaks| MENAFN.COM

Monday, 06 February 2023 07:14 GMT

Khaleeji TV: Money And Heartbreaks

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Peninsula

Dr. Khawla Al Marri

Men Sharea Al Haram Ela (2022)
It is safe to say that television is one of the inventions that changed the world, opening our eyes to a vast array of content, entertainment, news, drama and our perspective on life. Television is the glue that keeps people entertained from the comfort of their own home bringing families together, discussing topics of concern, showcasing humor, and exciting people with genres of thrill, fear and drama. Today, in the fast-paced and constantly connected 21st century life that we live, society has no concept with a world without television, and to that end, one that is only equipped with a handful of channels. However, the local television channels that once introduced storytelling to generations and dominated airtime, are now sadly considered a 'recent history', with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime easily becoming the go-to platforms revolutionizing the way we connect, consider, and communicate with content created for the sole purpose of streaming.

In the Arab Gulf region, the term used to refer to people who live in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as the Gulf, a hyperlocal culture, known locally as Khaleeji, combines aspects of identity that is different compared to other parts of the Arab world. Localized characteritsics such as dialect, music, societal formations, ways of life, and even dilemas found themselves becoming the storylines for television soap operas. In the mid-sixties, during the formation of Khaleeji Television, writers and directors were inspired by international (and predominantly Western) novels such as Pride and Prejudice (1813), Wuthering Heights (1847), A Thousand And One Nights (1888), and Doctor Zhivago (1957). Using these historical love stories, Arab directors focused on translating and repurposing these stories to create a more localized narrative, one that would attract local audiences, whether visually, narratively, or even musically.

Alhadba (1970)
The sixties and seventies were a period of tremendous change and modernity in the Khaleej. With the high exposure of Western and Egyptian television series in visionary writers decided to add the word thrill to their portfolio of entertainment options, bringing topics to the fore that would challenge their audiences' and enabling the exploration of different genres. Alhadba (1970), which translates to the hunchback, was a Kuwaiti television series that introduced audiences to the legendary actress Hayat Alfahad. The story is an adaptation of the historical novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) by French author Victor Hugo. The show became an important classical thriller in Kuwait television's history.

One of the key challenges for the director was finding the right actress to play the role of Deeba, the hunchback. Every actress wanted to be exceedingly feminine and adorned. Playing the role of the hunchback was unattractive. At the time, actors and actresses alike wanted to showcase an image that was aspirational, they were concerned with their physical appearance and wanted to look their best at all times. Yet, Kuwaiti actress Hayat Alfahad courageously embraced the idea of putting physical appearance aside and playing one of the most difficult roles that was given to her throughout her career history.

Although embracing difficult storylines was seldom, in the eighties, directors started exploring stories about psychiatric institutions and attempted to shine light on narratives that explored the topic of mental health. Back then, there was a mystery surrounding such topics and some people considered these attempts to be taboo. Whilst such storylines dominated international films and television shows, such topics were not often discussed openly locally.

Scenes from Ala Aldonya Alsalam (1987)
Ala Aldonya Alsalam (1987), which can be translated as a 'Hopeless World', is an exception, however. This comedy sitcom starred two sisters, Mabrouka and Mahdhodha, who were admitted to a medical institution by their uncle as a means of silencing them so he could unlawfully claim the inheritance from their deceased parents. Their uncle's betrayal along with his wife's cruelty destroyed the sisters' ability to love, be loved or simply find happiness in the world. After a successful escape plan from the hospital and using the little skills they had, Mabrouka and Mahdhodha decide to look for a job to earn a decent living while hiding their background history from their employer. The sitcom follows the two characters in their escape journey where they move from one job to another and meet new friends and new encroaching enemies. Critics argue that it highlighted a deeper topic of corruption that occurs in healthcare systems. It also shone light on the complex nature of families and helped build empathy for victims who experience such abuse. This show is a key example of what we consider today as Khaleeji drama i.e., a powerful show that enables families to have intellectual conversations at the dinner table regarding various family complications.

Men Sharea Al Haram Ela (2022)
Throughout the years, Arab writers were keen to produce stories that were relatable to real life however the nature of the stories soon began to change which ultimately transforming the format of dramas allowing characters to seem shallow or vague. In recent years, abusive language and violence against women has become a stable of Khaleeji mainstream drama. Women physically and mentally abused and traumatized are some of the examples that are presented on screen today. This violence against women content created negative effect on young viewers through dispersing aggressive and the obsession with violence.

In addition to violence, Khaleeji drama are now mostly based on destructive avarice caused by greed, destroying the lives of others, betrayal and materialism to its fullest. Critics do agree that there are few powerful modern day Khaleeji television series that are considered masterpieces where audiences get to see how diversity and complex conflicts between humans come in play using a creative approach.

Understanding the complexities of Arab television is difficult. There have been few attempts to discuss this topic by way of exhibitions that showcase the deep history of this media, whilst also proving opportunities of audiences to latch on to memorable moments, whether through props, costume, music, or their favourite scenes. Recently, Doha Film Institute organized the Intaj exhibition that elegantly showcased the history of Qatar's involvement within the film, television, and theatre domains. A more recent attempt is the latest exhibition at The Media Majlis at Northwestern University in Qatar called The World is Watching Musalsalat, which explores the impacts of serial television dramas produced in the Arab world. The exhibition is open to the public from January 18 – May 13, 2023.

The writer is a historical and cultural researcher based in Qatar. She is the author of Heroes and Villains: A Conversation Between Evil and Good in the Middle East (2019), and Interview with A Collector: A Closer Look at Qatari Collectors and Their Stories (2021).


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