With only 22 episodes, the series Alkhallat managed to define a generation in Saudi Arabia when it was released on YouTube in 2019.
The Telfaz11 production featured skits that made light of societal norms and customs, touching upon everything from cheating antics in classrooms to squabbles in boardrooms and on highways. The series amassed a whopping 1.5 billion views across all episodes and has endured as one of Saudi Arabia’s most highly regarded comedies.
The Netflix film, Alkhallat+, has much of the same elements that made the original series a favourite. Released on the streaming platform on Friday, the film comprises four stories, which expand on Alkhallat’s skit format with side-splitting humour.
Alkhallat+ is the first of eight films that will be released as the result of a partnership between Netflix and the Saudi production and financing group Telfaz11.
The stories within Alkhallat+ are all immersed in social deception and trickery. The opening tale follows two thieves, caught in the act of stealing car tyres, sneaking into a wedding. In the next, a chef working in an upscale restaurant puts its reputation on the line to save her parents’ marriage. The third story features a man who returns to the morgue to help conceal his deceased friend’s extramarital affair. In the final story, a mother searches for her husband as he tries to find their son in a nightclub.
Mohammed Algarawi, an executive producer and scriptwriter of AlKhallat+, says he approached the script in a different way than he would have a skit on Alkhallat, ensuring the stories were more layered and had plenty of “twists and turns”.
“With Netflix’s higher production value, and the length of the stories, we had to take the writing to the next level,” he says. “People like seeing a character embroiled in a difficulty and get out of that in a witty way.
“This is basically the foundation of Alkhallat. The film preserves this. It has characters being involved in certain social situations and having to work their way out of it.”
A new directorial approach had to be taken as well, director Fahad Alammari says, especially considering that the show was no longer being shot for YouTube. This is evident from the beginning of Alkhallat+, as an uninterrupted camera shot snakes around a house that is preparing for a wedding, going from room to room and twirling around its denizens.
“Technically speaking, directing the series was easier when it was on YouTube,” Alammari says. “We’d just take the camera, point and shoot and that was it. Now, there are ups and downs, a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s become more mature and longer.
"Now, it’s not always that longer and more complicated means better. But we took it as a challenge, to retain the show’s original personality but with a better quality and on a better platform.”
Though the film, as well as the show, touches upon social dynamics and idiosyncrasies unique to Saudi Arabia, Algarawi says the aim of Alkhallat is not to serve as social commentary, but rather simply to make people laugh.
“It’s a comedy first and foremost,” he says. “The ideas present in the film all serve the joke, the humour and comedy. We like seeing ourselves in our films. We spent a long time not seeing ourselves on screen. So, the goal was not to reflect faithfully [the] reality in Saudi Arabia, but rather things that serve the comedy while also simplifying social complexities.”
Before being released on Netflix, the film marked a red-carpet premiere during the Red Sea International Film Festival in December. Algarawi says he was touched by audience reactions, the laughter and the standing ovation, which to him meant they had managed to deliver and stay true to Alkhallat’s original spirit.
“We felt the same way we did when we saw the reactions on YouTube,” he says. “But it was compounded and bigger. We preserved the soul of Alkhallat into a more condensed, concentrated experience.”
“It was the first time I also actually hear the laughter as opposed to reading them in the comments,” Alammari adds. “Also, with other genres, like drama, it can be hard to gauge audience reaction, but that’s not the case with comedy. Laughter is the litmus test.”
Alammari also says it was a pleasure having Alkhallat+ make its premiere in a cinema setting, when, only a few years ago, the fact would have been unthinkable with Saudi Arabia’s ban on cinemas. The kingdom lifted its 35 year-ban in 2018 and has since experienced a surge of growth in its nascent film sector.
“There is great support for filmmakers and film creatives now,” Alammari says. “We have festivals now and cinemas, we don’t need to go outside the country. It’s all right here.”
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