Kuwaiti television drama Zaman Al Ajaj has ingredients to be Ramadan hit, says producer

Historical series aims to entertain while posing pertinent questions about family and society

Kuwaiti actress Mona Hussein says Zaman Al Hajaj is full of drama and intrigue. Photo: TOD
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On the outskirts of Kuwait City lies a derelict building that was formerly a high school. Walk through the gates, however, and you are transported back in time, with former play areas transformed into an old Gulf village with tents and mud houses.

We are on the set of the upcoming Ramadan drama Zaman Al Ajaj (Time of Dust) and the abandoned school is now the makeshift home of Beyond Dreams, the production company of producer Abdullah Boushahri. The vast site is also where a string of recent Kuwaiti hit dramas were shot, such as Mohammed Ali Road from 2020 and last year’s Kizbeet Ibreel.

“It’s a great place that we have used to make some dynamic work set in the near past such as 50 years ago to the current day,” Boushahri tells The National. “But I consider Zaman Al Ajaj one of my biggest and most ambitious projects.”

There is a lot riding on its success. The series is the first original Ramadan drama produced by TOD, a subscription streaming platform owned by Qatar broadcaster BeIn. The 30-episode series will screen nightly throughout the month.

Set in the vague past in a nondescript village in the Gulf, it follows the arrival of the mysterious Widjan (Mona Hussain) who, through a mix of cunning and self preservation, manages to ingratiate herself within the community to the dismay of village leaders Geith (played by the seasoned Jassim Al Nabhan) and brother Hamza, portrayed by Hussain Almahdi.

“It may initially look like a particularly masculine work as it has its fair share of conflicts and discussions about war and power, but this is really a story centred around a strong woman,” Kuwaiti screenwriter Iman Sultan says.

“Through the series people will question her motivations and really veer back and forth from viewing her as a heroine or a villain, but she is always true to herself. I feel these kinds of multidimensional female characters are starting to be seen more in Kuwaiti dramas.”

Hussain agrees. Her fierce portrayal of Widjan comes on the back of her star turn in last year’s critically acclaimed Netflix Ramadan drama The Exchange, inspired by the true story of two cousins succeeding in the male-dominated world of the Kuwaiti stock exchange in the late 1980s.

That said, the intensity of her latest role took Hussain some time to get used to. “Like the viewers, it also took me a while to really grapple with who Widjan is,” she says.

“She is a very intelligent woman and what really distinguishes her among the men in the village is her quick and strategic thinking. She anticipates and gets herself out of trouble. She uses her brains and beauty as a weapon.”

These specific plot lines of family, power and intrigue are nothing new for Kuwait, states Almahdi. But similar to the dates and soup on iftar tables, the ingredients that shape them are staples of Ramadan dramas.

“Through these stories we are raising issues about society and our own personal lives,” Almahdi says. “The character I play spends a lot of time with his wife and it really provides a commentary on marriage with its ups and downs.”

With a career spanning nearly 50 years, Al Nabhan has another take on Zaman Al Ajaj’s message. “I look on it as a discussion about not only accepting and welcoming strangers, but also new ideas and different ways of thinking,” Al Nabhan says.

“All kinds of development in society happens when a responsible level of openness occurs and sometimes that can also be initially difficult.”

While Hussain is glad the series tackles interesting issues, it nevertheless aims to entertain. “The Ramadan drama always has a special place for all Arab actors because we know it’s a time when families gather together in the living room,” Hussain says.

“The fact that they can follow your show throughout the month and discuss it together or with their friends is amazing but also a responsibility. We all know we need to do the best we can.”

Another reason for the extra effort is the unforgiving nature of Ramadan audiences. “I often find people make up their minds if they are going to follow through with the show by watching after the first three episodes,” she says.

“While I can’t reveal too much about Zaman Al Ajaj, I don’t think we will have that problem because the show begins with a bang.”

Zaman Al Ajaj will be made available nightly throughout Ramadan on TOD. More information is available on www.tod.tv

Updated: March 08, 2024, 8:23 PM