The death of Hassan Hosny not only rocked the Arabic film industry, but the pain of his loss is acutely felt here in the UAE.
The veteran actor, who passed away aged 88 on May 30 from a heart attack, will go down as playing one of the most loved characters in Emirati cinema.
Viewers were first introduced to his quick-tempered yet wise Uncle Hosny in 2015's local hit Edhay in Abu Dhabi. Not only was the role – which he reprised in the 2017 sequel Edhay in Thailand – created for Hosny, but director and screenwriter Rakan even named the character after him.
The brief was simple: for Hosny to be Hosny.
And that meant channelling all his trademark witty oneliners, flamboyant outbursts and tenderness into the role of a long-term Egyptian expat who helps the title character get a job and the woman of his dreams.
Edhay in Abu Dhabi, which is available on Netflix, will go down as a landmark release in the UAE film industry as it found success against the odds. With the exception of Hosny, the film had no big-name stars. It had no major local or regional studio backing and a script packed with Emirati slang and colloquialisms.
The film's reception not only proved there was a hunger for hyperlocal content on the big screen, but launched what was planned to be an enduring series with the follow-up Edhay in Thailand (also available on Netflix) finding similar success in 2017.
Hosny wanted everyone to succeed
Speaking to The National, Rami Tamish, managing director of XMovies – the UAE production company behind both Edhay films – confirmed a third instalment was in the works with Hosny back in his role.
“That’s no longer important right now,” he says. “We feel like we lost a family member and myself and the whole team here are really sad about the passing of the great man.”
Tamish says the success of both Edhay films is largely down to the contribution of Hosny both on and off-screen.
“He is such a well-loved figure not only because he is just very funny, but he is also a simple and humble man. These qualities he always brings to his characters. They make you laugh but they are always full of wisdom,” he says.
“And that’s how he is off the camera. He loves what he does and he is always supportive of young talent. He wants to see everyone succeed.”
It is for this reason that Hosny was approached for the role. Tamish knew he needed a marquee name to anchor the film and that Hosny was open to working with untested talent if the project was right.
“This is the biggest gift he gave Arabic film in that he is responsible for launching the careers of many actors, especially in Egypt. So we knew that he loved working with new people,” he says.
“When it came to our films he was very open to the idea and he liked the concept. I think he viewed his character as fun to play.”
And that glee extended off the set. Tamish describes a treasured memory of hanging out with Hosny on a particularly muggy night in Bangkok after a day of filming Edhay in Thailand.
“We just sat outside the hotel talking for hours,” Tamish recalls. “Hosny was telling me about how much he enjoys Thailand and how he travelled there before on vacations. I remember finishing the night with him with an epic meal full of many Thai dishes. I remember feeling how privileged I was to hang out with this legend.”
The man lived comedy
Those bittersweet emotions are being shared online with numerous Emiratis taking to Twitter to pay their respect to the actor.
Emirati media personality Mohammed Buturki, who played a small role as a police officer on Edhay in Abu Dhabi, described Hosny as "someone who lived comedy".
Meanwhile, Twitter user Abdullah posted a snippet of a press interview Hosny conducted while on the set of Edhay in Abu Dhabi.
"Abu Dhabi has given us so much as Egyptians and this is something that we won't forget," Hosny said. “May God have mercy on Sheikh Zayed."
The most stirring tribute, perhaps, came from director Rakan. He retweeted a powerful scene from Edhay in Abu Dhabi in which Uncle Hosny cheers up the title character after expressing despair at his struggle of building a life in the capital: "I am positive that those who live in the UAE cannot live without it."
Edhay in Abu Dhabi and Edhay in Thailand are available on Netflix