Pan Arab broadcaster MBC kicked off its 30th anniversary celebrations in the Portuguese capital on Wednesday.
Generations of talents were on hand in Lisbon to mark the achievement by taking part in a gala event, as well as appearing in a special MBC themed episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire to air on Sep. 18, the day of the anniversary.
Stars walking the red carpet include Egyptian screen star Yousra, Saudi Arabian actor Nasser Al Qasabi and fellow small screen favourite Bassel Khayat from Syria.
MBC presenters old and new were also on hand, including Arabs Got Talent and Scoop with Raya host Raya Abirached, as well as Lebanon’s George Kordahi.
The latter, who launched the Arabic version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire on MBC in 1991, will reclaim the host’s chair for the special aforementioned one-off episode.
“It does feel like a reunion,” a visibly emotional Kordahi tells The National. “Some of these people I didn’t see for years, but when we meet it feels like yesterday. You know, the saying that MBC is a family channel is not a just a slogan. It really is because it begins with everyone involved being like family. I really feel at home here.”
Here are seven things we found out from the stars at the event:
1. Yousra reflects on her experience of Covid-19
Veteran Egyptian actress Yousra looked dazzling and in good health after recovering from Covid-19 last year.
She told The National how the pandemic became a rallying point for the wider Arab entertainment industry.
“I did get Covid last year and it was hard,” she says. “I found that as much as it separated people it also brought us together.”
Yousra, whose real name is Seveen Nessim, was also full of praise for MBC’s rapid success over its 30 years.
“They say the great thing about success is that it feels very short-lived and that’s how I feel about what these people have done,” she says. “It does feel like it happened only yesterday because we are still living amid their achievements and I hope it continues for a long time.”
In addition to appearing in various MBC shows over the years, including as a special guest on Project Runway, Yousra also chose to work with the broadcaster to make her film comeback.
Premiering on the streaming platform Shahid, the psychological drama Saheb Al Maqam was Yousra’s first film since the 2012 comedy Game Over.
“As an actor this is always refreshing because we also need to respond to what’s happening in today’s world. I am always asking myself what the audience is wanting or asking of me and I try to give it to them,” she says. “These platforms are an amazing opportunity to show the world our stories.”
2. Emirati star Mahira Abdel Aziz to star in a comedy about wrestling
After finding success in the critically-acclaimed Netflix drama The Platform, Emirati actor Mahira Abdel Aziz is ready to make her debut on the big screen.
While unable to reveal the title, she describes the project as a “wrestling film.”
“It is part of a move by MBC Productions to produce Saudi content,” she says. “It will be a Saudi-Egyptian comedy movie. What I can say about it is that it's about the wrestling world, but told in a very funny and new way.”
Abdel Aziz says the film will premiere at Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Festival, taking place in Jeddah from Monday, December 6 to Wednesday, December 15.
3. Nasser Al Qasabi says he will return next Ramadan with ‘Al Assouf’
Saudi Arabian comedy giant Nasser Al Qasabi has been a fixture of MBC’s Ramadan programming for more than a decade.
That association will continue next year with Al Qasabi returning to star in the third season of Al Assouf, which will air during Ramadan 2022.
Based on the novel Boyoun Al Turb by Saudi Arabian author Abdul Rahman Al Askari, the historical drama had its premiere in 2019 and has been praised for bringing a different side of the kingdom to screens.
It is far removed from the shiny metropolises of today and focuses more on simpler times, before the oil boom and when family life was at the centre of society.
“The reception to this work has been very strong, particularly in the way it discusses the nuances of Saudi Arabian culture and family,” he says. “We begin shooting next month and God willing, we will continue to deliver work that people will also enjoy.
As for his widely-reported reconciliation with Saudi Arabian actor Abdullah Al-Sadhan, which triggered speculation the duo will return for another season of their classic comedy series Tash Ma Tash after a 10-year absence, Al Qasabi remains coy.
“Inshallah, we are just having general conversations at the moment,” he says. “We hope for the best.”
4. A Gulf comedy inspired by ‘Modern Family’ is in the works
Saudi Arabian actor Hassan Assiri will star in a yet untitled Gulf comedy sitcom produced in a similar vein to the hit US series Modern Family.
“It will be something new for the region in terms of its style,” he tells The National on Wednesday. “It will be fully scripted but shot in this fun mockumentary style, with a colourful cast. We will begin shooting soon.”
Assiri also expressed satisfaction in being part of the MBC prank show Ramez Aqlahu Tar during Ramadan in 2021.
After being a victim of the series in 2020, in which he was strapped to a gyrating chair that flayed him around the set, Assiri joined Egyptian provocateur Ramez Galal by being in on the jokes.
His role saw him usher unsuspecting celebrities into an amusement park in the Saudi capital Riyadh after which things go increasingly awry.
So, did Assiri lose any colleagues as result of his appearance?
“Not at all. After what I went through on the show my friends told me to go back on the show and 'get them,'" he says.
5. ‘Arabs Got Talent’ will be back
Fans of the popular talent show Arabs Got Talent will be excited to know that it will return, according to host Abirached.
The pandemic has delayed the return of the seventh season, with auditions held internationally and live episodes shot in Beirut, but the Lebanese presenter says plans are to bring back the show in late 2022.
“Because of Covid-19, we sadly couldn’t do anything but we look forward to begin working on the show late next year. I can’t wait,” she says.
“Doing this show over the years made us realise the amazing array of talent we have in the Arab world.”
Arabs Got Talent last aired in 2019, with Lebanese acrobatic troupe Mayyas winning the season.
6. ‘Arous Beirut’ to return for a third and final season
Tunisian actor Dhafer L'Abidine has confirmed the coming third season of Arous Beirut will be the last.
The show centres on the tumultuous relationship between business mogul Fares and nightclub singer Soraya (Lebanese actress Carmen Bsaibes). The series became an industry talking point due to not only following the international soap opera format of being a long-running series - both seasons featured over 80 episodes - but also for airing outside of Ramadan.
The holy month is normally the time when broadcasters unveil their major series, which often run for up to 30 episodes.
“It is exciting that we can produce a show that is not just pegged for Ramadan and it does have an audience outside of that,” he says. “We are seeing more of that now in the industry as we are experimenting with airing shows at different times, as well as mini-series. It gives us plenty more options as actors and viewers.”
7. The new season of 'Top Chef Middle East' will be the biggest yet
Expect a bigger and better fifth season of the Arabic version of the long running US cooking competition.
The fifth season of Top Chef Middle East will air on MBC in October, and judge Maroun Chedid says the show has been completely revamped.
“For one thing we have relocated the show to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia,” he tells The National. “This really gave us access to some stunning new scenery and venues and people will really look at Saudi Arabia in a new way because of that.”
Despite the surroundings, Chedid admits shooting the series was at times gruelling.
“Because of the situation with Covid-19 and safety measures, we had to be really careful and that put a lot of pressure on the production crew,” he says.
“But the end result is we have our biggest season to date with the most contestants. It is going to be spectacular.”