An equal mix of sugar and spice is what fuels MBC’s latest drama Ala Al Hilwa Wa Al Morra (In Good Times and in Bad).
The series, which began broadcasting on MBC 4 on August 29, doles out entangled plot twists and thrills with the deft of a soapy drama.
But as the show traces a tangled and tense love triangle, comedy unexpectedly flourishes. Its poignant premise may be the reason you start watching, but you’ll continue for the laughs.
The show revolves around wedding planner Farah (Dana Mardini), who discovers that her former fiance (Nicolas Mouawad) has returned to town five years after he mysteriously left her on the night of their wedding. To add insult to injury, he has returned with the intention of marrying another woman (Pamela El Kik).
Through a tumble of events and ill-advised choices, Farah becomes the wedding planner to her former husband-to-be, setting the stage for all sorts of unexpectedly hilarious romantic misadventures.
Syrian actress Mardini says it was the range of emotions that drew her to the character Farah.
“I hadn’t played a character like her before,” she tells The National. Mardini has acted in several acclaimed shows, including 2016's Nadam and 2018's Tango.
“She is cheerful, dynamic, hardworking, intelligent, emotional and nervous, and everything inside of her comes out into the open in an instant.”
Communicating these layered emotions while making sure that the script’s comedy thrives even in the show’s most dramatic scenes was an enjoyable challenge, she says.
“You have to make sure to not let the performance go to a dark and depressing place. We have to make sure it is light-hearted. I was mindful of that.”
Lebanese actor Mouawad, famous for his roles in 2020 series Al A’wda (The Return) and 2016 series Wannous, says he knew he wanted to be part of the show after being enthralled by its script.
“I liked how quick it was,” he tells The National. “As soon as you finish an episode, you want to read the next and the one after that.”
Mouawad, who plays Rayan, says he was interested in exploring the character’s dilemmas as he struggled to decide between his old life and new one.
“It’s like you’re walking in a particular direction in your life and you think it’s the right one and it’s the one you want suddenly something happens to you or you meet someone from your past that wakes you up and makes you realise what you’re doing is wrong,” he says. “That conflict was very interesting to me as an actor.”
Ala Al Hilwa Wa Al Morra is based on a Turkish show of the same name and marks the second effort by MBC of adapting a Turkish series for Arab audiences.
The show’s 2019 spiritual predecessor Arous Beirut (Bride of Beirut) was a regional favourite and was arguably even more popular than the original Turkish series Arous Istanbul.
With Ala Al Hilwa Wa Al Morra, MBC is doubling down on the now tried and tested initiative.
“Arous Beirut was an experiment and it proved to be a successful one,” says Lebanese actor Joe Trad, who stars in both shows. “The series leaned more towards drama and was more of a classic story. So now we are trying a project in a different genre, in romantic comedy. Hopefully it will be just as successful.”
“Arous Beirut became a phenomenon across the Arab world,” El Kik, who plays the role of Rayan’s new bride-to-be, says. “It was a long time since I had seen an Arab show garner this much attention and praise.”
However, the C Section star says she isn’t unnerved by Arous Beirut’s success; rather she sees it as a new standard that showrunners should aim to meet and succeed.
“Every show should try to strive to be better and build upon the production, writing and acting standards set by its predecessors,” she said.
Mouawad says that while Ala Al Hilwa Wa Al Morra could spark a trend of more Arab adaptations of Turkish series, it won’t vie to take the place of original shows being released from the region.
“Adapting series and films from other countries is nothing new. It’s a trend that we see globally, and it’s beautiful,” he says. “And we shouldn’t think of these adaptations as a replacement to Arabic originals being released on platforms such as MBC Shahid. One doesn’t negate the other.”
Ala Al Hilwa Wa Al Morra is showing on weekdays at 10pm on MBC 4. Episodes will be released a day in advance on MBC Shahid VIP