Soap opera ‘Wust El Balad’ is a 'new experience for Egyptian drama'

The series is produced by and broadcast on pan-Arab network MBC

Jamal Abdulnasser and Samira Abdul Aziz star in Egyptian television drama 'Wust El Balad'. Photo: MBC
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The cast of Egyptian drama Wust El Balad hopes the captive television audience during Ramadan results in an appeal that lasts long after the holy month.

The series, which has daily episodes, had its premiere on MBC streaming platform Shahid and MBC Masr in February, and has been billed by the broadcaster as “Egypt’s first soap opera”. The ensemble cast, led by Jamal Abdulnasser and Samira Abdul Aziz, are in it for the long haul.

Based on the triumphs and travails of the middle-class Jarhi family in the Upper Egypt region, the series has all the ingredients of a great soap opera. There is romance, betrayal and a healthy dose of petty jealousy, in addition to it tackling broader issues in Egyptian society.

The show, for which the theme song is sung by Emirati star Hussain Al Jassmi, continues MBC’s foray into the soap opera format and comes on the back of the successful Lebanese series Arous Beirut, which recently finished three seasons spanning more than 200 episodes.

“It is a new experience for Egyptian drama,” Abdul Aziz, who plays the family matriarch Zaynat in Wust El Balad, tells The National. "This format allows the viewers to essentially live with the family for a long time and, through them, look at some of the various issues we face in society."

Egyptian film and television stalwart Samira Abdul Aziz plays the family matriarch Zaynat in 'Wust El Balad'. Photo: MBC

The format also allows the series to keep up to date with modern issues, Abdulnasser says.

Many 30-episode programmes shown during Ramadan are already shot in advance, so the dramatic plot lines often have no relation to the year's holy month.

With soap operas extending well beyond Ramadan, Abdulnasser says producers and scriptwriters are better able to plan ahead and create material to suit the period.

It also means the family battles will be relatively tame in comparison to other, short-format shows.

“While within the family there are existing conflicts between brothers and sons that continue to escalate, the Ramadan period will provide a reprieve,” he says.

“The show will take us through some of the popular and heartwarming Ramadan rituals in Egypt and peace temporarily prevails within the families, among many surprises."

Wust El Balad's chief screenwriter Amin Gamal confirms the "first part" of the series will run for 192 episodes, with the 34th episode being broadcast on Wednesday.

"We are all committed to writing them and producing them," he says.

"These episodes will largely deal with the personal lives of the family and looks, in addition to following their relationships inside and outside the home. We hope by doing that, the viewers can see some of themselves in the many situations we put the characters through."

Director Ahmed Shafik says he is satisfied with how the series has been received by audiences so far.

More than the viewing numbers, he says its success marks a huge win for the Egyptian television industry.

Soap operas, he says, are a perfect vehicle to provide ongoing work for veteran actors as well as launch new talents.

"An important part of this move is to provide opportunities for dozens of promising and talented individuals, graduates and students from arts and theatre institutes," he says.

"That also extends to the production teams, including a new generation of writers and directors."

For Abdul Aziz, whose career spans more than 40 decades, Wust El Balad reminds her of some of the work produced during the golden era of Egyptian show business.

“In a way, this programme is a throwback to the times when I was younger, where we would wait to hear a new episode of a series on the radio.

“I am glad that these kinds of stories have been extended to television drama.”

'Wust El Balad' is available to stream online on Shahid and new episodes are released on MBC Masr daily at 5.30pm (UAE time)

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Updated: April 13, 2022, 9:02 AM