An Emirati legal drama is set to shake up both industry and societal expectations.
Qalb Al Adala, which translates to Heart of Justice, premieres on OSN Ya Hala Al Oula HD on September 17.
Running weekly, the 18- episode season follows Abu Dhabi hotshot lawyer Hassan (played by Mansoor Al Feeli) and his daughter and recent legal graduate Farah (Fatima Al Taei) as they solve a series of cases directly inspired by real-life court proceedings from the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
While the Arabic series is produced by Image Nation Abu Dhabi and the Dubai-based Beelink Production, Qalb Al Adala boasts a pioneering international flavour. The show's creators are the Oscar-nominated director Walter Parks (He Named Me Malala and Flight) and Emmy Award-winning screenwriter and television producer William Finkelstein (L.A. Law and NYPD Blue).
In what is hailed as one of the first cross-cultural methods of television production, the duo is responsible for penning the scripts and plotting the episodes while the UAE-based crew from Image Nation Abu Dhabi and Beelink are tasked with translating them and adding local touches.
"This is a new model when it comes to media terms, but it is an old model in the way that Abu Dhabi and the UAE have grown into the position that they currently occupy," says Michael Garin, the chief executive of Image Nation.
"The formula for success is to combine the best of international talent with local resources and expertise. It is what makes the Louvre Abu Dhabi and what makes Etihad and Emirates Airlines successful," he says.
The landmark nature of this project is not lost to series star Al Feeli. A stalwart of Gulf television and drama, the actor recently dipped his toes into the international market with a solid performance in last year's Bollywood blockbuster Dishoom alongside John Abraham and Varun Dhawan.
The efficiency of the Qalb Al Adala set reminded him of his maiden Bollywood outing, which was partly shot in the UAE. "Honestly, this production experience was highly professional and it went very smoothly," he says. "And this was hard to achieve if you consider the fact we had just over 150 actors participating in the series."
Al Feeli knows those details all too well. He was first enlisted to the series as casting manager. However, when Emirati star Habib Ghuloom pulled out days before the shooting began, Al Feeli was also tasked with taking on the role of Hassan.
With Qalb Al Adala inspired by real-life court cases, Al Feeli searched wide for acting talents. "I got people from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Philippines, Ethiopians, Eritreans and even from Kazakhstan," he says. "I say this to you to stress the point that this show is not a show about Emiratis, it is actually a show about the UAE and we show that in this production."
Indeed, hints of that diversity is apparent in the first episode, which The National viewed last week, and focuses on the case of a Lebanese man who surrenders himself for running over a pedestrian late at night. Farah visits the man's friends and associates who range from various parts of the Arab world. Such detail and the varying accents provides a welcome level of authenticity of the proceedings.
The sharply drawn scenes and the steady rhythm of the episode comes straight from American television legal procedural playbook, which was partly written by Finkelstein.
On the local front, the show also tackles issues faced by Emirati communities. One of the programme's major subplots surrounds Hassan's desire for his daughter to take over the family firm. However, Farah wants to escape her famous father's shadow and plot her own career path.
"When I first spoke about Farah's qualities, it felt like I was talking about myself. Farah has vision, and she is stubborn. She will do whatever is needed to get the job done" says Al Taei.
"What I also find interesting about her is that she is a strong female character who has a male role model, which is her father, and not her mother, which can usually be the case in our culture."
Al Feeli is confident the show will strike a chord with UAE audiences due to the freshness of the material. Perhaps, he says, people will also find it educational. "Some people don't know how the legal system works, and what happens in the courtrooms. This show can provide an insight to that," he states.
"Also each case relates to what is happening here. It relates to our way of life, our customs and culture. I hope that people find it interesting."
Qalb Al Adala premiers on OSN Ya Hala Al Oula HD on Sunday at 8pm