“Farida” film viewing Sunday March 23 2012 at RMIT Melbourne
Hosted by Keti Sharif who also produced it, this film chronicles the life story of Farida Fahmy through interviews with Farida and her brother-in-law, Mahmoud Reda, enhanced by photos and footage from the Reda Troupe of which Farida was principal dancer for 25 years. It was fascinating to hear about how the Reda Troupe started and about the three great influences of Farida’s life: her father, her husband and her brother-in-law Mahmoud Reda.
Her father, a Professor at Cairo University, was very advanced for his time (for any country let alone a conservative country like Egypt). He encouraged both of his daughters to study and do sports and follow creative pursuits, Farida with dance and her sister, Nadeeda, with painting. He withstood much criticism for this. It was through this support and his good public standing, that helped pave the way for dance to become a legitimate profession at a time when it was deemed socially unacceptable. As Farida puts it, he encouraged her to always find out “why” something was the way it was in order to gain greater depth of understanding.
Mahmoud met Farida’s sister at a sports club when Farida was only 13 so he saw her grow up. When she got older she married Mahmoud’s older brother Ali who was already a dancer. Ali was a great husband and supportive of her dancing career. Her husband went on to direct her three films with the Reda Troupe: Agazet Nus El-Sana (Mid-term Vacation, 1963), Gharam Fil Karnak (Romance at the Karnak, 1965) and Harami El-Waraqa (Thief of the Lottery Paper, 1970). The first two are the only ones referenced in the film and are apparently shown on Egyptian television almost every week! They were key to Egyptian cinema as they were the first to incorporate the music and dancing into the storyline, rather than stopping the story to have a song and dance!
Mahmoud told a funny story about filming the movie “Love in Karnak” where Farida had to kiss Mahmoud. He found it very awkward as that was his sister-in-law and didn’t feel at all romantic about having to kiss her in front of her husband who was directing the movie and telling them to kiss! When filming they had to do 23 takes as something kept going wrong!
Farida has a confident, humble style to her reminiscing about the Reda Troupe. I know that sounds a contradiction in terms, however, she says that she was such a success because she had complete and utter trust in Mahmoud and did what he told her, but also acknowledges that she must have had the talent inside her to express what Mahmoud wanted her to. While Mahmoud talks about her amazing dedication and professionalism, she says that she felt she had to set an example of how to behave for the other girls and just did what was expected of them.
Farida also very carefully sorts out some of the misconceptions about dance and origins as opposed to theatre. She talks about the different styles, and the costuming (the first ones were designed by her sister) and how they were not being “authentic” as it was all for the theatre; for an audience sitting in their seats wanting a good show, not a gathering at a party, which is a different audience. It was very illuminating.
The interviews were conducted in Cairo during 2011 (a very tumultuous year in Egytpain history!), and I love how you can hear the constant horns, yells and cries from the street when Mahmoud is on the screen.
I highly recommend this film for anyone interested in raqs sharqi, the Reda Troupe, Egyptian cinema, belly dance and a story of real people who got a dream to materialise and changed a country in the process.