Saudi crime drama ‘Rashash’ breaks new ground

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Saudi actor Yagoub Al-Farhan played the role of Rashash Al-Otaibi in the true-life story of a Saudi bandit, drug trafficker and murderer who terrorized the population in the 1970s and 1980s. (Supplied)
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The series outlines Rashash’s life of crime, beginning with his entry into the underworld and ending with his arrest and execution. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 August 2021
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Saudi crime drama ‘Rashash’ breaks new ground

  • The show, promoted as the biggest Saudi production, has attracted a wide-ranging audience

JEDDAH: The Saudi thriller series “Rashash” has generated an unusual amount of public reaction in the Kingdom, establishing a benchmark for local cinema’s flourishing and diverse future. 

The eight-episode show, promoted as the biggest Saudi production with a multimillion-dollar budget and made by Saudi-owned MBC Group, has attracted a wide-ranging audience. It has conquered every Saudi household, setting a challenging standard for future productions.

Saudi actor Yagoub Al-Farhan played the role of Rashash Al-Otaibi in the true-life story of a Saudi bandit, drug trafficker and murderer who terrorized the population in the 1970s and 1980s. The show has ignited heated discussions on social media over the past few weeks with the release of each episode every Thursday. The series outlines Rashash’s life of crime, beginning with his entry into the underworld and ending with his arrest and execution. 

Al-Farhan previously played Juhayman Al-Otaibi in the Alasouf series in 2019 and portrayed a militant terrorist leader who seized Makkah’s Grand Mosque in 1979. 

HIGHLIGHTS

Distinguished by its production values, ‘Rashash’ is a collaboration between the internationally recognized crew and Saudi talent. It features an all-Saudi cast in leading roles, including Nayef Al-Dhufairi as Officer Fahd, Khalid Yaslam as Chief Azam, and dozens of other Saudi actors.

It was directed by British filmmaker Collin Teague, whose credits include the sci-fi series ‘Doctor Who’ and is written by Sheikha Suha Al-Khalifa, the daughter of a former Bahraini ambassador, and Richard Bellamy, a political scientist. 

Despite Shahid’s disclaimer that the series is only for those above 18-years-old, many teenagers watched the show and became obsessed with the main character.

The controversy began as soon as MBC’s Shahid streaming platform started promoting the series in January, with promo views exceeding 2.5 million. Some members of the audience questioned whether highlighting the life of a criminal was appropriate, and worried that it might incite tribal tensions since the criminal belonged to one of the most prominent tribes in the Kingdom. 

Rashash’s family also objected to the release of the series on local media, saying that it was denigrating for the family and would “open old wounds,” his sister told a local newspaper. 

Distinguished by its production values, “Rashash” is a collaboration between the internationally recognized crew and Saudi talent. It features an all-Saudi cast in leading roles, including Nayef Al-Dhufairi as Officer Fahd, Khalid Yaslam as Chief Azam, and dozens of other Saudi actors.

It was directed by British filmmaker Collin Teague, whose credits include the sci-fi series “Doctor Who” and is written by Sheikha Suha Al-Khalifa, the daughter of a former Bahraini ambassador, and Richard Bellamy, a political scientist. 

Despite Shahid’s disclaimer that the series is only for those above 18-years-old, many teenagers watched the show and became obsessed with the main character. 

The platform is not directed at a young audience, but the show has created a social phenomenon where teenagers’ rebellious nature celebrated the criminal as a hero. Many videos circulated across social media of teenagers adopting Rashash’s personality and attitude and sometimes making threats of violence to the public; even Rashash’s messy hairstyle has become a trend. 

The owners of a café in Alkhobar city have used the popularity of “Rashash” as a marketing strategy to promote their business, hanging huge photos from the series on the walls and printing phrases from the show on their cups. They also labeled some of their drinks with the criminal’s name and with the names of other members of his gang.




The series by MBC outlines Rashash’s life of crime, beginning with his entry into the underworld and ending with his arrest and execution. (Supplied)

The series also sheds light on a young and dedicated officer, Fahd, who makes it his mission to capture Rashash and his accomplices.

“Rashash was not introduced as a hero. The story delivered an explicit message that differentiates between the criminal and the military man from the same tribe who chose to serve his country and protect land and lives from a defector’s barbarism. Each one had an ambition; one was patient and faced his challenges with courage and deliberation. At the same time, the other chose ease with drugs, rebellion, disobedience, and confrontation,” Refaa, 31, from Riyadh, told Arab News.

She continued, “Teenagers shouldn’t have watched the show in the first place because it is for an adult audience, the blame is on the parents; however, in case a teenage boy watched it and became a fan of Rashash, then parents must discuss his character and story with him to develop his critical thinking skills and learn to distinguish between right and wrong and the choices we may make in life.”

Refaa was encouraged to watch the series because it was based on a true story, which she said was a blessing in disguise. It was the reason behind the Saudi government establishing a road police force to protect travelers from bandits. 

“This is an unusual story in the Saudi cinema, where many of the shows were social dramas focusing on the status of women and Saudi families,” she said, “Action is a preferred genre among a large group of society, the youth, many of whom are enthusiastic about movies.”

Actor Yagoub Al-Farhan, who played Rashash, said in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV that Saudi production throughout its history had ranged between drama, comedy and dark comedy, a few attempts at the history genre, but never action.  

Al-Farhan said that the basic idea behind this show was to introduce a series within a popular genre of drama in society inspired by a story from Saudi history, which allowed the viewer to interact with it and relate to it.

Another viewer, Faris Baker, 33, from Riyadh, told Arab News.“The series started an important initiative because it broke the routine of the Saudi drama calendar; we are used to expecting seasonal shows premiered during the holy month of Ramadan, which kept the scene dead for the rest of the year and even marginalized some shows that did not get deserved attention due to overcrowded schedule of releases in one month.” 

Baker preferred the action over drama in the series.

“Having a renowned British filmmaker, Collin Teague, has enormously upgraded the level of production as a Saudi series especially in its active part in fighting scenes, which is related to any societal specificity. On the other hand, I spotted a clear gap in the dramatic part of the story which was more related to the nature of relationships in Saudi society, in which the director normally lacks a realistic vision of as a non-Saudi,” he said.


UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott

Updated 25 May 2024
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UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott

  • Speakers, performers pull out from scheduled appearances in protest over Baillie Gifford sponsorship
  • Boycott organizer: Hay must shun future sponsorship by companies with links to ‘Israeli occupation, apartheid or genocide’

LONDON: The UK’s Hay literary festival has dropped its main sponsor over a boycott criticizing its links to Israel and fossil fuel companies.

Speakers and performers at the festival pulled out from scheduled appearances in protest over investment firm Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of the event, The Guardian reported.

On Friday, the festival said it was canceling its sponsorship deal with the firm.

Singer Charlotte Church and comedian Nish Kumar had earlier pulled out of appearing at the event.

In a statement on her social media channels, Church said she had taken part in the boycott “in solidarity with the people in Palestine and in protest of the artwashing and greenwashing that is apparent in this sponsorship.”

Fossil Free Books, the group that has led the campaign against Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of the event, has demanded that the firm divest from companies “that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide.”

More than 700 writers and publishing professionals have signed a statement by FFB concerning the Hay festival campaign.

Kumar shared the statement online in announcing the cancelation of his appearance.

An FFB organizer said: “Hay festival is right to listen to the concerns of hundreds of book workers who are working to create fossil-free and genocide-free festivals.

“Hay must now develop a fundraising policy that rules out any future sponsorship by companies that invest or profit from the fossil fuel industry, Israeli occupation, apartheid or genocide, and any other human rights abuses.”

Hay CEO Julie Finch said the festival’s decision to cancel the sponsorship deal with the firm was taken “in light of claims raised by campaigners and intense pressure on artists to withdraw.”

She added: “Our first priority is to our audience and our artists. Above all else, we must preserve the freedom of our stages and spaces for open debate and discussion, where audiences can hear a range of perspectives.”

Baillie Gifford began its relationship with the festival in 2016 as a principal sponsor. A spokesperson said: “It is regrettable our sponsorship with the festival cannot continue.”


Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

Updated 25 May 2024
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Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

DUBAI: Saudi film “Norah,” starring actress Maria Bahrawi, this week received the Special Mention accolade, which recognizes films for outstanding achievements, at the 77th Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard awards.

The cast and crew, accompanied by director Tawfik Al-Zaidi, stepped onto the stage to accept the accolade in front of a full house.

The film, shot entirely in AlUla, is set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the professional pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon. Besides Bahrawi, the movie also stars Yaqoub Al-Farhan and Abdullah Al-Satian. It follows the story of Norah and failed artist Nader as they encourage each other to realize their artistic potential in rural Saudi Arabia.

“Norah” had its official screening at the festival on Thursday, becoming the first film from the Kingdom to screen as part of the official calendar at the event.

The movie was backed by the Red Sea Fund — one of the Red Sea Film Foundation’s programs — and was filmed entirely in AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast and a 40 percent Saudi crew.

Un Certain Regard’s mission is to highlight new trends in cinema and encourage innovative cinematic works.

Chaired by Canadian actor, director, screenwriter and producer Xavier Dolan, the jury included French Senegalese screenwriter and director Maimouna Doucoure, Moroccan director, screenwriter and producer Asmae El Moudir, German-Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps, and American film critic, director and writer Todd McCarthy.

Chinese director Guan Hu’s “Black Dog” won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section.

Marking Guan’s debut at Cannes, the film follows a former convict who forms an unexpected bond with the titular animal while clearing stray dogs in his remote hometown on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

The jury prize was awarded to “The Story of Souleymane,” directed by Boris Lojkine, marking his return to the festival after a decade since his 2014 feature “Hope.”

The film portrays the journey of a Guinean food delivery man who must create a compelling narrative for his asylum application interview in Lyon within a two-day timeframe.


Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

Updated 25 May 2024
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Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

RIYADH: Cameras flashed and crowds cheered as Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit the red carpet at Roshn Front’s VOX Cinema in Riyadh on Friday night to mark the fourth installment of the “Bad Boys” film franchise.

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” arrives 30 years after Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, played by Smith and Lawrence, respectively, teamed up as the infamous buddy cops.

The latest film, exclusively in cinemas on June 6, shows how the characters have changed over the years.

“Their backs have gotten weaker, and their knees hurt more,” Smith said jokingly.

“Part of what we wanted to do with the franchise is to have the characters grow in an age-appropriate way,” he told Arab News.

“We are trusting that the audience wants to grow with us, wants to go with us, and wants to follow the natural progression of life and what these characters would be going through.”

The film continues to mix action, drama and comedy, but also allows the characters to grow and develop spiritually.

“The core of the movie is about friendship, love, and family,” Smith said.

“And would you ride or die for your partner?” Lawrence added.

The film builds on the success of the third installment, “Bad Boys For Life,” released in 2020, with the directorial duo for the latest production, Bilall Fallah and Adil El-Arbi,  reportedly inspired by video games.

Lawrence said the “top notch” directors were great to work with, and inspired the actors to “come up with magic.”

Smith added: “It’s interesting working with non-American directors; there’s such a different perspective… You know, they were (young) when the first movie came out, so there’s such a reverence for the original films. They’re bringing that energy, but they also want to put their signature on it. Energetically, it was fun to work with them, and also their openness to the spirituality of the film was also refreshing.”

Action films, whether “Mission Impossible” or the more recent “Monkey Man,” have enjoyed a revival in recent years, and both actors believe the genre will always have a place in the industry.

“The physical wars of humanity represent the inner wars that we go through. So, I think human beings are always going to like watching a good visualized external battle that they can relate to,” Smith said.

“We all know internally that life is kind of a series of ordeals. How do you manage these ordeals and put things back together? And I think that this movie is a comedic look at two people trying to be friends, surviving ordeals together, which changes them without life breaking their relationship. It’s like a standard bromance.”

With the film premiere taking place in Saudi Arabia’s capital, both stars expressed their excitement over initiatives underway in the Kingdom.

Smith said: “I performed at Soundstorm and everything is brand new. The energy of 40 and 50-year-old people in Saudi is like the energy of 20 and 30-year-old people in America.

“It’s like there is this powerful sense of being on the cusp of the future. It’s showing up in music, it’s showing up in art, it’s showing up in architecture, and hopefully shows up at the cinema tonight.”


Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

Updated 24 May 2024
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Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

DUBAI: US comedian Dave Chappelle performed to a packed audience at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on Thursday as part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, where he also addressed the war in Gaza.

“What is happening in Gaza is a direct result of antisemitism in the West,” he said on stage.

“If you are in America, the best thing you can do is to make American Jews feel safe, feel loved and supported so they can know they don’t have to support a country that is committing genocide just to feel safe,” he added. 

Chappelle previously slammed the Israeli bombing of Gaza, as well as the US support for it, at a show in Boston in October.

According to people in attendance, an audience member asked Chappelle to shut up, which sparked a heated response from the comedian.  

“You can’t take tens of billions from my country and go kill innocent women and children and tell me to shut the f--- up,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Some members of the crowd began chanting “free Palestine,” to which Chappelle replied: “You are damn right, free Palestine.”  


World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

Updated 24 May 2024
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World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

  • Red Sea International Film Festival sponsors for fourth year
  • Demi Moore was host, which Elizabeth Taylor held in 1993

DUBAI: Some of the world’s biggest stars, in the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival, made appearances on Thursday at the 30th annual amfAR gala as Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival took on the role of presenting sponsor for the fourth consecutive year. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Among those in attendance were Demi Moore, Michelle Yeoh, Heidi Klum, Kelly Rowland, Andie MacDowell, Diane Kruger, Colman Domingo, Michelle Rodriguez, Winnie Harlow, Robin Thicke, Diplo, Paris Jackson, Petra Nemcova, Karolina Kurkova, Natasha Poly, and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

The RSIFF’s CEO Mohammed Al-Turki and chairwoman Jomana Al-Rashid were also present.

The American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AmfAR, is dedicated to the support of AIDS research, prevention, education and advocacy. It has raised nearly $900 million since 1985.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Demi Moore, whose film “The Substance” caused a stir at Cannes, hosted this year’s gala, a role launched by Elizabeth Taylor in 1993.

The red carpet at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc, was awash with models, actors, singers and fashion designers as well as plenty of festival movers and shakers.

A few celebrities opted for gowns by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad including German model Toni Garrn, sports commentator Alex Scott and Brazilian model Thayna Soares.

Garrn wore a purple beaded strapless gown with scalloped edges and spider web-like details, while Scott was adorned with a rose gold off-the-shoulder sheer tulle beaded gown, and Soares opted for a hooded gold beaded short dress with a plunging neckline and embroidered tassels.

German model Kim Dammer dazzled on the red carpet in a glamorous halter-neck black gown, intricately embroidered with geometric shapes by Lebanese couturier Rami Kadi.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kim Dammer (@kimdammer)

Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran was championed by Turkish actress Hande Ercel, who wore a black gown adorned with red and blue beads and featuring a plunging neckline.

Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri was also in attendance, wearing a sparkly silver dress by Lebanese designer Jean Pierre Khoury. The dress featured thousands of mirrored tube beads hand-sewn onto a corseted silhouette, according to the designer.