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

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.


What We Are Buying Today: Spanish designer Belen Mancha’s abayas, thobes combine modern style with vintage crochet

Updated 23 September 2022

What We Are Buying Today: Spanish designer Belen Mancha’s abayas, thobes combine modern style with vintage crochet

Thaa, a Saudi brand born in 2016 with an occidental influence, creates statement abayas and thobes. Using a mix of local and imported textiles, carefully crafted products are created by hand, using different techniques, one of the most distinguished being crochet.

Every season they release new styles as well as a classic linen crochet abaya that has become the brand’s signature. Every piece is made with love for the clients who appreciate and understand the work behind it.

Founder Belen Hernandez-Mancha, a Spanish designer who married a Saudi man, began to experiment with the abundant array of textiles, designs and patterns in the Kingdom. Being surrounded by art and talents within her family sparked the right moment for her to follow her dreams.

Since then her approach has been to cater to sophisticated customers who are trendy with refined taste. The re-emergence of crochet has been one of the best fashion trends this year.

Taking a modern look on a vintage classic crochet pattern, the Thaa abayas are designed to create unique, timeless pieces.

A hand-crocheted abaya features various organic shapes and a flowy design made of lightweight material.

“We will continue to create with passion and service our circle of clientele with a devoted attention to meet each client’s satisfaction, always paying attention to every detail from the design itself to the packaging and service offered,” said Hernandez-Mancha.

You can find Thaa apparel at Homegrown market in Jeddah, Mira Y Mano store in Riyadh and RAYA galleria in Alkhobar.

For more information, visit @thaa_ksa on Instagram.

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What We Are Eating Today: The vibes are to dine for at Riyadh’s lively Latin restaurant Hotel Cartagena

Updated 16 September 2022

What We Are Eating Today: The vibes are to dine for at Riyadh’s lively Latin restaurant Hotel Cartagena

RIYADH: Hotel Cartagena in Riyadh, despite its name, is a Latin American restaurant — but the impressive vibes will have you wishing they had a room for you to stay in.

Entering the restaurant venue is a rainforest experience, with its plants, flowers, funky wallpaper, bird decor and vibrant aesthetics of a rustic hotel in the Amazon. Featuring various performances throughout the week, including live DJ sets, singers and bands, Hotel Cartagena brings a taste of spicy Latin entertainment to Saudi Arabia.

The joint also hosts trivia nights and weekend brunches, and almost every hour, the staff breaks out in a dance sequence with music mixes blasting, encouraging guests to join along — and they often do.

There is truly no dull moment here, especially with staff bringing a fire and dance show to every customer’s table who orders their most popular dish, the Coffee Aged Tomahawk Steak. The downside to this level of showmanship, however, is that the food can sometimes take a back seat. The steak isn’t always cooked properly, and the coffee rub might not have broad appeal. The order can either be made with Wagyu beef or US prime, both of which are arguably overpriced for a single order.

Some of their popular Latin delicacies include their classic fish ceviche, crispy duck confit salad, chili prawn nachos, and ropa vieja empanadas. Must-try sides are their sweet potato fries and creamy congri, which is a version of classic Cuban rice and beans.

Diners can enjoy refreshing mocktails, most notably the sweet and spicy Flor de Jalisco and the sweet and sour Mai Gai.

We wouldn’t recommend this spot as a vegetarian-friendly joint, as they don’t offer vegan or vegetarian dishes aside from their selection of salads and bites.


Milan design school Istituto Marangoni arrives in Dubai

Updated 14 September 2022

Milan design school Istituto Marangoni arrives in Dubai

  • The landmark event at the Museum of the Future combined a traditional physical fashion show with a complementary digital version in the metaverse
  • ‘Istituto Marangoni’s Dubai branch is a valuable addition to the city’s rapidly developing creative and cultural landscape,’ said Sheikha Latifa

DUBAI: Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al-Maktoum, chairperson of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and a member of the Dubai Council, was among the guests of honor at a landmark fashion show that marked the Middle East debut of Italian fashion and design school Istituto Marangoni, the Emirates News Agency reported.

The concept for the event combined a traditional physical fashion show at the Museum of the Future in Dubai with a complementary digital version in the metaverse. Models appeared on the real-world catwalk alongside their virtual avatars, creating a unique event that blended tradition with innovation in a world where reality and virtual reality coexist.

The event showcased the work of five top graduates of Istituto Marangoni’s fashion-design courses in Milan, Florence, Paris, London and Shanghai. The grand finale featured designs by Rahul Mishra, a well-known alum who was the first Indian designer to show his work at Paris Haute Couture Week.

In Dubai he paid tribute to his alma mater with creations that combine traditional Indian designs with modern luxury fashion trends in a sustainable, ethical, “slow fashion” approach.

Sheikha Latifa said: “Istituto Marangoni’s Dubai branch is a valuable addition to the city’s rapidly developing creative and cultural landscape. Its diverse offering will provide creatives in Dubai and the region with the right tools to launch their design careers.”

She added that Dubai has cemented its position as a global design hub, one of the primary goals of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum’s Dubai Creative Economy Strategy, which was launched last year.

As part of that strategy, Dubai Culture is working to strengthen education in the creative arts and, as a result, support the emergence and development of creative talents while establishing an ecosystem of creators in the emirate.

“Bringing global institutions with decades of experience in the field of design to the region reinforces our commitment to the sector and to being a cultural and creative hub,” Sheikha Latifa said. “We look forward to the incredible talent that will graduate from (Istituto Marangoni Dubai) in the coming years.”

Noura Al-Kaabi, minister of culture and youth, said: “It gives me great joy to welcome a globally renowned fashion and design school to Dubai. I see a great partnership in the making, where the UAE and other MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries will have the advantage of a world-class design school, while Istituto Marangoni will benefit from the untapped talent waiting to be harnessed.

“The UAE is making waves in the creative space and building an ecosystem for future generations to contribute effectively to the creative economy. We are focusing on developing our cultural and creative industries to make them a more significant part of the UAE’s economy.

“We believe nurturing talent is critical to developing the creative sector and Istituto Marangoni will play an important role in achieving that. Imparting world-class education and specialized skills to our youth will boost their creative energy and support emerging talent.”

Stefania Valenti, the managing director of Istituto Marangoni, said: “It’s an honor to celebrate the opening of Istituto Marangoni Dubai at the Museum of the Future with the warm endorsement of Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al-Kaabi, and in this museum where our immersive experience found its perfect space.”

Dubai is the latest addition to the ranks of global fashion capitals that host an Istituto Marangoni school, including Milan, Florence, Paris, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Miami.

Valenti said that with the help of qualified, professional staff from Italy and an innovative “learning by doing” approach, students at Istituto Marangoni Dubai will develop the skills they need to realize their potential and turn their passion and talent into a successful career.

“Today’s event showcases what Istituto Marangoni students can achieve,” she added. “With the opening of our school in Dubai, we are offering local aspiring fashion and interior designers the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge required to kick-start their careers.

“Istituto Marangoni is committed to playing an active role in the Middle East to encourage a new ecosystem of talent, institutions, stakeholders and industries. We hope to contribute to fostering a new generation of fashion designers in the region, with special attention to empowering women in their aspirational field of interest, be it fashion, design or arts.”


French cinema giant Jean-Luc Godard dies aged 91

Updated 13 September 2022

French cinema giant Jean-Luc Godard dies aged 91

  • The legendary maverick blew up the conventions of cinema in the 1960s
  • The secrecy -- and choosing to disappear in a puff of smoke -- is typical of Godard

ROLLE, Switzerland: Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century and the father of the French New Wave, died “peacefully at home” on Tuesday aged 91, his family said.
The legendary maverick blew up the conventions of cinema in the 1960s, shooting his gangster romance “Breathless” on the streets of Paris with a hand-held camera, using a shopping trolley for panning shots.
He continued to thumb his nose at Hollywood and an older generation of French filmmakers by breaking all the rules again in “Contempt” (1963) with Brigitte Bardot and “Pierrot le Fou” in 1965.
“No official (funeral) ceremony will take place,” his family said. “He will be cremated... And it really must happen in private.”
The secrecy — and choosing to disappear in a puff of smoke — is typical of Godard, who loved to surprise the world from his lair in the Swiss village of Rolle where he lived as a virtual recluse for decades.
It was there that he died “peacefully at home,” his wife Anne-Marie Mieville at his side, his producers said.
Godard’s influence is hard to underestimate, with directors from Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson to Robert Altman, the maker of “M*A*S*H” and “The Player,” often speaking of their debt to him.
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the director’s talent and mourned the loss of a “national treasure.”
“Jean-Luc Godard, the most iconoclastic filmmaker of the New Wave, invented a resolutely modern, intensely free art. We have lost a national treasure, a genius,” Macron tweeted.
Godard’s house, with green shutters and a green bench out front, looked empty on Tuesday, its shades drawn, with an abandoned ashtray and teapot on the windowsill, an AFP reporter said.
Despite the filmmaker’s often difficult relationship with critics, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw heaped praise on Godard, saying, “The last great 20th-century modernist is dead.”
He compared him to other 1960s rebels like John Lennon and Che Guevara.
“Or maybe Godard was the medium’s Socrates, believing that an unexamined cinema was not worth having,” he added.
Guy Lodge, of the screen bible Variety, tweeted that it was “glib to say ‘he changed everything’, but he sure changed a hell of a lot of things.”
Indeed, Godard became a “god” to many 1960s political and artistic radicals who would hang on every word of his often contradictory — and tongue-in-cheek — declarations on the state of cinema and the world.
“All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” he once proclaimed, in a nod to US actress Jean Seberg, the star of “Breathless.”
The movie was a fashion as well as a film landmark, her pixie haircut copied by millions bowled over by her effortless Parisian cool.
“A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end — but not necessarily in that order,” Godard later famously declared, and “every edit is a lie.”
As he grew older, Godard would occasionally emerge from his Swiss bolthole to make low-budget films well into his 80s.
He never, however, regained the capacity to shock or move more mainstream audiences as he had in the 1960s, though a small band of disciples remained doggedly loyal to the master.
His periodic appearances at the Cannes film festival — often via FaceTime — still drew crowds, however, though he no longer held the sway he did when he had managed to shut down the festival entirely in 1968 in solidarity with the student protests in Paris.
Cannes also saw the premiere in 2017 of “Redoubtable,” a tragi-comic film about Godard’s doomed romance with the French actress Anne Wiazemsky, directed by the Oscar-winning director of “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius.


Julianne Moore leads red carpet protest for jailed Iranian filmmaker

Updated 09 September 2022

Julianne Moore leads red carpet protest for jailed Iranian filmmaker

  • Panahi was jailed in July along with two other filmmakers in the latest crackdown on Iranian civil society
  • Moore was joined for the protest by dozens of other artists, including British director Sally Potter and France's Audrey Diwan

VENICE, Italy: Julianne Moore led a flash-mob protest on the Venice red carpet on Friday in support of filmmakers detained around the world, as the festival premiered the new movie from imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi.
Panahi, who won the top prize Golden Lion in Venice in 2000, was jailed in July along with two other filmmakers in the latest crackdown on Iranian civil society.
Moore, who is leading the jury at this year’s festival, was joined for the protest by dozens of other artists, including British director Sally Potter and last year’s Golden Lion winner, France’s Audrey Diwan.
They held posters that also highlighted the detention of Myanmar filmmaker Ma Aeint and Turkish producer Cigdem Mater.
Despite years of attempts to silence him, Panahi’s new film “No Bears” shows that he has lost none of his searing political critique and wry sense of humor.
The film is partly focused on Iranians in Turkey, trying desperately to emigrate to Europe.
But it also follows Panahi himself in a fictionalized version of his real life, as he struggles to make the film from across the border in Iran, which he was already banned from leaving.
One of the film’s stars, Mina Kavani, told reporters in Venice she was inspired by his focus, despite having to direct by phone and Internet.
“He was in such concentration, he had such perfectionism — as an actress, I couldn’t let myself get sentimental,” said Kavani, who lives in exile in France.
“All that counted for him was cinema. He just wanted to make his movie. I thought: ‘I know now why he’s Mr.Panahi.’“
In 2010, Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the system” following his support for anti-government protests.
As can often happen in Iran, the sentence was never carried out but hung over him — and was only enacted in July when he went to enquire about two other filmmakers, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, who had just been arrested.
Panahi and Rasoulof issued a defiant statement via the Venice organizers last week, vowing to continue making art.
“The history of Iranian cinema witnesses the constant and active presence of independent directors who have struggled to push back censorship and to ensure the survival of this art,” they wrote.
Panahi has won the top prizes in Venice (for 2000’s “The Circle“) and Berlin (2015’s “Taxi“), as well as best screenplay at Cannes (2018’s “Three Faces“) — but was unable to accept either of the last two prizes in person.
The crackdown on civil society has worsened even further under President Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-conservative former judiciary chief who came to power last year.
Yet Iran’s independent filmmakers continue to punch above their weight, in spite of the pressure.
A second Iranian film is competing for the Golden Lion this week — “Beyond the Walls” by Vahid Jalivand — a grim look at Iran’s security state and those trapped within it.
Jalivand was cautious in his words at a press conference on Thursday, saying “a balance between the two sides” was needed in Iran today.
“In this movie the hero of the movie is a security official himself. We have unfortunately reached a perspective where it is totally bipolar,” he told reporters.
“If we can create the sense of brotherhood, dialogue will become much easier, there will be less violence. This is my true belief and I would still believe this even if I were living in Europe or the United States.”

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