A superb screenplay, masterful direction and excellent acting collaborated to make the film Ehki Ya Shahrazad (Talk on, Shehrezad) such a huge success. The film, which boldly focuses on gender issues, exposes the oppression against women rampant in Egyptian society, and how intimately related this oppression is to social and political corruption.
The TV announcer Heba Younis—played by Mona Zaki in one of her best roles on the screen—hosts a talk show Nihayat al-Masaa…Bidayet al-Sabah (End of the evening…Beginning of the day) in al-Shams(The Sun) Channel. The debates featured in her show expose political corruption, spilling over difficulties into her own household. Younis’ husband is an ambitious journalist who aspires to be editor-in-chief of his State-owned paper; in fact he has been promised by the officials concerned to attain this post if his wife refrained from tackling ‘thorny’ issues on her show. Accordingly, he pressures his wife to do so, insisting that his career hung on her compliance with that wish. Younis resolves to support her husband. She decides to play it safe by tackling women’s problems and grievances in her show. Little does she know how much trouble this would land her into since, under the surface, it again exposes in a flagrant manner an unimaginable degree of corruption.
Younis presents the problem of spinsterhood through Sawsan Badr who spends time in a mental hospital. The agony of Badr exposes the widespread macho concept that views women, even within the marriage establishment, as no more than a sexual object. Badr had refused to sacrifice her freedom, salary, and car to marry a tyrant who required her full submission to his wishes, to the point of demanding that she dons the veil. The film condemns hijab in the sense that some women veil not only their hair but also their minds.
Younis’ husband believes that she presents disgusting stories that tarnish Egypt’s image. Since she brings to light true stories of social and political corruption, he would like his wife to stay away from such a headache.
Younis presents the story of three ugly sisters who lose their father, a paint-shop owner. They decide to let a faithful shop hand manage their shop instead of their drug-addict uncle. The three had never got married; each feels independently the shop hand may make her a good husband, and makes subtle advances to him. As he observes the eagerness of all three to marry him he takes advantage of the situation and has affairs with each of them. Predictably, the sisters discover his filthiness; the eldest kills him and is sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The ultimate in oppression
Following a ministerial change, Younis’s attention is captured by a woman who holds a one-person demonstration, holding a banner questioning how ministers are selected. Younis hosts her on her show, where she says she is a dentist and was once engaged to a gallant gentleman—played by Mahmoud Hemeida. When she discovers before the wedding that she is pregnant he disclaims any charge of paternity by claiming he is sterile. He blackmails her into paying him a huge sum of money or he would scandalise her. She then discovers he makes it a business of his to swindle rich women of their money. She somehow manages to get rid of him, but is stunned to find him become a minister. Hence the one-woman demonstration.
Younis goes home that evening to find an infuriated husband awaiting her. He has been rejected as editor-in-chief because of the embarrassment his wife’s talk-show has caused to the government. He turns against her with all his frustration and savagely beats her.
But Younis presents her star show the following evening. With no make-up to hide her bruised face and black eyes, she goes on air to tell her personal story, the ultimate in female oppression.
Ehki Ya Shahrazad is a rich panorama of the harsh oppression that Egyptian woman suffer. And it exposes the masculine macho thought that sees in women oppression the ultimate exercise of male power.
The film offers magnificent cinematography and excellent use of filming to make its point. Younger audiences may find the sequence of shots too slow; however it is this slow pace that gives the spectator an opportunity to contemplate the events. Cinema is, after all, the art of the “scene”.