Fresh from the release of her debut album Ehky, silver-screen starlet and all-round entertainer Bushra talks to Enigma’s Omnia Zaied about movies, music and why there’s no business quite like show business.
Her strikingly angular Western features might have landed her a gig as the youngest ever reporter on Abu Dhabi TV (she was only 15 at the time), but it was Bushra’s distinctly Egyptian joie de vivre and wicked sense of humour that nabbed her a leading role on the groundbreaking 2001 Arab sitcom Shabab Online (Online Youth). Her star turn on the hilarious show caught the eye of legendary Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, who handpicked her for the role of Carine in his semi-autobiographical box-office smash Alexandria – New York. The late Chahine suspected this bright young thing would go far, describing her as “a very smart girl with a beautiful smile.”
Bushra made good on his seal of approval, landing stellar roles in a slew of blockbuster movies including Ana Mish Maahom (I’m Not One of Them), An el Eshk Wel Hawa (About Love) and Wesh Igram (Criminal Tendencies), as well as the top-rated TV show El Amma Nour (Aunt Nour).
Yet there was another side of Bushra few had seen – a stop-you-in-your-tracks voice that simply demanded someone give her a record deal. In 2006, she tentatively dipped her toes in the music industry with two single releases: Tabat w Nabat (Happily Ever After) and Makanak (Stay Put). And this summer, she unveils the full force of her vocal talent with a debut solo album entitled Ehky (Tell Me). Co-written by Bushra herself, it’s a perfect summer album that proves this gorgeous silver-screen starlet might just be a pop force to be reckoned with.
Your debut album Ekhy was only released a month ago and it’s already a huge hit. You must be very excited!
Of course! I wrote the music and lyrics on four of the songs, so this album is incredibly personal to me. I’m thrilled the public have taken such a liking to it.
It’s a very emotionally driven album, and you touch on a lot of painful issues such as divorce and loss. To what extent is it autobiographical?
Well, Malnash Naseeb (It Wasn’t Meant to Be), which I co-wrote with Mahmoud El Esseily, is dedicated to my parents who are divorced. Throughout all the difficulties of the separation, they’ve always been incredibly civilised with each other. So I wanted to send the message that with the right attitude it’s possible to come through the most harrowing of experiences with your integrity intact. The song Ehky (Tell Me) was inspired by my role in the movie An el Eshk wel Hawa. I play a woman whose husband has an affair and eventually picks the ‘other woman.’ Again that’s a very painful experience so many women go through and it’s important to get in touch with those emotions rather than sweep them under the carpet. I wanted to narrate the stories and suffering that we experience as women.
You’ve already proven yourself as an actress, so why take the risk of starting over again in the music industry?
Art is about taking a risk. If you give into fear, you’ll never get anywhere as an artist. I believe in my talent, I believe in myself and there are people who believe in me. Of course the music industry is over-saturated at the moment with young female singers, but with the economy the way it is, people are seeking quality over quantity. And I can give it to them.
You’re in your early 20s, and yet, between your movie and TV careers and your budding music career you’ve already achieved so much. What’s your secret?
I always knew I wanted to be an entertainer. Both my parents are politically driven academics. I spent a lot of my youth in England, where they were both studying for their doctorates at Cambridge University, and most people assumed I’d follow in their footsteps. But I really wanted to be different. Unlike my parents, I always believed you don’t have to be a politician to affect people’s lives. As an entertainer, you can be as effective and influential, so from early on I set out to prove my point.
You were fortunate enough to work with legendary director Youssef Chahine early in your career. How was that experience?
That was great! He was a very cosmopolitan person who struck the perfect balance, professionally and personally, between East and West, and there’s so much to learn from that. Professionally he was very serious and strict, yet he was also an incredibly funny and kind-hearted person. He was more than my mentor, he was like a father to me.
With the Youssef Chahine movie you proved you were a capable actress who could handle an emotionally demanding role. Yet all the subsequent roles you chose were comedic and arguably far easier to manage. Why is that?
The real Egyptian movie market is not Youssef Chahine-style movies. The roles he created were an exception. I needed to be more realistic and experience different styles and different directorial mentalities. After the Chahine movie, a lot of the roles I was being offered were for aristocratic girls or ‘international’ girls. I had to prove that just because I have Western features it doesn’t mean I can’t play a real Egyptian girl.
You’re a multi-talented performer, but which aspect of the industry do you enjoy most?
I love all of it! I’m just an entertainer at heart. My ideal scenario is one where I can combine all my skills, like in my new stage musical Prasca. It is based on the novel The Women’s Parliament by Tawfik El Hakim. I grew up watching musicals in London’s West End, so I have a real affinity for that sort of performance.
So what about men in your life? With such a hectic schedule have you got time for love?
I’m really focusing on my career at the moment. Besides, I haven’t even found the right guy yet. When it comes to love I’m very traditional, and I expect the guy to come knocking at my door, not the other way round!
What qualities do you find attractive in a man?
I think a similar background and upbringing makes for a successful relationship. It’s not so much about money; it’s about values and world-views. Any man in my life also has to be very understanding of the pressures of my career. It’s a tough job and he has to be able to handle it!
So what does the future hold for Bushra?
I’m working on a couple of movies at the moment including a film called 7,8,9 about the sexual harassment that so many girls in Egypt suffer on the streets. It is a very daring topic which needs to be addressed, especially because now women simply don’t feel comfortable walking alone down any street in Cairo. I experienced something similar when I was 15, so it’s a topic that’s very important to me. The second movie is about how hard it is for women to find a husband these days!
As for my long-term plans, I’d love to have an international career, to showcase Arabs in a positive light around the world. To prove that irrespective of cultural differences, we can still understand each other… just like President Obama did by coming to Cairo! Of course I am still in the early days of my career and I’ve only just begun to go after my goals. But with every new role, challenge and opportunity I feel I’m getting closer.