During the golden age of Egyptian cinema, many films included musical sequences, to convey feelings and complement the storyline, but lately, such films are extremely rare. That’s why the film, Lama Benetweled (When We’re Born), which features its own take on a musical narrative, has caught people’s attention. Directed by Tamer Ezzat and written by the late Nadine Shams, the film features original songs written and performed by Cairokee’s lead singer, Amir Eid, as it tells three separate love stories and the challenges the world throws at them. eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham sat down with the film’s main cast to hear about their experience and their take on this original film.
After hearing a lot of buzz about an upcoming movie which includes original songs by Cairokee’s singer/song-writer Amir Eid, and which marks Eid’s acting debut, I decided to get to the bottom of this project. A couple of weeks later, I was sitting in Cairokee’s private studio, getting ready to interview the lead actors of Lama Benetweled, Amir Eid and Amr Abed. Later, I managed to catch up with their co-stars, Salma Hassan and Mohamed Hatem.
I had to do the interview before the cast would get busy at El Gouna Film Festival, where the film’s world-premiere was due to take place a few days later. Having not yet viewed the film myself, I had to rely primarily on the actors’ take on it, in my interview. I therefore got to see the movie through their eyes before watching it through mine later at its premiere in the festival.
Sitting with these budding talents, I could feel a spark of excitement in their eyes, like they knew they were sitting on something special but were wise enough to not show it off early on. Already aware that the film tells three separate stories, I knew I had to approach each of the stars from a different angle. Amir Eid was the music sensation embarking on his acting debut and writing original songs for the film; while Amr Abed was the proficient actor taking on one of his boldest roles to date. Salma Hassan was the young actress getting her chance to play the role of a lifetime, and Mohamed Hatem, was the skilled actor who plays the easygoing lovestruck guy in this film.
Being a famous singer, Amir Eid had never considered dipping into the acting pond, but fate had other plans. “When Tamer Ezzat first approached me, I declined, but when he told me that I would be creating and singing around nine short songs in the film, that really got my attention. It was a new challenge for me to create lyrics and a melody to follow the context of the film,” says Eid, who plays both the role of Ahmed, the struggling singer who seeks his father’s approval, as well as the narrator who comments through song on each of the film’s stories.
While some may assume that Ahmed’s story corresponds to that of a young Amir Eid, the star singer denies this. “We are completely different, and our histories are polar opposites. I was not born into a rich family, and, contrary to Ahmed, I am familiar with life’s struggles. I had to learn my craft by myself, self-improve and clear a path of my own,” he explains.
While the singing and song writing came naturally to Eid, this experience was different. “I wrote the songs through the emotions of each scene. I wanted to create music with a different melody and a different tone for each character. Tamer would send me the scenes and the dialogue he was imagining, and I would write the songs through his vision. He helped me see the bigger picture of the stories,” Eid recalls. “The challenge was that I wasn’t writing my own story. I was writing about situations someone else was going through, things I wouldn’t necessarily write for myself. The hardest part, though, was the acting, because it was a first for me. I realised that it involved a lot of effort and details that I didn’t know about. Filming is harder than singing. It’s tough,” he adds.
Figuring out that the film was obviously a special genre of its own, I asked the stars to try to describe it. “It’s not categorised as a musical, but I also can’t say that it’s not a musical,” says Eid. “It’s a merge between music and drama with a thought-provoking message, which you are invited to explore. It tells the story through music, and everyone will have their own interpretation of the songs, “ he explains.
Elaborating further, Abed adds, “Typically, musicals include singing and musical numbers, and the dialogue is through songs by the main characters as they tell their story. But in this film, Amir’s character narrates the drama in song, but the other characters don’t sing.”
Amr Abed, who starred in Awquat Faragh (Spare Time) and El Magic, is no stranger to controversial and thought-provoking roles. But in this film, he takes on one of his boldest roles to date. He portrays Amin, a struggling gym trainer unable to make ends meet, who decides to work as a male prostitute to provide for his wife and family.
“This character was definitely the hardest for me to play on all levels. The context of the story itself is difficult, but extremely well written,” Abed claims. “I hope people sympathise with Amin, who decides to do something very unorthodox to reach a very orthodox goal, basically to satisfy his family’s needs. The screenplay was written very compassionately, without judgment towards the character and his story,” he adds.
The third story, and perhaps the simplest one, is incredibly moving and heartbreaking, thanks in no small part to the obvious chemistry between its two stars. The story of Farah and Osama, played by Salma Hassan and Mohamed Hatem, is about two young people who fall in love, but one big hurdle gets in their way – their different religions.
Explaining how she tried to bring her character to life and make her relatable to the viewer, Hassan recounts, “Farah, a Christian girl, is like a lot of girls in our society. She was raised by her family to follow their religious beliefs and traditions. But Farah, happens to simply fall in love… with a Muslim guy. It’s a sensitive topic, and although I really can’t explain it, I know how to act it. I tried to depict Farah’s perspective. I tried to mirror her feelings.”
“The film creates room for the viewer to wonder what he or she would do if this happened to them or to someone close to them. It was very hard to depict the pain of a girl and a boy who are in love, facing obstacles they don’t have control over. These scenes were tough. I worked closely with our director, Tamer Ezzat, in the rehearsals, where we discussed every word Farah was to say, the tone of her voice and even the way she walked,” says Hassan.
The dynamic with her co-star Mohamed Hatem clearly helped elevate Hassan’s performance. “We had known each other beforehand, but we weren’t close friends. I really like his acting and I think he’s a super nice guy, so when I found out he was playing the role opposite me, I was very happy. I feel like we have great on-screen chemistry,” Hassan recalls.
Hatem plays Osama, Farah’s love interest, who has a degree in engineering, but decides to explore a different career that takes him to different parts of the world. His story begins when he meets Salma, who is very different from him. “She lives in a bubble, in her comfort zone, and is a lot more at ease with her life than he is. They both end up changing each other’s lives,” Hatem recounts. “I’m hopeful people will feel compassion towards their story, which is simply about love. The film’s message is that the moment you are born is the moment when you are free. It’s the freest you will ever be. You’re free from thought and you’re free from chains. Then as time goes by, the pages of your book are written and filled with a lot of traditions and rules,” he says. Hatem hopes that audiences will understand the main message behind the film. Sure enough, the film was met with critical acclaim at the El Gouna Film Festival shortly after we talked!
Abed pitches in the conversation, adding his own take on the film, “The film asks thought-provoking questions about love. It is about three love stories and the obstacles that face lovers in three different environments and situations.”
Eid concludes, “The reason the film is called Lama Benetweled, is because when we are born, things that we don’t choose are imposed on us throughout our lives. These things can either lead to challenges throughout your life, or they could give you an advantage in life. Most people never try to change the situations they were born into. The message of the film is that when you free yourself from the life you were born into and you start having your own personality and developing your own life, things take a different turn.”