Since the late 1940s, Shadia was the Egyptian screen’s sweetest girl next door who captivated everyone’s hearts with her charm and her silky, playful voice.  The recent passing of this icon of the golden era of Egyptian cinema saddened her millions of fans in Egypt and throughout the Arab region. eniGma is dedicating this feature in honour of Shadia’s amazing career and her impressive contributions to Egyptian cinema and music. We are also grateful to her niece, Nahed Shaker, who provided us with insight on the star’s post-retirement days.

important part of Egyptian cinema’s golden age, which spanned the period roughly between the 1940s and the 1970s, which witnessed the release of the most highly acclaimed films in the history of the Egyptian screen.  Shadia starred in no less than 112 productions varying between lighthearted comedies and serious dramas in the course of her acting career.   

Born as Fatma Shaker, Shadia was only thirteen years old when she appeared for the very first time in the film El Aql Fe Agaza (The Mind on Vacation), to much critical acclaim.  Following that, she went on to capture the hearts of cinema audiences in a series of lighthearted musical comedies alongside A-list stars, such as Emad Hamdy, who became her first husband and Kamal El Shenawy.

During the course of her long career on the screen, Shadia played a variety of roles, from the innocent country girl to the strong independent working woman, portraying them with equal conviction.   Towards the end of the nineteen fifties, she veered to more serious roles, starting with the film, Al Mar’a El Maghoula (The Anonymous Woman), an adaptation of the English novel, Madame X, and She’ Men El Khouf (Some Sort of Fear), where her role as Fouada, the strong-willed village girl who saved her village from the village strongman, is ingrained in Egyptian cinema history.  The film is considered a milestone in her career, and the film’s headline song in her voice, and composed by the legendary Baligh Hamdy, is considered a classic.  Her strong performance in The Anonymous Woman  elicited widespread acclaim from audiences and critics alike and cemented her standing as a serious actress, especially since the role entailed dramatic changes to her appearance,  a far cry from the sweet girl next door image she had hitherto been known for.

Starting a few years later, Shadia teamed up with her third husband, actor Salah Zulfikar  in three comedy films, Merati Modir Aam (My Wife is the General Manager), Afreet Merati (My Wife’s Ghost) and Karamet Zawgty (My Wife’s Dignity). They became the most beloved screen duo of the 1960s.

Shadia also performed critically acclaimed roles in three other films based on Nobel Laureate, Naguib Mahfouz’s important novels,  Zoqaq El Madaaq (Midaq Alley), El Les We Al Klab (The Theif and the Dogs) and Miramar, which elevated her standing even higher as a seriously talented actress.  Impressed with her interpretation of the characters in his books, Mahfouz himself has said, “Shadia is a top-quality actress who managed to give the prose of my novels body, blood and a distinctive form.”

Shadia’s legendary popularity across the Arab world extended to her as a singer as well.  She was often referred to by critics as “the successor of Laila Mourad,” the earlier legendary singer/actress and icon, who had millions of fans throughout the region.   Like Laila Mourad, many of Shadia’s films were musical comedies in which she sang in her silky playful voice.  Her songs alongside musical idol, Abdel Halim Hafez, in a number of films, including Ma’boudet El Gamaheer (The People’s Idol), remain memorable and popular to this day.  Shadia is also famous for her iconic patriotic songs, like Ya Habebty Ya Masr (Oh Egypt, My Beloved) which continues to be played on the radio and TV on every national holiday.   

To the surprise of her fans, the legendary darling of the silver screen also ventured into theater with her starring role in Raya & Skeina, alongside the iconic theater superstars Soheir el Bably and Abdel Moneim Madbouly, achieving phenomenal success. The play has become a classic in Egyptian theater.  Her amazing performance in this comedic rendition of a famous murderous folktale elevated her to superstar standing as a serious theater actress as well.

Shadia, was married four times, one of which was to the famous journalist, Mostafa Amin.  During her marriage to Amin, she was known to host regular dinner parties at her home, attended by Egypt’s intellectuals and such literary figures like Ihsan Abdoul Qudos, Anis Mansour, amongst many others.  Her closest friends in the entertainment industry, included the actress, Shahira, legendary dancers, Samia Gamal and Tahia Karioka, and legendary singer and composer, Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

Shadia never had a child of her own, but she was very close to her nieces and nephews. Her niece, Nahed Shaker, remembers her as the young free spirited woman we saw on the screen. “She had the same fun loving, outgoing and playful personality. She was always laughing and making jokes, and she played hide and seek with us as little kids. However, she was also a strict disciplinarian and always kept us on a tight leach,” Shaker tells us.

In 1984, Shadia filmed her last film, La Tas’alny Man Ana (Don’t Ask Me Who I Am), then retired into a life of seclusion. When asked why she was terminating her film career, her answer was that she wanted the public to remember her as the young playful girl she embodied in her films, rather than the mature lady she was becoming.  She spent the remainder of her life out of the spotlight, and successfully managed to lead a private life.

Shadia nonetheless remained abreast of the new films and rising stars in Egyptian cinema and loved watching TV.   “She liked Khalid El Nabawy a lot, and predicted a bright future for him, ever since his debut. She also found Donia and Amy Samir Ghaneim very funny, and she enjoyed Amr Diab’s music,” Shaker recounts.

The iconic star passed away on November 28, 2017 and her funeral was attended by thousands of her fans.  Recently, the Cairo International Film Festival dedicated its 39th edition to her in recognition of her lifetime achievements in the cinema industry and participants rose in a standing ovation to her memory.  Her films and songs continue to be shown regularly on TV, gaining her new fans from the newer generations all over Egypt and the Arab world.  Her beautiful sweet memory will be cherished forever in our hearts.