Precious Moments Shared by the Egyptian Icon
By Shorouk Abbas and Hilary Diack
More than simply a star, talented and versatile actor Adel Imam has justifiably risen to the rank of national treasure in the years he has graced our screens. With well over 100 films to his credit, he has become a fixture in the lives of most Egyptian households. Starting out in mainly comedic roles in the 1970’s, with a dash of romance thrown in, Imam has since been lauded for his handling of deeper and more challenging dramatic roles. Not one to shy away from controversial scripts, he has often played characters who take on the establishment and high profile organisations; a situation which has placed him in hot water both on and off screen.
In honor of its first ever issue dedicated to men, Cairo West Magazine chose to connect with this exceptional man to learn more about his life, his work and his motivation.
In a lifetime of epic achievements, many have resonated deeply, with every minute being special in its’ own way. Above all, though, the role he has played in spreading the love of Egyptian Arabic from the Maghreb to the Gulf through his films has been most rewarding for him. Egyptian Arabic is strongly linked to local culture and humor, so this has enabled the huge audience of viewers across the region to develop a strong appreciation for what Egypt is so fortunate to have. Imam knows that through his prolific roles he has become an ambassador of Egyptian language and culture.
This is not the only ambassadorial role he has taken on. He was appointed in 2000 as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN Commission for Refugees, and it is a cause he is very committed to. His strong personal belief in the value of family, security and stability is at the root of this, so any work he can do to help alleviate the suffering of those who have lost this privilege is important to him.
Imam stressed that these values have played out in his own life, as he was blessed with having love and support from his own family. His mother played an important part in his life. Although he was relieved that she had an end to her suffering from a painful illness when she passed away, the loss was devastating for him. It was his personal experiences in childhood that reinforced his determination to create a strong family unit when he married. He believes that marriage is not to be taken lightly, and he and his wife Hala have enjoyed many years together, and have raised three wonderful children, Sara, Rami and Mohamed.
Never intending for his children to follow in his footsteps, paradoxically it did actually work out that way. He had serious concerns about them entering the world of film, but it seemed to be in their blood! All three of his children graduated from AUC, from the Faculty of Media and Dramatic Arts. Rami, his elder son, had initially started to study engineering, but it didn’t take long for him to find his niche in the world of film. He is now a well-known film director. His younger son, Mohamed, is carving out a successful career as an actor, and seems to be heading for stardom. His daughter Sara ensured that the link was there through her marriage to a fellow graduate from the same faculty.
In a world of increasingly fragile relationships, Imam derives much happiness from the close bonds within his family. Always having felt close to the countryside and the extended family structures to be found there, his rural roots have translated into the same traditions. Following this pattern, he lives with his wife, children, and grandchildren in a large villa in a green setting on the outskirts of Cairo. He feels that this closeness works well, as they live in an atmosphere of respect and affection. All family members are called by their given names, parents and children alike, but of course, as patriarch he has the honor of being called “Geddoo” or Grandfather.
Laughingly, he concurs that grandfathers are often negatively stereotyped in many Egyptian films, and are depicted as figures to ridicule, but he personally is thrilled to be one, and adores his grandchildren. For him, the element of stability, and being grounded, is paramount in creating a harmonious family life. His work and energy have largely gone towards achieving this.
According to Imam, his wife Hala has been everything in his road to fame and stardom. Both by creating a happy family, and supporting him every step of the way, there is no doubt that she was behind his success. Marriage is an important step, and a lifelong commitment, he believes, so choosing a partner who loves and appreciates you, who can experience the ups and downs with you, is vital. And of course, he adds, as a happily married man, he has earned a lot of respectability!
Pondering the key to his immense popularity Imam mused, whether it is a comedic role, or a dramatic one, that he always seeks to be accessible to the audience: to play the role in a way that the audience can empathize and identify with. He always strives to bring the realities of their lives into focus in a way that allows them to also feel part of the situation, where they can experience what the character is going through.
Looking at recent developments within the world of Egyptian cinema, Imam feels it is on the brink of a resurgence. This covers full-length films, as well as short films and documentaries. While Imam’s films have always captured a massive audience consistently over the years, he recognizes that there is still a relatively under-utilized pool of talent within the new breed of young actors, directors and cinematographers. Participation in international film festivals will give up-and-coming actors and directors the chance to showcase their talents, and will expand the reach of local productions.
By maintaining standards and seeking out creative scripts, he feels confident that the film industry in Egypt has the potential to regain its place in the Arabic speaking world. There is still a huge audience in Egypt that prefers local films to foreign blockbusters, and this must be acknowledged so the industry can work towards satisfying an eager market.
His advice to young actors starting out in their careers is to maintain authenticity. Circumstances change, public tastes and perceptions change, but so long as they feel for a role they will connect with the audience. He urges young actors not to be afraid to turn away from roles that they can’t feel inspired by. When the right role comes their way, they should grasp the opportunity and give it all their heart and energy.
Following the example Adel Imam has set, both in his life and work, many up-and-coming actors can benefit from his wisdom and experience. Egypt can consider herself blessed.