At a time when the internet is rivaling television in providing entertainment, a contemporary Arabic drama series is pushing boundaries and challenging its viewers.
Produced by Batoota films, the International Digital Emmy Award-winning team behind previous web series, ‘Shankaboot’ and ‘Beirut, I Love You, I Love You Not’, Fasateen (Arabic for “Dresses”) follows the lives of three Lebanese women in their 30s, each from a different background and leading a different lifestyle.
Internet giant, Yahoo! approached Batoota Films to produce the series, which was launched in July 2012 on their interactive platform Yahoo! Maktoob. The producers were given a very free brief for the show and wanted to make something innovative.
Fasateen aims to reflect the lives of not only Lebanese women, but women across the Arab world as well, as the storyline weaves across the intersecting personal challenges the three women face. It also introduces an interactive element by offering the viewer a choice of two different endings for each episode.
“After people noticed the successes of the web series in the Arab world, Yahoo contacted us with an interest to do a web series for Maktoob; all that they asked for is something about women and they said they wanted to do it in Lebanon. So we came up with the idea about three different women, each one from a different background and different married life and relationship with her parents. We came up with the idea to have two different endings for every episode,” said Katia Saleh, the series producer.
The drama follows Aliya, single mother struggling to raise her son after her husband leaves her, Lama, a rich woman obsessed with her own beauty whose husband lives abroad, and Karma, who is torn between the love of her family and the love of her life.
Saleh said having two endings made it easier for people to deal with some of the subjects discussed. Each episode has a more traditional ending which bows to traditional Arab social norms, and another which is more daring.
“We tried our best to discuss daring subjects without showing that we are doing something controversial, but these are subjects that try to strengthen the woman in the Arab world, and show one opinion and the other, not only that you [addressing the Arab woman] have to do what your husband or parents tell you to, or what society decides what you should do on your behalf, we showed in the two endings two solutions, you have this solution and another one,” added Katia Saleh.
Saleh said the presence of a woman among the writers, Mounia Akl, added a feminine perspective to the fresh ideas the young writing team came up with. Saleh said their talent brought a new spirit to Lebanese and Arabic drama.
Bassem Breish led the three other writers, Akl, Cyril Aris and Mardig Troshagerian in the team.
“The series talks about these three women, they meet and separate, they agree on one thing and disagree on another, it follows them in ten episodes. Each episode has a specific theme, maybe not every episode by itself, but there are themes that the series discusses, for example breast cancer and how much it is important to have an awareness not only in Lebanon, but in the Arab world, because as you know there is no awareness for women, the women don't know whether she has breast cancer or not, so this is one of the themes that the series discuss,” he said.
He said the internet platform and the ability of viewers to choose the ending of Fasateen had resulted in discussions amongst the audience on the roles and issues facing Arab women today.
“There is a mistaken view of woman [in the Arab world]. Fasateen comes from a place to discuss this, not to tell the people how to act or look at a woman, but to ask questions about this relationship,” Breish added.
Fasateen has an initial run of 10 episodes, each about ten minutes long, with English subtitles.
About 24 percent of Lebanese used the internet in 2008, according to figures from the International Telecommunication Union. By 2012, World Bank figures said just over 50 percent of the population were internet users.