Nihad Alaeddin, a pioneer actress in the Arab world who is famous for acting in the region’s first nudity scene, is not only a critic disparaging Islamic extremism after 15 years of self-imposed seclusion but also hurls calls to bring sex back to a region she calls ‘frustrated’, according to a newspaper interview.
“We have to bring sex to the cinema because our audience is frustrated,” she told the New York Times.
Mini-skirts prevailed more than hijab in university campuses during the 1960s and 1970s, as the Arab world enjoyed more of a free-terrain of openness influenced by the Marxist or communist school of thought, but conservative heat waves by the Islamists kept sweeping the region to bring the ‘liberal phenomenon’ into a sudden halt.
“There was a kind of bloom of freedom in those days,” said Nabil Maleh, a Syrian director who helped to make with Nihad’s career.
Alaeddin was nicknamed as Ighraa, Arabic for seduction, and left many people awed and inspired for her courageous roles. In 2009 the Syria TV aired a documentary about her life, and currently a prominent Syria director is working on a movie to showcase the same.
Never to ‘repent’
Strong in her views, and principled in her stances, Ighraa is a fierce critic of Islamists and unlike many of the actresses of her generation; she refuses to apologize for any of her seduction-laden, sultry roles.
“Men have this hypocrisy nowadays. If the girl wears a hijab she must be honest,” Ighraa said in a voice chipped from heavy smoking, during a late-night interview with the Times. Today’s Islamic conservatives, she said, are mostly “liars” who “criticize others but don’t truly believe themselves.”
With predisposition to defy the conventional, Ighraa is a great admirer of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, although she says that she does not share his Islamic principles, but admires his honesty. “If he asked me to sacrifice my blood, I would,” she added.
Ighraa dropped out from school in her fifth grade and moved to Cairo alongside her elder sister when she was 13 in the 1950s.
There she trained with the legendary Egyptian belly dancer Tahia Carioca which led to her acting in television dramas. But the ambitious, high-energy liberalism icon went on to become a leading actress, screenwriter and a director.
While an Egyptian impresario renamed her as Seduction, her elder sister was flattered as Charm. Nihad still keeps the nickname but Charm has left it behind and gone back to embracing religion and refuses to talk about her ‘hedonistic’ past.
“She is very important because she is not a liar,” said Khaled Khalifa, a prominent novelist and television screenwriter. “She never regretted, she never apologized.”
“In contemporary Syrian television and film you can barely even show a kiss,” he added.
Despite her reluctance to act again, some critics have thrashed her new coming, saying that her new iconoclasm is just an effort to glorify whatever has been left from her ‘soft-core porn’ career.
“I took off my clothes for a principle,” she said. “If I wanted to do it for money I could have done it in the dark and made a lot more.”
Her breakthrough movie
In a time when Egypt dominated the movie industry in the Arab world, Ighraa’s movie in 1970s, “The Leapord”, was pivotal in establishing the modern day Syrian cinema, and due to worries of the producer and film’s director that the story line of a Robin Hood like figure in the mountains of northern Syria might not be alluring enough to the audience; they suggested the nudity scene to her.
“I felt like a suicide bomber when I was making this scene,” she recalled. “To do such a scene in Syria — I knew there would be criticism.”
Ighraa adamantly defends the producer’s and director’s choice at that time.
Profoundly shocking at the time, the scene is hardly considered as a scorching ‘hot’ one by modern standards with frugal glimpses of flesh during a mellow love scene.
Her later movies followed-suit with several bikini scenes. Ighraa has written 25 screenplays, and says she considers her work as an effort to dismantle patriarchal attitudes towards women.
“My films criticized the double standard of the Eastern man,” she said. “He studies in Europe, but he comes back East and returns to his old attitudes. If he could lock his wife and sister up, he would,” she tells the paper.
Many younger filmmakers consider her standing as an actress as less important than her defiance, in a country where artists are often forced to make compromises according to demands from censors, or religious orthodoxy.
(Written by Dina al-Shibeeb)