Al Zouga Talattashar (Wife Number 13)
By Mike Derderian
Falling in love with the right person, marital bliss and babies—lots and lots of babies—is what life is all about. Until the husband decides its time to ravenously devour another woman instead of the previous one in order to rejuvenate his fading youth. Lights, action and roll’em: this is where our typical overused-misused theme in Arabic films and television series kicks in with an overdose of real bad sound effects.
Now, any Arabic film past 1975 I personally hate. I believe none of today’s brilliant directors managed to capture the magic of the good old days. Instead they resorted to cheap jokes, cheap indecency and cheap scripts (retail price). So, voila; their you have it: the I don’t-know-how-it-ever-made-the-silver-screen film that appeals to the tastes of those who cannot differentiate between comedy and a fat cat with his head in a trashcan struggling for a breath of clean air.
There was a period in my life when I found myself strangely drawn to the black and white Arab classics that I so-often remember my grandfather laughing to, hilariously, when I was a child—especially when Ismaeel Yasin revealed his one million dollar trademark smile of exaggerated coyness. Facing the sizzling presence of Hind Rustom, who so often managed to inflame the minds of men—young and old alike—with her Mae West-looks and extra-soft feathery voice, Yasin would place both hands in his pocket and sway like a child. Wouldn’t you? Now, don’t lie for there is nothing to be ashamed of.
I remember falling in love with So’ad Hussni’s smile in Too Young for Love, opposite playboy Rushdy Abaza, and admiring both Ahmad Muthar and Nadia Lutfi, whom was sporting a new look wearing The Black Eyeglasses, for their passionate attempts in analyzing each other’s motives in life.
I also cannot but laugh at myself for turning red and being perplexed whenever the cultured Omar Al Sherrif and the Arabic screen’s “First Lady” Fatin Hamama kissed passionately in their own version of Anna Karenina; or laughing at Simsem (Abd Al Haleem Hafez) and Abd Al Salam Al Naboulsi as they both try to impress two bathing beauties in believing that the former is a millionaire.
The Bottom line is I love classic films and that is why I chose one of my all-time favorites, Al Zouga Talattashar aka Wife Number 13, to debut as Cinerama’s first black and white Arabic film.
To younger generations, the phrase ‘black and white’ means boring; however, Wife Number 13 is one of those moments when you forget the future and find yourself in the 1960’s of Egyptian cinema when stars not only shined but also made you laugh hilariously.
Staring Shadia, Rushdee Abaza, Abdel Moneim Ibrahim, Showeikar, Wedad Hamdy and Hassan Faiq as Saber Basha, this 1962 production, which was directed by Ftain Abdel Wahab, is a modern rendition of the 1,001 Nights with a slight, 360-degree difference.
It is the story of a man and a woman, Murad and Aida, who meet, fall in love and get married, until the love-struck wife (Shadia) finds out that she is number 13 down her husband’s list of nuptials. After a mystery call from a woman (Showeikar), whom later met with Aida, the deceived wife finds out that Murad (Abaza) is a womanizer of a high caliber.
Immediately marrying any woman he fancies after bombarding her with words of flowery love, the woman who was once in love with the handsome devil is awe stricken. For no sooner that Murad fulfils his obligations, as a husband, the divorce paper is the only wording she now has as a memory.
Rushdy Abaza with his good looks, attributed to his being from an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, in addition to his dominating charismatic leading man persona that placed him in high demand even as he got old, was an excellent fit for the shoes of Murad, the Shahrayar of modern times.
However, thanks to a clever scheme utilized by Aida and her loudmouth maid (Wedad Hamdy), operation “Sheherazad Retaliation” will turn the hunter into the hunted.
Everytime Muraad tries to approach Aida, who is pretending to be asleep, she runs towards the window, yelling “mama” and trying to kill herself. Aida explains to him that due to a traumatic experience after her mother’s death, whenever she is asleep no one, not even he, should venture to awake her.
So, the disgruntled Muraad now finds himself forced to read 1,001 Nights to his wife everytime he tries to wake her, you could only imagine his misery, being deprived from the marital bliss of husband and wife. Serves him right.
The best part of Al Zouga Talattashar is when Aida arranges a surprise birthday party for Murad, attended by four of his former wifes. Having to dance all night long to mambo and Arabic dance tunes with all these women with a hangover, it is obvious that Murad’s punishment has begun.
This film will offer you a great comedy supported by the sharp jokes of Abdel Moneim Ibrahim and Hassan Fair’s facial expressions and alto voice; not to mention brilliant acting on part of Shadia, whom has a cinematic reputation of driving husbands mad with jealousy in the funniest of ways and its not any different with Rushdy Abaza as the husband.