Will Abu Issam return to Bab El Hara?

Will Abu Issam be returning to Bab El Hara—a question which once was asked in the Arab world more frequently than who would win the US election.

The question has now even become more persistent as the fifth episode of the Arab world’s most famous TV drama is about to be broadcast during the Moslem fasting month of Ramadan, starting in the second week of August.

Abu Issam, personified by Syrian star Abbas al Nouri, was the main character in Bab El Hara’s first two parts before he was presumably killed.

Nouri’s sudden exit is believed to have followed a rift with the series Syrian director, Bassam Al Mulla. But there have been reports that the two have just patched up their rift, giving rise to rumors about Abu Issam’s comeback.

Mulla and all actors in the series have refused to give any indication that Abu Issam would be back in part five, which could also miss another major character—Abu Shehab (Samer Al Masri), who acted as the chief of the neighbourhood and was one of the most influential characters in the drama.

“Where ever I go, people stop me and ask if Abu Issam will come back,” said Syrian star, Milad Yousuf, who acts as Abu Issam’s eldest son, Issam.

“I cannot answer their question but they keep asking and saying that I should know because I am his son… this question has been asked so often that it should go into Guinness Book of Records…actually, it was once asked more than the question as who will win the US election—Obama or (Hilary) Clinton,” Yousuf was quoted as saying this week by the London-based daily Asharqalawsat.

Bab El Hara (the neighbourhood’s gate) has been broadcast during Ramadan over the past four years and a fifth part will be screened next Ramadan.

The series chronicles the daily happenings and family dramas in an old neighborhood in the Syrian capital Damascus in the inter-war period under French rule when the population yearned for independence.

Directed by Al Mulla, one of the best known Arab directors, and broadcast on MBC and other Arab satellite TV channels, the first installment of the series, comprising 31 episodes, was aired during Ramadan in 2006 and it enjoyed broad viewership throughout the region.

The second part was highly anticipated, receiving even wider acclaim in Ramadan of 2007. A third installment was aired in Ramadan of 2008 and it focused on the struggle against the French occupation and the post-marriage lives of the children of Abu Issam, the local doctor and barber. The fourth series focused on the struggle against the French.

No details have been provided about part five but according to Yousuf, the main theme will shift from the conflict with the French back to social traditions at that time and inter-relations within the neighbourhood’s inhabitants.

“Part five is supposed to be the last part… the viewers will notice that it will return to its basic features involving traditions, folklore and small details in local relations… you will also notice that Issam’s character has much matured and it plays a key role in some surprise incidents in part five,” Yousuf said.

Part five is reported to have been shot late last year and was directed by Al Mulla’s brother Mumen Al Mulla.

Bassam, who directed the first four seasons of the series is going to be the executive producer and will only supervise the work without directing it.

This season Syrian star Kassi Khouli will join the acting cast where he will play a role which was tailored specifically for him.

Like many of the most recent popular Arabic series, Bab al-Hara is a Syrian production, financed by the Gulf satellite channels.

It reflects a new trend representing the shift of Arabic media dominance away from the Egyptians to the Syrians. As funding has become available from Gulf TV stations, the Syrians have seen an exponential rise to dominance in the field Arab audiovisual and cinematic production over the past few years.

In a recent interview with Lebanon’s Al Manar TV, owned by Hezbollah, Bassam Al Mulla said that Abu Issam and Abu Shehab might return to part five if the story requires so. The stars of Bab al Hara who were also welcomed on the show spoke about their special experiences doing this work.

The show ended with the first scene of Bab Al Hara five and viewers saw Abu al Hasan, the man who helped the others escape, enter the quarters on a horse and announcing that the resistance stands strongly and firmly

Last year, Syrian companies produced roughly 28 drama series, the most popular type of programme with Syrian and Arab viewers. Bab El Hara has the highest viewing rates among all Arab TV drama series.

“Do you think Abu Issam will return,” asked Imad Hariri, a Syrian mobile phone shop owner in Abu Dhabi. “I would love to see him again…but even if he does not come back, I still love to watch part five.”

“Whether he returns or not, I don’t think any one will miss part five,” said Ibrahim Zakaria, a Lebanese company employee in Abu Dhabi. “But of course, the return of Abu Issam will make part five much better.”

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