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The Passing of Hind Rustom

August 23, 2011

This piece of art utilizing iconic images of Hind Rustom is by By Ali Cha'aban. http://www.flickr.com/photos/cul-de-sac/

Egyptian actress Hind Rustom passed away Aug. 9. The star of more than 70 films, she was a cultural icon in Egypt, dominating the film industry from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. She has a channel on YouTube here.

Rustom was sometimes called (somewhat patronizingly) “the Marilyn Monroe of the East”, and like Monroe in the US she became a favorite subject for artists in Egypt. You can see some of this art here at Ladashia.com.

I know Rustom best for her role as Hanuma, the beautiful soft drink seller in Youssef Chahine’s 1958 classic Cairo Station (Bab al-Hadid). Occupied with attracting the attention of the handsome Abu Sri (Farid Shawqi), who is trying to unionize the porters, Hanuma jests with the crippled news dealer Qinawi (played by Chahine himself) but doesn’t take him seriously.

Eventually, he kidnaps her, stuffing her unconscious body into a crate with the intention of taking her back to his village.

Cairo Station (the actual Arabic title means The Iron Gate) is one of the films I put on reserve during my Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East course. It appeals to Western collegiate audiences in part because it is about sexual obsession, repression, violence and the tragic results of terrible choices that one can’t take back once they are made.

But I like it because it is about one of the central themes of Egyptian society, how to make one’s way in a world being transformed by Western ideas, media and commerce. Themes like nationalism, socialism and Islamist activism are also exhibited in interesting ways.

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