“I owe so much to two of the masters of music and theatre: the musician Sayed Darwish and the writer Mohamed Taymour.”
Fatma Rushdi and Hussein Sedki in The Countryman
Fatma Rushdi was born in Alexandria. Her career also began there, when she was ten years old. She had gone to Amin Atallah’s theatre one day, to watch Rushdi’s sister Ansaf who was singing there, and was given her first role. They had to work for a living after the death of their father. By mere coincidence Sayed Darwish heard her singing “Tel‘et ya mahla nourha”, and was so impressed that he bought her 2 LE worth of sweets and chocolates, a large sum of money at the time. He convinced Rushdi’s mother to travel to Cairo with her two talented daughters where Ansaf would work in the operetta “el Ashra el Tayeba” and Rushdi would sing little ditties between the acts. There he introduced her to Naguib el Rihani who gave her small parts in plays.
Rushdi was grateful to the people who had launched her in her career, saying:
I owe so much to two of the masters of music and theatre: the musician Sayed Darwish and the writer Mohamed Taymour. The first one took me from Alexandria to Cairo where there was a career ready to reach the furthest horizons … Moving from Alexandria to Cairo would have never been possible but for the 10 LE that Sheikh Sayed Darwish gave my mother so that we could travel. (Refaat p.15)
However, the main turning point in her life was meeting Aziz Eid in “Qahwet el Fan” in Emad el Din Street. Eid rediscovered her talent and introduced her to different theatrical genres and techniques. He actually taught her writing and reading in addition to bringing teachers from el Azhar to teach her the Holy Koran which would definitely help her in the art of oration. Fatma was such an intelligent student that within two years she became the best actress in Ramsis Group. Eid converted to Islam and Fatma was soon married to her Pygmalion. The couple formed a theatrical troupe named after Fatma Rushdi which gave her the opportunity to become famous and acquire the nickname “Sarah Bernhardt of the East”. (Rushdi had other names too: “Prima Donna of the East”, “The People’s Sweetheart” and “The Friend of Students” because she offered them a discount on tickets in addition to hosting a salon for the students of the Cinema Institute). However, the couple eventually broke up owing to Eid’s jealousy although she had always been faithful to her teacher whom she called “the Monk of Art”. She granted permission that he be buried in the family mausoleum.
Rushdi also established a production company called Sherket Aflam el Negma el Misreyah, financed by the Jewish businessman Elie Derei. The company produced Under Egypt’s Sky (Taht sama’ Misr), in which her daughter Aziza featured. Wedad Orfi wrote the story, directed and acted in this film. However, it was not released as she and Orfi disagreed and she burnt the film in the desert of Heliopolis. She did not fret over the thousands that she paid as she was “seeking perfection, not money” as she claimed. She then tried her hand at directing Marriage (el Zawâg) in 1933 in which she shot some scenes in Seville, Granada and Cordoba.
Rushdi also married the director Kamal Selim who gave her the main role in Determination (el ‘Azîma), the film that made her famous. She later married another director Mohamed Abdel Gawad, a businessman, and finally a police officer. Fatma Rushdi wrote two books about her career, Men and Me (Ana wa-l-Regâl), and My Struggle in the Theatre and Cinema (Kefahi fil Masrah wa-l-Cinema).
Critics categorized Fatma Rushdi under the school of theatrical performance as her acting was the same whether she was on stage or on screen. Perhaps her career is best summarized in her own words: “I lived an artistic career full of happiness and misery. But I enjoyed it all because art has its own pleasure that is the remedy for any troubles and the solace for any deprivation” (Refaat, p.23).
“Sarah Bernhardt of the East”. (Fatma had other nicknames too: “Prima Donna of the East”, “The People’s Sweetheart” and “The Friend of Students” because she offered them a discount on tickets in addition to hosting a salon for the students of the Cinema Institute).
1928: A Tragedy on the Pyramid (Fâgui‘a fauq el haram)
1933: Marriage (el Zawâg) (actress and director)
1936: The Runaway (el Hârib)
1939: The Determination (el ‘Azîmah)
|1939: The Determination (el ‘Azîmah)|
1939: The Price of Happiness (Thaman el sa‘âdah)
1941: Forever (Ila el abad)
1943: The Worker (el ‘Amil)
1943: The Right Path (el Tarîq el moustaqîm)
1945: City of Gypsies (Madinat el ghagar)
1945: Girls of the Countryside (Banât el rîf)
1946: The Reckless (el Tâ’ishah)
1946: Storms (‘Awâsif)
1946: Elderly Love (Gharâm el shouyoukh)
1948: The Sad Countryside (el Rîf el hazîn)
1955: Let Me Live (Da‘ounî a‘îsh)
1955: The Body (el Gasad)
- Abd el Rahman, Magdi. Râ̓’dât el Cinema fi Misr. Alexandria: Matbou’at Maktabet el Iskandaria, 2004.
- El Ghandour, Mona. Sultanat el Shasha: Ra’idât el Cinema el Misreyah. Beirut: Riyad el Rayyes lil Kotob wi-l-Nashr, 2005.
- Hillauer, Rebecca. The Encyclopedia of Arab Women Filmmakers. Cairo and New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2005.
- Kassem, Mahmoud. Mawsou‘at el Momathel fi-l-Cinema el ‘Arabiya. Cairo: Maktabet Madbouli, 2004.
- Lashin, Hisham. Mawsem Zawâg wa Talâq el Fanânât. Cairo: el Maktab el I’lâmî el ‘Arabî, 1993.
- Refaat, Mohamed. Fatma Rushdi's Memoirs. Beirut: Dar el Thaqafah.
(ed.) Wassef, Magda. Egypte: 100 ans de Cinéma. Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1995.