Abla Fahita: a puppet without strings
With her trademark rollers, thick eyeliner and glamorous outfits, Abla Fahita makes a lasting impression wherever she goes.
A gossipy widow from Egypt who likes “only handsome men”, Fahita has two children: a daughter, Karkoura, whom she is hard on because “life is tough on girls”, and baby son, Boudi, the “apple of my eye”. She also has a pet cat, Rex, “who is more like a dog and miaow-barks”, and Hudhud, a parrot given to screeching profanities.
Oh, and, she’s a puppet with her own television show. Abla Fahita: Live from the Duplex launched in April and is in its second season. The hour-long adults-only weekly programme is broadcast on Thursdays at 11pm (1am UAE time) on CBC, an Egyptian satellite channel. The show is filmed in an old, refurbished theatre in downtown Cairo that doubles as the puppet’s home – a lavishly decorated set depicting a duplex, where she welcomes celebrity guests from across the region.
Fahita made her sensational debut on YouTube in 2010 and quickly became one of the Arab world’s best-known online characters. The identity of her creator is a closely guarded secret – he or she has chosen to remain anonymous, although theories abound.
At the Dubai International Film Festival last week, the puppet, who made an appearance on the red carpet, was overheard cheekily asking for Hollywood star Tom Cruise’s number so that she would not have to arrive alone.
“The best moments of my trip to Dubai you can see in last week’s episode [which was broadcast last Thursday],” says Fahita, during an exclusive interview with The National.
Fahita, who is dressed in a gorgeous evening gown by Egyptian designer Hani Elbeheri, says of the emirate: “Dubai is a spitting image of Cairo: same big clean streets, same big tall skyscrapers, same excellent service. Cairo being only far more expensive.”
The puppet got her name from a hilarious video in which she discussed how to make fajitas, the Mexican dish, while “Abla” is a term of respect used for an older person. Her mannerisms are similar to the legendary Arab comediennes Zaynat Siddqi and Marie Munib, who often portrayed acid-tongued mothers-in-law or nosy neighbours.
Her subsequent YouTube clips quickly went viral and were often themed around Fahita’s exploits. The plots usually involved outrageous gimmicks, such as the one in which Fahita and Caro are crushed after a ceiling fan falls on them. Mother and daughter undergo plastic surgery in Paris, from which they emerge completely transformed.
“I debated on whose lips I wanted – Catherine Zeta Jones’s or Nicole Kidman’s,” Fahita says about the episode.
Opinionated and outspoken, the puppet often finds herself in the limelight for her outrageous comments.
Abla Fahita is seen as a treasure in her native Egypt. Considered to be one of the region’s most outspoken feminists, she is the founder of the fictional “on-my-own” association for single women, widows and divorcees, and has a strong presence on social media, with almost four million followers.
“What to do? I am too much loved, it’s understood, of course,” she says, her speech peppered with the occasional English or French word. Her witty remarks, delivered straight-faced (she is, after all, a puppet) in a lilting Egyptian accent, and glamorous get-up, strongly reminiscent of the golden age of her country’s cinema, are a large part of her appeal.
But it was during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution when her popularity skyrocketed. She provided commentary in her usual controversial style, directing barbs at various politicians and their policies. Her antics earned her a guest appearance in 2013 on El Bernameg (“the show”), a news satire TV programme presented by Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s own “Jon Stewart”, and overnight her followers on social media soared from 60,000 to 220,000.
“Abla Fahita” quickly became a brand. The puppet frequently appeared in designer clothes that she plugged on her show and a career in television soon followed. She even appeared in popular commercials for companies including Nestlé.
But it was a Vodafone Egypt advert released in December 2013 that brought her notoriety and set social media abuzz. A little-known rap singer alleged that the advertisement included coded signals for bomb attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood, and Fahita was accused of being a spy, among other things.
“Silly. A new level of silly. The only spy I like is James Bond,” says Fahita, who appears to take it all in her stride.
Her ability to cross genres has resulted in a wide fan base. Last July, she appeared in a music video called Mayestahlushi (“they don’t deserve me”), with Egyptian heartthrob Hassan El Shafei, a music producer and Arab Idol judge.
“Yes, girls, I got him,” says Fahita, who sings as she romances Hassan in the video.
What’s next for the irrepressible puppet?
“I am aiming to surprise myself with my next move – maybe movies, something new enough to shake Hollywood,” she says, adding that she has already been approached by a few filmmakers at Diff about a possible film project.
Fahita wants to make a collaborative film with eclectic talent from across the region.
“I may also go blonde,” the brunette adds, with a wink. “It will definitely help me shine through the nights when the electricity is down.”
Follow Abla Fahita on Twitter @AblaFahita
Updated: December 19, 2015 04:00 AM