x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Syrian Ramadan comedy, made in UAE

Set in Damascus, series is being shot in Abu Dhabi.

The Syrian dance group, Ward Al Sham, perform before touring the set of the comedy drama Hammam Shami, which is being shot in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
The Syrian dance group, Ward Al Sham, perform before touring the set of the comedy drama Hammam Shami, which is being shot in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // When it airs in July, Hammam Shami will offer viewers a light-hearted slice of everyday life in 1950s Damascus – or so it will seem.

But appearances can be deceptive. In fact, all 30 episodes of the Ramadan comedy drama, made by Damascus-based production company Al Adham and Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 intaj studios, are being filmed in the UAE.

Hammam Shami (Levantine Bathhouse) is directed by Momen Al Mulla, who previously worked on Bab Al Hara, one of the most successful TV shows in the Arab world. It ran for 156 episodes across five seasons, attracting tens of millions of viewers worldwide.

The set for the show has been built at twofour54’s Mussaffah studio in collaboration with the UAE company Production House.

About 50 Syrian cast and crew flew in a month ago to begin filming the programme, which will be shown across the Middle East and North Africa. Ramadan is expected to begin about July 9.

With Syria embroiled in civil war, the programme hopes to give a moment of respite to a troubled nation.

“Despite all the pain and sadness in Syria right now, we are trying to bring a smile to people’s faces,” said Mr Al Mulla. “This is a light comedy. I hope when people watch our programme they will smile again.”

Set around a bathhouse, each episode explores a different situation. “One may look at the men in the hammam, the next will focus on the women.

“Recreating the atmosphere of old Damascus has been challenging but it has also allowed us to introduce new horizons to the typical Syrian drama.”

Hammam Shami promises to appeal to all ages, delving into what traditional family life was like for Damascus’ citizens at the time.

It will star some of Syria’s best-known actors, including Mustafa Khani, who plays the show’s hapless protagonist, alongside others including Salmin Sabri, Waha Al Rahed and Abdulhady Al Sabbagh.

Paul Baker, the executive director of twofour54 intaj, said he was delighted to accommodate the Syrian cast and producers.

“It is a highly anticipated production for viewers in the region,” he said. “We look forward to continue hosting the Hammam Shami team and look forward to a bright future for film and television content produced here in Abu Dhabi.”

The show will represent another step in the Abu Dhabi studio’s effort to solidify the emirate’s position as a good place to make television and films. “The production of this major Syrian drama here at twofour54 reinforces Abu Dhabi’s reputation as a world-class production hub and the home of original Arabic broadcasting content,” said Noura Al Kaabi, the chief executive of twofour54.

Asem Al Awa, the show’s production manager, said the series would set the standard for drama productions this year. “This regional production collaboration is the first step in the artistic journey of Syrian drama produced in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

In the end “our Arab audience will be the judge of Hammam Shami’s success” said Mr Al Mulla.

ksinclair@thenational.ae