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DUBAI: Often dubbed the Marilyn Monroe of the East, late Arab icon Hind Rostom left her mark on the region’s film industry, having starred in more than 70 films.
Born Nariman Hussein Murad in Alexandria, Egypt on November 12, 1929, her father was Turkish and her mother Egyptian. After her parents divorced, a young Rostom lived an unstable life, following her policeman father from town to town until she moved as a teenager to Cairo in 1946.
She first lit up the big screen as a non-speaking extra in 1949 and went on to turn heads with her first major role in Egyptian director Hassan Al-‘s “Banat El-Lail” (“Women of the Night”). Imam in 1955.
She is perhaps best known for her role as a lemonade seller in Youssef Chahine’s tense 1958 drama “Cairo Station,” with its intricate portrayal of a woman on the fringes of society earning her accolades from the film industry, as well as fans of generations to come.
With her blonde locks and striking features, she quickly became a fashion icon with women from across the Arab world flocking to copy her latest look – she was even dubbed Egypt’s Brigitte Bardot and the first lady of Egyptian cinema – however, it was his frequent portrayal of strong female characters that earned Rostom an undying spotlight.
She is known for portraying outspoken characters alongside legendary actors such as Farid Shawqi and Omar Sharif, defying the stereotypical gender norms of the time and inadvertently becoming a feminist symbol for many.
In an interview with veteran journalist Mahmoud Saad in 2010, Rostom said that one of his favorite films of his career was “Emraa Ala El-Hamesh” (“A Woman Outside”).
The 1963 film tells the story of a famous actress who, after murdering her husband, was sentenced to life imprisonment and had to leave her son to be raised by a maid. The maid worked as a dancer and gave the son to a wealthy family. Years later, the mother is released from prison and works as a maid for the family in order to stay close to her son.
That year, and after also starring in “Shafiqa the Coptic”, Rostom’s career blossomed and she continued to rack up accolades.
She received a special mention at the Venice Film Festival for Fatin Abdel Wahab’s “Women in My Life” in 1957 and won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arab World Institute in Paris.
Rostom also received the Best Actress Award from the Egyptian Film Writers and Critics Association for her role in “The Coward and Love” in 1975, the only award she accepted throughout her life. She is quoted for saying she believed it was sincere.
Speaking to Saad, a year before his death in August 2011, she said she thought “the price of an actor is people’s love”, adding, “they are the ones talking about us and are looking at us, so it’s the people”.
In a move almost unheard of in today’s entertainment industry, Rostom retired at the peak of his career in 1979 and refused to work again. “My life is not for sale,” she said when producers offered her the chance to turn her life story into a drama series.
“I have no regrets,” she told Saad of her decision to retire. “I did it for the love of my life, my prince, Dr Fayad,” she added, referring to her second husband, Dr Mohammed Fayad, to whom she was married for more than 50 years.
Rostom had a daughter, Basant, with her first husband, director Hassan Reda.
Eleven years after her death, the actress remains the idol of many actors and filmmakers in the Arab world.
“She was born a star. She was a true icon,” renowned Egyptian director Mohamed Yassin told Arab News.
“At that time, actresses like Faten Hamama, Nadia Al-Gendy and Hind Rostom were the stars of cinema. This male-dominated cinema probably came later. Now male actors are leading the productions and this is due to the many changes that have taken place in Egyptian and Arab societies,” he said.
One of Rostom’s famous titles was “Queen of Seduction”. However, many people, including Tunisian Egyptian star Hend Sabri, believe she presented these roles with respect.
In an interview with Al Raya, Sabri said, “Hind Rostom is my idol. She is the “queen of seduction” in Egypt, whose work in the cinema was respectable and useful. »
Yassin added: “Her beauty had no boundaries and she had a fierce femininity. She was every Arab man’s dream woman.
The filmmaker, famous for the 2008 film ‘The Promise’ and this year’s Ramadan series ‘El-Meshwar’, noted that at the time people accepted her roles without going into specifics about ethics and morals. But that was not all she presented to her audience. “She did drama, tragedy, comedy and other genres,” he said.
Egyptian critic Essam Zakaria, artistic director of the Alexandria Film Festival for Mediterranean Cinema, told Arab News: “She portrayed an evil character in ‘La Anam’ (‘Sleepless’), the naïve rich girl in ‘Rod Qalby’ (‘Back Again’) and the attractive woman in ‘Ebn Hamido’ (‘Son of Hamido’).
“His roles were diverse. She is one of the few who can embody both the good guys and the bad guys.
“She showcased femininity and seduction in a way that left a mark. She became a role model and many other celebrities tried to emulate her afterwards,” Zakaria said.
Yassin pointed out that many actresses are now afraid to take on roles as bold and daring as some of Rostom.
“She was exceptional, and no one can present more what she did in her time,” he added.
One of his most famous fans, Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe, previously said, “Hind Rostom will always be an icon in our hearts.”
Last year, people from all over the world flocked to buy eight pieces from her jewelry collection on sale at Sotheby’s auction house. Featured as part of the art house’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels Part II auction, the items were first donated by the actress’ family. All eight pieces in the sale sold for prices above their high pre-sale estimates.
Rostom was known for her passion for collecting jewelry, sourcing items from around the world in her favorite boutique in Cairo, as well as designing a number of iconic pieces.
In his 2011 book, “Hind Rostom: The World’s Greatest Actress”, film and Hollywood historian Maximillien De Lafayette describes her as “an international star and an unrivaled diva of the golden years of cinema, both Egyptian and foreign”.
According to the Egyptian broadcaster Maspero’s online website, the American writer gifted the book to Rostom and sent it to her home in Cairo, just months before his death.
“Hind Rostom was magical. She has immense talent, breathtaking beauty, and an artistic presence that transcends time, place, and eternity,” De Lafayette wrote in her book.