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The Life of Badia Masabni
Part 10: el-Rihani

 

Starmaker in the Embrace of Happiness & Pain

 

 

Written by Tarek Hashem for Al Jareeda,

Translated By Priscilla Adum

 

 

This series of articles by Tarek Hashem appeared in Al Jareeda online in August of 2010. It's a long, but fascinating story. This page contains Part 10, out of a total of 14 parts. See the bottom of this page for links to the other parts.

The original Arabic version can be found at http://www.aljarida.com/articles/1461887189527305100/. It appeared online on Al Jareeda on August 22, 2010.

 

Table of Contents

 

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El-Rihani: Love and Stinginess

Badia returned to Egypt in 1922 accompanying el-Rihani. She became the star of his troupe, which included a thin boy who wore shorts. She asked him what his name was and what role he played. He responded saying, "My name is Mohamed Abdul Wahab and I sing between acts". El-Rihani was the first one to bring Abdul Wahab into his ensemble, and Abdul Wahab's salary was 15 pounds.

Badia met el-Rihani's mother. She was a nice lady with a good sense of humor. She hugged Badia, loved her, and treated her in a special manner. Then she broached the subject of Badia's marriage to el-Rihani, but Badia said, "I admire el-Rihani as an artist, not as a husband. In that sense, he isn't suitable for me."

So his mother said to Badia with amazement and sarcasm, "What are you saying, O Lady Badia? He's Naguib el-Rihani, and every girl in Egypt longs for just a sign from him!" Badia replied gently, "You're right, but I'm different from them!"

El-Rihani laughed and commented on their conversation saying, "If that's what you really want, Mother, I will do it to please you, but only after the lady Badia gives me her approval."

El-Rihani had promised himself that he'd give Badia the leading roles in his plays, so she played the starring role "Moon of Moons" in the play The Good Nights. But he needed a budget to fund having costumes made, plus decorations, and all the rest of the theater requirements. At that time, he was approached by Matosian, who was the owner of a brand of cigarettes known by the same name. Matosian asked el-Rihani to do an advertisement for a new type of cigarettes. He offered to pay him 10 pounds daily, plus 5 pounds for Badia Masabni. He would also cover the expenses of the troupe, the theater, and their publicity as well as paying for their lodging in Alexandria for a month. El-Rihani agreed right away, and his play was a great success.

Badia Masabni

During the performances of the play in Alexandria, a friend of el-Rihani named Kamal el-Naboulsi came to see him and told him about a new singer with a magical voice. El-Naboulsi said to him, "She is a young 17-year-old village girl, and she's going to sing tonight at the Mohamed Ali theater." He asked el-Rihani to accompany him to hear her, but el-Rihani declined because he was going to be busy at the theater. However, Badia went with him, and she was surprised by the huge audience. She actually listened to this young girl and liked her voice.

After el-Rihani Troupe's work in Alexandria was concluded, Badia returned to Cairo. The weather at the time was quite hot, and people were still at the beach resorts, so the troupe began to perform some of their old plays. They would perform a new play after the summer ended and the new season began. The troupe suffered greatly in the management of its expenses. Their income was very small due to the plays not being new, and also because Cairo was empty of people.

At about that time, el-Rihani began to play the role of jealous lover towards Badia and he didn't allow her to meet anyone or even talk to anyone arguing that it would make her lose her Star Power. Badia responded to this game by playing along and showing him that she was falling in love with him too. Until he told her frankly about his financial situation and that it was worsening. His business partner Moustafa Hanafi was no longer able to supply him the money he needed to cover the costs of costumes, set decorations, and publicity.

Badia Masabni

He asked Badia to lend him 200 pounds, offering to pay her back in installments, meaning 10 pounds per night in addition to 5 pounds for her work in the troupe. Badia only had her jewelry at the time and el-Rihani asked her not to sell it, but just to pawn it, and he'd pay her back soon. Badia was upset by his words and they came as quite a shock to her. Badia had always said that el-Rihani cheated her to the extent of withholding the salary that Matosian paid her and not giving it to her. When she would ask him for it, he would respond saying "What are you going to do with money? Your hotel costs are covered. Forget about money and the heartache [that accompanies it].

At the time, Badia was busy with the huge success that she'd had in the el-Rihani theater troupe. She easily occupied an excellent position among theater actresses, and her name was on everyone's lips. The play (The Good Nights) ran for 6 consecutive months with 3 shows nightly. This success made Badia extremely happy and giddy with the glow of fame, so she didn't care about her salary or about what belonged to her at el-Rihani theater and she let the subject go.

The troupe had promised the public a new production, but they didn't come through. Therefore, audiences dwindled and their income fell from 200 pounds per night to 2 pounds. Summer came and both el-Rihani and Bade3 Khairy neglected to prepare a new play for the season. When opening night came, the troupe didn't have anything to present, so they improvised the opening night's play. This caused art critics to slam el-Rihani and his troupe quite harshly.

Badia was annoyed by el-Rihani's unkept promises. She was close to bankruptcy to the extent that she could no longer pay the tuition at Juliet's school, so this situation forced her to return to Beirut.

Badia Masabni

 

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In Beirut

Café owners in Beirut welcomed Badia and offered her work. She accepted immediately because she was in desperate need of money, and she went back to singing at Café Star of the East.

However, Badia didn't forget the theaters of Cairo, how successful she'd been there, and how el-Rihani combined the genius of a true artist with a person who was eccentric. She felt that he could amass a fortune if he would make the effort to present a new play every month or two because of his magical effect on audiences. He had only to stand on the stage and do a few little movements and the hall would explode in applause.

But el-Rihani was a friend of negligence and laziness, and he loved to sleep. As soon as he finished working, he would go to Bade3 Khairy's and spend the evening drinking and smoking until dawn. He'd return from these nights drained of strength or energy, slept all day long, and didn't care about anything else. El-Rihani suffered from poverty in life, so much so that he would go through an entire day on just a plate of beans. But he didn't learn from life's lessons, and he was not aware that he had a great opportunity of making money, so he lived drowned in debts. He lived day to day without looking to the future.

Despite all of this, el-Rihani had a major role in refining Badia's artistic talent, and she couldn't work with any artist other than him. He was the one who taught her the Egyptian dialect. He was also the one responsible for her fame, because it was after meeting him that she learned the basics of acting, and of the rules of theater arts. Because of his generosity, she held a high status in Egyptian theater. She had achieved fame in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, but her fame in Egypt came from working with the el-Rihani troupe. But his bizarre life and stressful circumstances in Egypt forced her to flee from him and return to Beirut to work at Star of the East.

Badia Masabni

 

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Return to el-Rihani

Badia decided to sell all her properties in Beirut. When her sister Nazla objected to it, Badia justified her decision by saying that she was going to build a large building in Egypt and rent it out. The income would be more than what all of these houses produced. Then she decided to travel to her beloved Aleppo, but el-Rihani sent her a messenger to tell her that he was preparing a collection of new plays. He expected that they would be just as successful as The Good Nights had been, and he had reached an agreement with a new financial business partner named Ali Youssef who paid off all his debts. He also assured her that he had promised himself to present a new play every two months, at least.

Badia was happy with this news and immediately decided to return to Egypt. The proceeds from the sale of her properties was only 500 pounds. She put the money in her purse and returned to Egypt to reclaim her pawned jewelry and to pay the tuition on Juliet's school. El-Rihani received Badia with eagerness and he took her to his new home which he had prepared for her, but it was empty of furniture. However, he promised to buy her the most luxurious furniture after the presentation of the new play.

Badia Masabni

The play presented by el-Rihani was not new. It had been presented before, but he made some modifications to it. Nevertheless, it was very successful and el-Rihani promptly returned to his former lifestyle of staying up late at night and sleeping in the daytime.

Badia again tried to advise him and persuade him to resume his work until she began to despair, so she started to threaten to escape again and leave him. But he didn't care what she said. Badia understood Rihani well, as long as he had money in his pocket even a little bit, he would get lazy. He leaned towards inactivity, and Badia would say that el-Rihani was selfish, only thinking about himself and what benefited him personally, not caring at all about anyone other than himself. When the going got tough, he found no difficulty in obtaining a loan from anyone because of his popularity and because people loved him, but when it came time to repay the debt he'd slip out of sight.

One time he wanted to buy fabric from Chicorel for theater curtains and costumes. It was common knowledge that he didn't pay his debts, so the owner of the store made him sign a promissory note that he would pay by a certain date. When the date came and he didn't pay, he [the store owner] seized his properties and everything he owned. The newspapers published notices about the auction as well as the date and time of the auction. Meanwhile, he was oblivious to all these events that surrounded him. When someone questioned him about what had been published in the newspaper el-Rihani laughed sarcastically in his face.

When the day of the auction arrived, with the Chief of Police present, they began to sell everything that was in the theater. At that moment Naguib was sound asleep, and for those who were brave enough to attempt to awaken him, he'd scream in their face "Let them eat each other!" One of his friends came and won the auction and purchased all the theater articles for a very low price, and then proceeded to rent them to Naguib for a fee.

Badia Masabni

Badia suggested to el-Rihani that he present the play The Good Nights until he completed the preparation of the new play, and he immediately agreed. It was actually a very good idea, as the audiences attended the theater for 15 days. However, after that they became bored and annoyed, so the ticket window proceeds decreased, the el-Rihani theater audiences dwindled, and his fans stopped going.

Consequently, Badia broached the subject of the new play with him, but he quickly became quite angry and didn't even bother to respond to her. So she became indignant over his behavior and thought about leaving him for good and returning to her country.

El-Rihani was always on Badia's mind. She saw in him a Bohemian person who did what he loved regardless of the nature of the society that he lived in. But if this Bohemian artist was also one of the greatest Arab artists, then to what extent did he deserve to be forgiven for his mistakes and his slip ups? Badia lived close to this great artist, so much so that it made her know him better than anyone else who claimed to know him.

Before returning to Lebanon, an idea entered Badia's mind of doing performances in Alexandria until relief came and Rihani finished his new play. He welcomed her idea and asked Ali Yousef the promoter and financier of el-Rihani's plays to make the necessary preparations in Alexandria. They signed an agreement to do 15 performances there. Badia accompanied el-Rihani and Yousef to Alexandria. The show began at the Alhambra Theater, and audiences flocked to see them in an unprecedented manner.

Badia Masabni

 

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The Night of His Mother's Death

One night as el-Rihani was playing his role on stage and the audience was at the height of laughter, news reached him of the death of his mother Madame Latifa, who was the most cherished person in the world to him. He loved her greatly.

The news hit him like a thunderbolt, and he stood motionless as the audience waited for him to continue playing his part. So he quickly continued with his eyes full of tears and resumed his role. As the audience exploded with laughter, el-Rihani burst into a fit of weeping so that the audience thought it was part of the acting. Just as the play concluded, el-Rihani fell to the ground unconscious. After he regained consciousness, he changed his clothes and boarded the train to Upper Egypt with his brothers Tawfik and Yousef so they could bid their mother their final farewell.

After el-Rihani returned from Upper Egypt, Badia suggested to him that he cancel the performance. He vehemently refused and said to her, "My duty as an artist requires me to fulfill my promise to the people. Will canceling tonight's performance make it easy to forget my mother?" Then he pointed to the stagehands to raise the curtain. The theater was silent that night, despite the huge audience that attended.

When el-Rihani stepped onto the stage, there was a loud and increasing storm of applause. Thus he felt that his audience shared his grief. He felt their solidarity, and he played his role with unprecedented skill and mastery, and he succeeded in moving the audience. He cried as he laughed and he was another person onstage.

Badia watched him from backstage because she feared that grief would overcome him and he'd stop his performance. It was only at this moment that she realized that she didn't know much about this artist. After the performance was over, everyone came to congratulate him. His look was full of sadness, then he said, "Who knows? Perhaps I brought a little happiness to someone who was sadder than me."

Badia Masabni

 

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Related Articles

Biographical

Badia, the Club Owner

Interviews

Flyers and Ads

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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