Based on a novel by the late Egyptian writer Ahmed Khaled Tawfik (1962-2018), the drama series “Room 207” is the latest in a string of popular screen adaptations of Egyptian horror, fantasy, and detective fiction.
The show, which now tops the most-watched list on the Shahid streaming platform, presents a series of episodes in which characters who stay in a particular hotel room undergo soul-changing experiences. The audience follows the protagonist Gamal, a hotel employee, as he attempts to solve the mystery of Room 207.
The series is hardly the first cinematic or television work based on fiction by contemporary Arab novelists. Famous authors whose works have left an imprint on the screen include Naguib Mahfouz, Taha Hussein, Yahya Haqqi, Yusuf Idris, and Ihsan Abdel Kouddous, among many others.
But the realm of horror, fantasy, and detective fiction, with its visual challenges, remained more difficult to adapt for the screen. Recently, however, there are signs that producers are overcoming that obstacle.
“The new platforms have saved several genres of Arab drama from extinction, or remaining the captives of poor production due to the fear of entering areas that require high production costs and great capabilities, such as horror, fantasy, or historical dramas.”Mohamed Hesham Obayya, an Egyptian journalist and scriptwriter.
This is apparent in several recent Egyptian productions, including “Room 207”, inspired by Tawfik’s 2017 novel “The Mystery of Room 207”; the Netflix series “Paranormal” (“Ma Wara’ al-Tabi’a”), also adapted from books by Tawfik; and “Every Week Has a Friday”, based on a novel by the prize-winning Egyptian author Ibrahim Abdel Meguid.
New Life on New Platforms
Mohamed Hesham Obayya, an Egyptian journalist and scriptwriter, thinks that new digital streaming platforms like Netflix and Shahid “have saved several genres of Arab drama from extinction, or remaining the captives of poor production due to the fear of entering areas that require high production costs and great capabilities, such as horror, fantasy, or historical dramas.”
“The success of such dramas may entice more similar experiences,” he told Al-Fanar Media. “However, I am afraid these experiments will be implemented in haste to catch up with the success achieved by similar works, so the result will be unsatisfactory.”
He added that a benefit of transforming literature into screen dramas is that it opens the door for new generations to discover novels by authors like Tawfik and others.
“I hope that visual production platforms will present more works inspired from literary works, not only by contemporary writers, but also by well-established writers from the twentieth century,” Obayya said.
Different Demands of Scripts and Novels
Literary works that achieved wider popularity after they were adapted as films include “The Blue Elephant” (2012), by Ahmed Mourad. The book, already a best-seller, was turned into a movie in 2014 that now ranks among the top 10 horror films by user rating on IMDb.com.
Even though Mourad wrote both the book and the script for the film, the two versions have different endings. The film’s director, Marwan Hamed, suggested changes to create greater interaction with the audience, and Mourad went along with them.
A 2010 graduate of the Higher Institute of Cinema’s Department of Cinematography, Mourad acknowledges the two formats have different demands. In previous media interviews, he has noted that adapting a novel into a film is not easy. Writing for cinema depends on processing the visual element, while attempting to approximate the vision of the novel, he says.
“The novelist writing his own script may spoil his work if he becomes biased towards the written style, ignoring an understanding of the elements of scenography. … Things can get worse if the novelist’s imagination is limited to the idea that the cinematic text is nothing but an honest summary of the novel.”Ahmed Mourad, an Egyptian novelist who has adapted several of his own works for the screen.
What makes a novelist or screenwriter successful, Mourad wrote in his 2022 book “Murder for Amateurs”, is “understanding the nature of each medium.”
“The novelist writing his own script may spoil his work if he becomes biased towards the written style, ignoring an understanding of the elements of scenography: time, rhythm, and the different influence of the presence of the camera, music, editing, and decor,” he wrote. “Things can get worse if the novelist’s imagination is limited to the idea that the cinematic text is nothing but an honest summary of the novel.”
Marwan Alaa, an engineering student at the University of Alexandria, is also seeking to learn filmmaking online. He said that film production, photography skills, and advanced influences in Arab dramatic and cinematic works have become sophisticated in a way that makes the horror works they present convincing to the audience. “It is no longer limited to foreign productions,” he added.
Alaa has used quotes from Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s works in his video clips. “I find it inspiring,” he told Al-Fanar Media. “It adds new dimensions to my visuals.”
Ahmed Gaber, who studied media at Beni Suef University, says that adopting the “Paranormal” novels into a TV series was way of informing many of his generation about that literary work.
The same applies to the adaptation of Mohamed Sadeq’s “Hepta: The Last Lecture” and Mourad’s novels “The Blue Elephant” and “1919”. Mourad adapted the latter, published in 2014, for a film titled “Kira and El Gin”.
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