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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Omar Sharif and Faten Hamama and Life Cycles

Omar and Faten - They Had It All And Lost It Within 7 Years

Recently the much-loved famous Hollywood actor and world-class bridge player, Omar Sharif, died at the age of 83 from Alzheimer's Disease. This is something I only became aware of through a Facebook comment, because I was travelling and not keeping up with the news. So this whole tribute article is an excellent example of a blind analysis. I didn't select the subject and I had no prior knowledge of his life - save the usual Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago movies and the fact he was a very good bridge player. I might add that neither movie lines up exactly with a Life Cycles significant year, so I have to really examine what did happen in some of his main adult significant years (like 24/31/36 etc.) to see what I get.

One of the chief pieces of information came to me quite late and that is the death of his one and only wife Faten Hamama, at the same age, earlier this year. He has described her as :- "his one true love". Although they officially divorced in 1974, they had been living apart for around a decade beforehand. Omar was not just separated from his 'one true love' by his own actions either, he was also separated from his beloved country of birth, Egypt, for most of his life (although he did spend some of his time there when his son settled in 2003). He largely lived out of hotels in wherever his latest movie was being shot. He was an international upmarket nomad if you will and has expressed his loneliness at this existence many times. Others have also commented that his roles often portray him as a "stranger in a strange land", so art imitates life again.

Let's examine both Omar (or Michel Chalhoub, which was his birth name) and Faten together, because their lives were inextricably linked, whether they spent most of it apart or not. Michel Chalhoub was born 10th April, 1932 in Alexandria, to a Melkite Greek Catholic family of Lebanese descent (so he was a mixture of influences even at birth). Faten Hamama was born 27th May, 1931 to a lower-class Muslim family in Mansoura, Egypt, though she claimed to have been born in better circumstances in Cairo. She was determined to become an actress when just a child and indeed appeared in her first movie role at the age of 8, becoming known as "Egypt's Shirley Temple". In Life Cycles terms they were Confluent for around 6 weeks (not really a large time, but then again it applied in every significant year).

They met in 1954 when Michel was selected for a part in the movie that would launch his career - Struggle In The Valley. By then Faten was a big star in Egypt and though she was married at the time, she agreed to share an on-screen kiss with Michel, who became known as Omar Sharif. This spilled over into real life and they fell in love and she managed to initiate an amicable divorce from her older husband. She was a very strong, independent woman, who later championed the rights of Muslim women to do this. Omar, in turn, agreed to convert to Islam. This was in 1955, so within Faten's age 24 Year of Revolution (May 1955 to May 1956). This was a moment of personal triumph for her, one of defying conventions. At this time she would have "had it all".

Then in Omar's age 24 Year of Revolution (April 1956 to April 1957) Faten became pregnant and their only child Tarek was born in March, 1957. Thus Omar is also Confluent with his only son for around the same amount of time as he is with his wife. At this time he would have "had it all" :- he had married Egypt's biggest star and they were called the Arab film industry's equivalent of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They co-starred in movies and in this year they made a thriller Dark Waters (poster is shown above), which has been rated in one poll as the best Egyptian movie ever made. He now had a son and a very bright future. We all know, that with the benefit of hindsight, he was to become an even bigger star in Hollywood, but that was almost by default and it was 7 years away. Once again the unbroken journey of forward momentum for 7 years is displayed.

Now we move on to Faten's age 31 Year of Broken Pathways (May 1962 to May 1963). Just before this time she had starred in The River of Love (1961), her last movie with Sharif and the end of their on-screen partnership. Times were also changing for the worse in Egypt from Faten's point of view. There was a new initiative by President Nasser in 1962, to introduce Soviet-style socialism and this would come to include travel restrictions outside of Egypt. It would impact on her freedom to attend international film festivals and also meant a repression of Muslim women to initiate divorce. However these were insignificant issues compared to Omar's sudden and unexpected offer of a leading role in the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Director David Lean ostensibly picked out his photo, because his liquid brown eyes would contrast well against Peter O'Toole's very blue eyes. Already a major star in the Middle East he was cast as Lawrence's guide, but after many other stars pulled out or were unsuitable, he was offered the starring role as Sherif Ali. Lawrence was shot during 1962 and released at the end of Dec.

Omar's age 31 Year of Broken Pathways (April 1963 to April 1964) really coincided with the enormous critical and box office success of Lawrence. He was to go on to receive an Academy Award nomination and two Golden Globe Awards. He became, in this year, literally the toast of Hollywood as a new actor and offers began to roll in, along with a hoard of female admirers of this fascinating Arabian Sheik-style leading man. He was also affected by the Government-imposed travel restrictions and to a much larger extent than Faten was. He couldn't really work in Hollywood and visit Egypt in between and Faten wanted to continue her career in the Egyptian film industry, so they basically came adrift at this point.

I'm going to interject here and ask the obvious :- "Could things have turned out differently or was this separation inevitable?" Omar is on the record as saying :- " Maybe if I hadn't made Lawrence I would have gone on living in Cairo and had five children and lots of grandchildren" Well yes, maybe this is so. Also, maybe if Faten was not quite so independent-minded she could have followed him to Hollywood and worked at carving out her own international career. Also Omar was by his own admission drawn to the girls like a bee to honey and now there were ample leading ladies only too willing to share an on-screen (and off-screen as well) kiss with him, starting in 1964 with Ingrid Bergman in the movie The Yellow Rolls Royce. He soon admitted as much to an enquiring Faten saying that he :- "meets all these beautiful girls, actresses and other women.....and that he might fall in love with one of them at any moment". Well you've got to give him points for honesty I guess, but the marriage survived in name only until a divorce in 1974.

Once again we're left with the residual friendship side on Confluence and a life-long bond through their son (who had a small part in Zhivago). Now on to their own defining age 36 Years of Revolution, that had a similar theme - to live life by your own standards regardless of what government policy or religious convention might have to say. Firstly to Faten (May 1967 to May 1968). In the national setback following the Six Day War with Israel in June, 1967, Faten was asked to co-operate with Egyptian Intelligence Services and she refused resulting in her maintaining a self-imposed exile from her country. Despite President Nasser trying to get her to return and calling her a "national treasure"; she stayed away till the year following his death in 1971. She divided her time between London and Beirut. Isn't this ironic?! I mean if it would have happened a couple of years earlier then maybe Omar would have seen sense and returned to her.

She also championed the rights of Muslim women to initiate divorce and other related human rights causes, resulting some 7 years later in her breakthrough movie - I Need A Solution. From his side however, Omar's age 36 Year of Revolution (April 1968 to April 1969), was all about defying religious convention and causing a storm of criticism in the Arab world. It should be noted that he always felt deeply about religious and racial equality and harmony, not unnaturally since he was an ethnic Lebanese Christian, who had become a Muslim and in turn held no enmity towards Jewish people.

In 1968 the movie Funny Girl was released. He co-starred with Barbara Streisand and it attracted much negative publicity as she was Jewish and he kissed her on-screen (and fell in love with her off-screen as shown above). The Egyptian Government immediately condemned the film and it was banned in many Arab countries. Omar himself was unrepentant saying that he saw nothing wrong with any of it. He was as much a rebel against orthodoxy as Faten was, albeit in a different way. However, this placed a wedge firmly between him and his homeland. His own form of patriotic redemption was shown through his other great love - the game of bridge. He was a world class player and in 1968, even though he was living in France, he wanted to take part in the Bridge Olympiad as Captain of the Egyptian team. The Government refused to sponsor the team in France, so Sharif put up his own money to pay for their accommodation and living expenses. It was his personal contribution to his country, as well as a high point in his bridge career.

Omar has often echoed sentiments that argue for an inclusive view of religious differences and this was in turn imparted to his son Tarek, who in 1983, whilst doing a Uni course in Toronto, had a relationship with a Jewish fellow student, as a result of which Omar's grandson - Omar Sharif Jr.- was born. Omar Jr. was not only named after his famous grandfather, but he has become an actor and has recently admitted publicly that he is gay as well as half-Jewish (although this is just a label as you can't really be half of a religion).

Can you see how Omar and Faten were very similar in their attitudes and outlook? Had Omar not 'fallen for the lure of a Hollywood career' they could well have had five children and many grandchildren and fought their progressive causes together. Had Omar not lived a lonely life abroad (even though outwardly glamorous), they could have remained close friends in Egypt, no matter if they divorced or not. Omar did not find another satisfying long term relationship and Faten remained his 'one true love'. I hope you enjoyed this tribute article, which became by accident another case of the influence of Confluence in Families. Till next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."