Traditional TV channels may still have the edge during Ramadan but streaming platforms have certainly taken over the rest of the year. Munataf Khatar (Sharp Turn) – screening on Shahid VIP – is a case in point.
Directed by Sadir Massud and written by Mohamed Al-Masry, the 15-episode series is carefully structured from the pre-credit scene till the last. It opens with a young man dressed as a peasant and carrying a sickle hurrying into a room where blood is spreading on the floor. The scene is not explained until almost the end of the series. In this way Al-Masry and his co-writers Ahmed Gouda and Aly Gabr manage to plant a detail in each episode that it can use later on in the drama. Each episode uses an Agatha Christie-type structure to intensify all the information around one suspect before revealing the truth that he is not linked to murder.
The story revolves around the murder of Salma Al-Wakil (Salma Abu-Deif), a young woman well known at her local social club because she is an active social media influencer with one million TikTok followers. The script follows Hisham Montaser (Basel Khayyat), the police officer working on the case, and Mustafa Khalaf (Tamer Nabil), a younger officer newly transferred from the internet department. This difference in experience strains the relationship between the two in the first couple of episodes.
Al-Masry and Masoud build their story on three main lines. The first is Salma’s family: the father, Gamal Al-Wakil (Basem Samrah); the mother, Jihan (Riham Abdel Ghafour); the uncle, Hassan Al-Wakil (Hamza Al-Eily); and two little brothers. In the first couple of episodes little is known about them as the drama shows their shock and grief. Information is mentioned as if by chance: the two brothers hail from Upper Egypt, where they used to live 25 years before, eventually opening a car repair workshop in Al-Herafeyin district in Cairo. But the mystery, not revealed until the last quarter of the series, is still subtly hinted at when an old Upper Egyptian, Salama (Ahmed Maher), comes to pay his condolences and Gamal seems scared. The story, to which the earliest opening scene belongs, involves an honour killing and a drug smuggling operation.
The second line concerns Suleiman Yahia (Yasser Ali Maher) and his two sons: the younger, Khaled Yehia (Mohamed Alaa), and the older Ezz Yehia (Khaled Kamal). Suleiman was the former chairman of the aforementioned club, and perhaps he was inspired by the Zamalek Club chairman Mortada Mansour, a colourful public presence, making the story livelier: arrogant, aggressive and sometimes rude as he prepares Khaled for the club board elections, where he hopes Khaled can replace Ramy (Abdulrahim Hassan), also pushing him to become a member of the House of Representatives in the next parliamentary elections. TV presenter Ahmed Moussa also appears as himself just to comment on the club’s elections and comment on Salma’s murder. While Ezz is in a distressing state having lost his wife and two children as well as his own right arm and his face as he knew it in a car accident, Khaled is resentful of his father meddling in his life, especially his future. These details are very essential to the tragic sub-plots.
The third line focuses on the personality and the family of the main character Hisham, who lives with his mother (Hanan Suleiman) and his daughter Nour having divorced his wife. From the first episode, it is clear that this is a complex situation.
But the drama is not all suspense. Patriarchal authority is among the serious issues the drama tackles, evident in the case of Salma who is killed when she insists on leaving to study in Europe. Class also comes up when Salma and her friend – the daughters of car mechanic and a furniture trader, respectively – are bullied at the club.
The father-son relationship takes up a lot of space, with Ezz – the favourite son – being replaced by Khaled, who had been drummer and followed his heart. Hisham too is afraid he will turn into a bad father like his own (Sabry Abdel-Moniem) who, having abandoned him when he was a child, now wants to reunite with him as he is terminally ill. Hisham bluntly tells him he has no feelings for him. Hisham wanted to improve his relationship with his daughter, but fate never seems to give him a chance. In the first episode, he is forced to miss a vacation with her and her mother because of the new murder case.
The artistic aspects of the series are of a very high standard, with the settings and art direction (by Yehia Allam) carefully chosen. Salmas’ home, for example, is a spacious, luxurious apartment in a turn of the 20th century’s building in Abbasiya or Shubra neighbourhoods, which makes for beautiful videography lit by Houssam Habib.
But it is the acting that is especially outstanding, with Bassel El-Khayat not letting the traditional detective’s firm look obscure feelings such as suspicion, pride, anger, or even sympathy, while his assistant Tamer Nabil plays an intelligent and hard-working officer who has never pulled the trigger. The role of Bassem Samra is a very difficult one, mixing the feelings of the grieving father with anger and fear. Hamza El-Eily was very good at his role. Ahmed Alaa was exceptionally good and charismatic, and so was Khaled Kamal. For the second time in two months Riham Abdel-Ghaffour captures the hearts of the audience, the first time being in Wesh wi Dahr (Front and Back), directed by Mariam Abu-Ouf. She is becoming an important drama superstar with her impressive performance especially when the feelings of the character towards her husband become very complicated in the second half of the series.
It is clear that the thriller TV series is becoming a centre of gravity not only for the audience but also drama creators. It is a genre that keeps the audience on the edge of his seat, and it’s keeping the streaming platforms busier than ever.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.