Across the Arab media, Lebleba has been performing to the delight of Arab audiences for nearly 70 years. Born Ninochka Manoug Kupelian and known to her friends as Nonia, the Armenian-Egyptian actor studied ballet. She is a singer and dancer as well, and her career began when she was five when she performed songs and sketches imitating celebrities.
When they cast her in the child’s role in Habibti Sousou (My Love Sousou, 1951), director Niazy Mustafa and screenwriter Abul Seoud El-Ebiary gave her the screen name Lebleba. The next year, she appeared opposite Hussein Sedki in Al-Bayt Al-Said (The Happy Home, 1952). But Lebleba did not make her break until producer-director-film star Anwar Wagdy, disguised so nobody would recognise him, attended her stage show Adwaa Al-Madina (City Lights) in Alexandria. He was impressed. In 1954 she made a hit appearance in Wagdi’s phenomenal hit Arba’ Banat wi Zabett (Four Girls and an Officer).
She continued to imitate celebrities as her cinematic career took off, and she became so popular that the singing legend Abdel-Halim Hafez would require her to appear on stage right before him. Adwaa Al-Madina was broadcast live on the radio, and later on television. Even as an adult, the majority of Lebleba’s roles were comedic, and many were opposite comedy superstar Adel Imam. Those include Al-Baad Yazhab Lil-Maazoon Maratien (Some Visit the Marriage Registrar Twice) in 1978, Khalli Balak Min Giranak (Take Care of Your Neighbours) in 1979, and Esabet Hamada Wa Toto (Hamada and Toto’s Gang) in 1980, all directed by Mohamed Abdel-Aziz.
But Lebleba later took on serious roles too, in Mohamed Abu-Seif’s 2002 The Ostrich and the Peacock, for example, she played a sex therapist-psychiatrist, and in the late Osama Fawzi’s 1999 in Gannet Al-Shayateen (The Devils’ Heaven), which won 17 awards around the world, she played a working-class prostitute. But perhaps her most important role in Layla Sakhena (Hot Night, 1995), written by Rafiq Al-Sabban, directed by the late Atef Al-Tayyeb and starring the late superstar Nour Al-Sherif, which is an account of a retired prostitute and a taxi driver facing financial obstacles together in the course of a single night. Her performance earned her a best actress award at the National Film Festival, among others.
She performed in musicals too, showcasing her range of skills. Her life’s work includes 97 productions, the majority for the big screen with some for television and radio. She also recorded 28 songs for children among hundreds of others, and her albums include They Kidnapped my Lover, Dear Daddy, and I am a Girl from Heliopolis. Lebleba was a private person who, though gregarious and friendly, protected her personal life, with only the fact that she was married to actor Hassan Youssef for seven years starting when she was seven known to the public.
1- My Love Sousou, 1951
2- The Happy Home, 1952
3- Four girls and an officer,1954
4- The Judge of Love, 1962
5- The Fake Millionaire, 1968
6- Girls and love, 1974
7- A Thousand Kisses, 1977
8- Take care of your neighbours, 1979
9- Hamada and Toto’s Gang, 1982
10- Be Aware of the Khot, 1984
11- The Devil Who Loved Me, 1990
12- Against the Government, 1992
13- Hot night, 1995
14- The Devil’s Heaven, 1999
15- The Ostrich and Peacock, 2002
16- Alexandria, New York, 2002
17- A Groom from The Secret Security, 2004
18- Bouha, 2005
19- Hassan and Morkous, 2009
20- Villa 69, 2013
21- The Blue Elephant, 2014
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.