When the trailer to El-Qahera Kabul came out, everyone had something to say about it. People were restlessly drawing comparisons to the character looks with real-life personas and there were plot speculations everywhere and it didn’t hurt that the cast seemed to be the icing on that cake.
Now that Ramadan has begun, the show is airing daily to an avid following. And since we’re watching, it’s time we also shared our take on El-Qahera Kabul with you.
What Happened So Far
El-Qahera Kabul began with a triumph, as film director Khaled (Ahmed Rizk) gave a speech about his controversial new documentary about Political Islam. To celebrate, Khaled’s friend and known TV anchor Tarek Kasab (Fathy Abdelwahab) takes him out to dinner and very spontaneously announces that he has a surprise waiting for him — a friendly reunion at his apartment.
At the apartment, Khaled and Tarek meet with two more friends from their childhood, Adel (Khaled El-Sawy) and Ramzy (Tarek Lotfy). At once, the tension clouds the room and there’s a pretty good reason — the four friends haven’t been in the same room and none of them has seen Ramzy for years. Why? Well, Ramzy grew up to be a religious extremist, who now belongs to a terrorist organization. Not only that — he has plans of being the Caliph, too.
Meanwhile, Ramzy’s childhood friends grew up in wildly different directions with Tarek becoming a greedy, morally corrupt media-person, Khaled embracing his love of film and art as director, and Adel becoming a cop set on fighting terrorism.
And yet, the four friends still met up, under the guise of catching up, even if some of them came in with sinister, ulterior motives. As you would expect, though, the tension keeps piling until it ends with the accidental death of Khaled at the hand of Ramzy’s organization.
Meanwhile, Manal (Hanan Motawie) lives her carefree life as an Arabic teacher, living at home with her wise-beyond-belief father Hassan (Nabil El-Halafawy) until an unexpected call from her cousin Ramzy disrupts her life again. But that’s not all.
Quickly after Khaled’s death, Adel vows to bring his murdered friend justice while Ramzy begins to lead his terrorist organization and Tarek strikes a deal to get an insider’s look into said organization, based on his access to its new leader and everything snowballs, ending with Ramzy’s son being killed.
One of the best things about the characters in El-Qahera Kabul is that they’re named according to the very concept they’re supposed to embody. And to show you just what we mean, let’s begin with Adel.
Adel’s name, literally meaning ‘justice’, is a testament to all that he stands for. Ever since his youngest days, he’s always been intent on doing the right thing and bringing about justice wherever it is. Even if that justice he’s seeking is against a friend, a person he grew up with. Adel risks no chances and is fully devoted to his work but at no point, does he truly lose his human connection. Even his suspicions are given a humane edge.
Meanwhile, Tarek’s motivation doesn’t seem to ring through unless you remember his last name — Kasab. Morally bankrupt, Tarek has one goal in mind and it’s to make sure his bank account is overflowing with cash. And yet, Tarek still seems to have a heart somewhere when it comes to his old friends. Both a blessing and a curse.
Literally telling us her name means ‘hard to get’, Manal is a woman who has been betrayed by a person she has loved and trusted. And that’s not where it ends. Even with her suspicions of Ramzy’s involvement in her brother’s death, Manal still can’t fully let go.
Naturally, we can’t forget the villain of the hour. With a name that stands for ‘symbol’, Ramzy is an extremist character who has his heart set on ‘correcting’ the world according to what he sees fit. And he’s not even willing to say that this is what he wants, relying instead on the ‘fact’ that he’s doing this “because he has to” and because “he was chosen”.
What The Show Does Right
So, here’s the thing with villains in Egyptian dramas — not one of them is realistic because the villains we see literally go from a 0 to a 100 in a second with no in-between. We don’t know what really made them like this and if a character becomes evil, they’re evil 24/7.
This is what El-Qahera Kabul does right, especially with the Ramzy character. We get to see the character go from joking to sinister to an entire range of emotion and back. Even better is the fact that we get to see just how harmful the concept of indoctrination is.
In the many flashbacks we get, we see just what happens when an unassuming kid is mentored by an adult just waiting to spread their harmful rhetoric. It’s important that things like this get seen for what they are because it provides a much-needed window for our understanding.
And, of course, when talking about the better aspects of the show, we can’t not mention the acting, which is easily one of the best parts of the show. With quiet acting forces that don’t overdo the expressions or mannerisms, it’s very clear to see why, too.
What It Does Wrong
Here’s the thing. As much as the first two episodes of El-Qahera Kabul wove an intricate narrative about old friends whose memories and bonds were poisoned by acts of extremist violence and conflicts, the five episodes that followed BARELY moved the plot anywhere.
In fact, nothing really significant happens to the main characters — it’s the secondary characters who see all the damage, especially the ones around Adel’s brother Aly. The fact that all our main characters have done so far is have one reunion then go back to mostly business as usual is a little underwhelming, especially after the promising start.
And since we’re on the topic, we just have to say it. Hassan’s monologues have to be spaced out because when every episode has a “Wise Old Man Monologue”, it all adds to the show’s sense of repetitiveness and fluctuating pacing.
And while we’re at it, Manal needs a character arc that has to do with her own character because women being written to solely revolve around men is getting too hackneyed for its own good. We’re not saying we want her conflicting feelings for Ramzy removed, we just want her to have more to do than just think about him.