DUBAI: Often referred to as the Marilyn Monroe of the East, the late Arab icon Hind Rostom left her mark on the region’s film industry, having starred in more than 70 movies.
Born Nariman Hussein Murad in Alexandria, Egypt, on Nov. 12, 1929, her father was Turkish and her mother Egyptian. After her parents’ divorce, a young Rostom lived an unsettled life, following her policeman father from city to city until she moved as a teenager to Cairo in 1946.
She first lit up the silver screen as a non-speaking extra in 1949 and went on to turn heads with her first major role in Egyptian film director Hassan Al-Imam’s 1955 “Banat El-Lail” (“Women of the Night”).
She is, perhaps, most famous for her turn as a lemonade vendor in Youssef Chahine’s tense 1958 drama “Cairo Station,” with her complex portrayal of a woman on the fringes of society earning her kudos from the film industry, as well as fans for generations to come.
With her blonde locks and striking features, she soon became a fashion icon with women around the Arab world flocking to copy her latest look — she was even dubbed Egypt’s Brigitte Bardot, and The First Lady of Egyptian Cinema — however, it was her frequent portrayal of strong female characters that earned Rostom an everlasting spotlight.
She is known for her portrayal of outspoken characters alongside legendary actors such as Farid Shawqi and Omar Sharif, defying stereotypical gender norms of the time and inadvertently becoming a feminist symbol for many.
In an interview with veteran broadcast journalist Mahmoud Saad in 2010, Rostom said that one of the favorite movies of her career was “Emraa Ala El-Hamesh” (“A Woman on the Outside”).
The 1963 film tells the story of a famous actress who after murdering her husband was sentenced to life imprisonment and had to leave her son to be raised by a maid. The maid worked as a dancer and gave the son to a wealthy family. Years later, the mother leaves prison and works as a maid for the family to stay close to her son.
That year, and after also starring in “Shafiqa the Copt,” Rostom’s career blossomed, and she went on to accumulate accolades.
She received a special mention at the Venice Film Festival for Fatin Abdel Wahab’s “Women in My Life” in 1957 and won a lifetime achievement award from the Arab World Institute in Paris.
Rostom also received best actress award from the Association of Egyptian Cinema Writers and Critics for her part in “The Coward and Love” in 1975, the only award she accepted throughout her life. She is quoted to have said she believed it to be sincere.
When speaking to Saad, a year before her death in August 2011, she said she felt, “an actor’s prize is people’s love,” adding, “they are the ones who talk about us and watch us, so it’s the people.”
In a move that is almost unheard of in today’s entertainment industry, Rostom retired at the peak of her career in 1979 and refused to work again. “My life is not for sale,” she said when producers offered her the chance to turn her life story into a drama series.
“I have no regrets,” she told Saad about her decision to retire. “I did it for the love of my life, my prince, Dr. Fayad,” she added, referring to her second husband Dr. Mohammed Fayad, who she was married to for more than 50 years.
Rostom had a daughter, Basant, with her first husband, director Hassan Reda.
Eleven years after her death, the actress remains an idol to many actors and filmmakers in the Arab world.
“She was born a star. She was a real icon,” renowned Egyptian director Mohamed Yassin told Arab News.
“At that time, actresses like Faten Hamama, Nadia Al-Gendy, and Hind Rostom were the leading stars in movies. This male-dominated cinema probably came later. Now, the male actors lead the productions and that is due to so many changes that took place in the Egyptian and Arab societies,” he said.
One of Rostom’s famous titles was “Queen of Seduction.” However, many people, including Tunisian Egyptian star Hend Sabri, believe that she presented these roles respectfully.
In an interview with Al Raya, Sabri said: “Hind Rostom is my idol. She is the ‘Queen of Seduction’ in Egypt, whose work in cinema was respectable and purposeful.”
Yassin added: “Her beauty had no boundaries and she had fierce femininity. She was every Arab man’s dream woman.”
The filmmaker, famous for the 2008 flick “The Promise” and this year’s Ramadan series “El-Meshwar,” noted that at the time, people accepted her roles without getting into details about ethics and morals. But that was not all she presented to her audience. “She did drama, tragedy, comedy, and other genres,” he said.
Egyptian critic Essam Zakaria, who is the artistic director of the Alexandria Film Festival for Mediterranean cinema, told Arab News: “She portrayed an evil character in ‘La Anam’ (‘Sleepless’), the naive rich girl in ‘Rod Qalby’ (‘Back Again’), and the seductive woman in ‘Ebn Hamido’ (‘Son of Hamido’).
“Her roles were diverse. She is one of the few who were able to play the good and the evil characters at the same time.
“She presented femininity and seduction in a way that left a mark. She became a role model and many other celebrities tried to imitate her afterwards,” Zakaria said.
Yassin pointed out that many actresses now feared taking on roles as bold and daring as some of Rostom’s.
“She was exceptional, and no one can now present what she did at her time,” he added.
One of her most famous fans, Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe, previously said: “Hind Rostom will always be an icon in our hearts.”
Last year, people from around the world flocked to buy eight pieces from her jewelry collection on sale at auction house Sotheby’s. Displayed as part of the art house’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels Part II auction, the items were offered by the actress’ family for the first time. All eight pieces in the sale were sold at prices above their high pre-sale estimates.
Rostom was known for her passion for collecting jewelry, sourcing items from around the world through her favorite boutique in Cairo, as well as designing a number of signature pieces.
In his 2011 book, “Hind Rostom: The World’s Greatest Actress,” Hollywood and cinema historian Maximillien De Lafayette described her as, “an international star and an unmatched diva of the golden years of cinema, both Egyptian and foreign.”
According to the online website of Egypt’s broadcasting organization Maspero, the American writer gifted Rostom the book and sent it to her Cairo house, only a few months before she died.
“Hind Rostom was magical. She has tremendous talent, breathtaking beauty, and artistic presence that transcends time, place, and eternity,” De Lafayette wrote in his book.