I know it’s a bit risky to reveal one’s first actor or actress crush from childhood, and I probably shouldn’t be doing this. But I’ve already admitted this in comments on some other blogs, so probably, a few people know already… My first actress crush from childhood was Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie. This TV series debuted when I was still only three years old, and I’m not sure if the crush could have extended that far back (hmm, what would Freud say?), but I know that I did have dreams of Jeannie when I was still definitely in the single digits.
Now, as actresses go, it might be a real matter of opinion whether Barbara Eden ever ranked among the great beauties, but it’s hard to resist being attracted by the fantasy of Jeannie the genie. There are many possible psychlogical reasons for that, which I won’t get into (because I don’t like getting into such messy matters as gender relationships and the nature of male fantasies). However, if anybody thinks that this story is all as easy as a guy finding a woman in a lamp or bottle who will be completely at his service to be lorded over, then you haven’t realized the real point of I Dream of Jeannie and similar stories – that it is actually the woman who, though ostensibly and superficially in the service of the man according to custom, is the one who really runs the show in the long run. And that, too me, is a realistic assessment of many relationships through the ages.
But there are also other, simpler reasons to like a female genie… A lot of the genie’s appeal might just come from her fashion sense (who doesn’t like a harem costume?). And in some cases, it could be because she dances so well…which is not the case with Barbara Eden, but it is the case with the genie played by Samia Gamal in the Egyptian movie Afrita Hanem, or The Genie Lady.
Watching this Egyptian movie, I couldn’t help noticing how much it resembles I Dream of Jeannie - though, of course, it is the other way around, since this movie was made in 1949 and it would be a big conicidence if the people who created I Dream of Jeannie didn’t already know about this!
As with I Dream of Jeannie, as you can see, the hero, Asfour, is a relatively straight-laced-looking guy, although he is a bit different by vocation – a singer and an aspiring theater director, whch has a lot to do with why there are so many song-and-dance sequences here (just like with many Indian movies). In fact, the actor who plays Asfour, Farid Al Atrache, was himself a great singing star, so we get to hear some fine singing in addition to enjoying Samia’s dancing…
(By the way, don’t trouble yourself asking how this woman could be up on stage dancing at the same time that she is sitting in the crowd, playing tricks on people. Hey, it’s magic – she is a genie…)
But differences notwithstanding, there are similar dynamics here… As with I Dream of Jeannie, the hero often gets angry at the genie (or the existence of the genie and the way that interferes with his normal life), and he repeatedly tries to brush her off only to find himself increasingly beholden to her (and not the other way around). There is also the issue of a fiance, although the other woman does not become a fiance in Afrita Hanem until later, after the Genie Lady has helped to grant Asfour some fame and money – which is what this fiance and her father have been after all along…
…Which leads to maybe the biggest difference between the two genie stories and a reason – outside of the dancing – why I like Afrita Hanem more (though who knows how I would have felt when I was three or five or seven years old, but never mind)… Afrita Hanem has a social message about the shallow values of the day, and this is really why our hero should reject his previous social aspirations and embrace the genie – as recognition of some ancient wisdom. This is told to us very directly by another interesting character in the film, the guy who brought Asfour to the genie in the first place, who merely identifies himself at one point as “fate”… But I didn’t know fate was this opinionated (and thank goodness he is, I would say!):
Greed, selfishness, materialism… One might say the problem does not apply only to this movie’s country of origin!
…Just as I’ve often said when uncovering the moral in many a good Indian movie, too.
Speaking of which, I wondered whether there might have been a parallel to these movies in Bollywood. There’s none that I know of, but certainly, classic Bollywood has its female genies too, and some of them were also excellent dancers!
That scene from Yahudi shows that Helen and Cuckoo both could be excellent genie ladies, but Helen actually landed genie roles in other films too. There is an interesting post over at Memsaab’s which begins a three-part review of another movie, Sinbad Alibaba Aur Aladin… In an exchange between us in the comments section, Memsaab mentioned to me that Helen simply looked like a born genie and asked if I could picture her with Larry Hagman. The answer to that is, definitely! And I can easily picture her with Farid Al Atrache too.