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‘Winds of Change’ series shows shifts in Saudi Arabia before and after the Sahwa

Published: Updated:

On the walls of the old houses made with mud hanged the image of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz and the image of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

One could hear the voice of the Egyptian singer Farid al-Atrash from an old recorder while Mohsen writes a letter to his loved one in Egypt, in addition to some nostalgic shots of vehicles that have long but disappeared.

These were the main scenes of the new Saudi series al-Asoof (or Winds of Change). The series which is now broadcasted during the month of Ramadan displays the developments, transformations and the intellectual revolution that have took place during the late 1970s in Saudi Arabia and in the five decades since.

The first episode played on the first day of Ramadan on MBC fell during the same time as the evening prayers in Riyadh causing some controversy. In addition to other scenes in the series where we see an unknown woman abandoning a baby wrapped in white fabric at the door of a mosque at dawn, and a girl attentively observing young men to flirt with them.

Portraying the ‘Sahwa’

The seires, set sometime before 1979, centers around a Saudi family in a typical Riyadh neighborhood. That family takes in the abandoned baby while their neighbors refusing the action while others reluctantly accepting. There were also some scenes of a woman with long black hair wearing a black fabric without the long robed abaya who appears to be flirting with young men, contrary to what is accepted, while the market vendors beat a man who was harassing women.

The script writer, the late Abdulrahman al-Wabli who also wrote the story for “Haret al-Sheikh” took great care in introducing some Saudi details. There is a cleric who is seen encouraging people to read and memorize Quran, in a symbolic reference to the presence of the people of the Levant in the Kingdom. He also highlighted the role of the series’ mother figure Hila, considered the pillar and matriarch of the house. She accepts nurses the baby, and all along the episode persuades her own blood family that he is a blessing from God, not a curse, as her children went to work and bought milk which was a characteristic of that period.

The TV series succeeded in drawing attention to remind the world of the negative effects of what is known as the Sahwa, or awakening, phenomenon on Saudi society through what the series portrays how Saudis lived before 1979.

The series was produced in 2017, but its broadcast was delayed last Ramadan because a number of its stars had overlapping schedules on another famous TV show called “Selfie”.

The series revolves around the different changes that took place in Saudi capital city of Riyadh over the past five decades. It follows the so-called boom and the intellectual development that reached some societies at the time. It is written by Abdulrahman al-Wabli and directed by Muthanna al-Sobh.

Abdul-Ellah al-Sunani, one of the leading stars, explained that the series represents the turning point and the qualitative deviation in the history of Saudi drama, pointing out that it will no doubt be the talk of the street this Ramadan.

‘Saudi comedy merely a sedative’

In an interview with Al Arabiya, he said that the times of light comedy being kind in Saudi television industry were like a sedative Panadol and that now is the time for a real transition to real drama, with high angles of cinematic and visual contents, which are evident in Winds of Change.

Sunani described the show as “epic, social, economic, political and historical,” adding that it is the first time in Saudi Arabia that history is presented through the medium of culture, image and drama.

He said that the aesthetic of the series lies in the fact that it deals with a long period of time beginning from 1969 and ending in 2000.

Nasser Al Qasabi, who earned his legacy as Saudi Arabia’s king of comedy through his long-running Tash Ma Tash series, now plays a different kind of character in Winds of Change. He is a hard working young man who works in an office during the day while he rides behind his friend on their little motorcycle during the nights. Their cycle intersects with the children of neighborhood as they play in the street. He also avoids the daughter of the neighbors who flirts with guys. The neighborhoods were full of children, as portrayed by the show, which is different from the reality today hijacked by technology. The series shows Saudis in the market, with vendors riding their bicycles, contrasting with the offices and arrogance over artisan professions such as the auctioneer and the seller of cups.

Portraying the Saudi matriarch’s strength

Laila al-Salman plays a character that she has never played before in a role echoed through multiple events.

Regarding her character, al-Salman spoke told Al Arabiya that her role is that of a mother who has three children and takes responsibility after her husband and eldest son had passed away. She tries to preserve her home and children and have them united in solving problems. The character illustrates the role of the empowered family matriarch and their ability to solve problems. Even if the children grow, they always turn to their mother for advice as her family is a nest for love, cooperation and giving.

Al-Salman said that the events and the general nature of the series is unique and have never been treated before, especially the period of time between the late sixties and the beginning of the seventies when the awakening impacted the Kingdom.

The Saudis tweets about this episode were contrasted; some criticized the view that the presence of a bastard child was evidence of decay in the society, while others denounced the portrayal of women in the show.

Other critics alerted that the series is an artistic vision that doesn’t necessarily present the image of society at that time accurately.

Other writers have argued that the small criticism against the show is bred from ideological and political backgrounds because the series corresponds with openness and for women to be free to wear whatever they want in addition to granting them the possibility to drive.