Hassan wa Bogloz: Are comedy rip-offs and box-office profits parting ways?

Hassan wa Bogloz (2016) is another tasteless movie from profit-focused El-Sobky Film Productions, but it’s also quite funny and has a political subtext of sorts worth extracting.

What’s more, there’s some poetic justice in the notorious double release of the movie — it slipped to number three at the box office just as cam versions hit computer screens. Both the stars and Mr. Sobky himself have condemned the feature’s digital release with talk of an “investigation” to find the leaker. I say justice because the film is a blatant rip-off of conjoined-twins flick Stuck on You (2003) by US toilet-humor pioneers the Farrelly brothers.

Hassan wa Bogloz director Wael Ehsan was unsurprisingly the man responsible for Gawaz Miri (Martial Marriage, 2014), an even more blatant rip-off of US director McG’s This Means War (2012). What an unfortunate turn of events, given that he made his name with thoroughly original box-office hits like El Limby (2002) and Elly Baly Balak (2003), although perhaps that was down to comedian Mohamed Saad, who starred in both.

Banana split

The story of Hassan w Bogloz is one of conjoined twins, Hassan (Karim Fahmy) and Bogloz (Ali Rabee). The intro sees their father sacrificing their mother’s life during childbirth without the slightest hesitation. (The point of marriage is kids, after all — an insurance policy against old age — but one might hope the director would draw some negative attention to this heinous act.) Hassan does well at school and becomes a police officer, while Bogloz becomes the quintessential broke loser for no explicable reason. And when Hassan falls in love with Camellia (Yousra El Lozy), he decides to literally cut himself off from Bogloz.

Bogloz can’t handle not having a brother, so as payback he goes after Camellia himself, pretending to be an out of work artist and she, as a caring and responsible member of the upper class (hint, hint), decides to help him out. Worse, the two brothers feel each other’s pain, so Bogloz deliberately gets himself beaten up during key occasions in Hassan’s life to mess things up for him. Meanwhile Hassan has to put up with both Camellia’s kid brother Karim (Mostafa Khater), who never grew up because he has a fixation on horror movies, a trope borrowed from the Farrelly brothers’ There’s Something About Mary (1998), and Camellia’s de facto uncle Riyadh (Ahmed Fouad Selim), a corrupt businessman who murdered his faithless wife. Riyadh also refuses to patch things up with his son, DNA evidence notwithstanding. These rich people clearly can’t protect their honor.

Hassan, being a cop, is suspicious and over-protective, getting angry whenever Riyadh hugs Camellia. Bogloz, being a working-class type, tells her brother to be a man and berate his sister over her revealing clothes. Hassan’s vindictiveness drives away Bogloz, only for them to be reunited to save Camellia from the evil clutches of Riyadh, who turns out to be a would-be rapist. Boos, hiss!

People’s logic

When I stopped to ponder the storyline in total I managed to figure out the thematics, however crude and illogical. It’s the whole the army and the people are one hand” motif we’ve been left with since the January 2011 revolution, applied to the not-nearly-as-popular police in this case. The idea is that the police (Hassan) can’t protect the country (Camellia) from the exploitative (Gulf-affiliated) business class (Uncle Riyadh) without the help of the common-folk (Bogloz). That’s the main strongpoint of the story.

The rest of the movie largely makes no sense or is unnecessary, but thank heavens it is well produced and funny, if yucky as hell. (I at any rate laughed out loud at scenes like the one in which Bogloz ties himself to a friend to feel like he’s still connected to his brother, and drags him into the toilet.)

Karim Fahmy looks too intellectually upper-crust for the part, but he is also, coincidentally, the scriptwriter. Ali Rabee is perfectly cast though, and fortunately he doesn’t carry the movie all by himself thanks to the sincerely humorous performances of the lesser characters. Bayoumi Fouad is on top form as sadistic doctor, having perfected the role from his days in the Al-Kabir TV series (2010-2015) with Ahmed Mekki, while Mostafa Khater of the Masrah Masr theater team really convinces you that he’s a teenager. (He’s actually 23, but look how mature he looked in Ocean 14). A few slight changes to his haircut, clothes and body language, and I completely bought into his character. He’s a proper actor and has a good career ahead of him if nobody deliberately blocks his path.

Other people from Masrah Masr, the current comedy theater-TV phenomenon, pop up here and there as well as the comedy trio of Sheeko, Ahmed Fahmy and Hesham Magid, who started off making a subversive zero-budget movie in 2001 but are now Sobky staples. Yousra El Lozy is great and unlike the tempestuous, super classy teenagers she usually plays, here she’s a Cinderella, not coincidentally Camellia’s favourite fairytale.

That said, there are too many characters, established names that aren’t given a chance to shine — like Mazhar Abul Naga — or serve no real purpose, like Mai Selim and Nesreen Amin. Along with predictability, it’s clutter that’s the problem with this movie — of gags, gross scenes, characters and plot lines.

Ripping leaders

That would explain the dip in the ratings game, if you ask me. Perhaps it’s no longer enough to turn off your brain cells if you want to make a buck in Egyptian showbiz, especially if people can stream movies anyway.

To date Hassan wa Bogloz has made over LE5 million but is trailing a long way behind the more earnest Hebta — even though Hebta too has been (simultaneously) leaked on the net. Hassan wa Bogloz, then, might be an interesting test case of market dynamics (saturation, maturation).

Egypt is one of the one of the loosest countries in the world when it comes to copyrights and patents, ranked 102 out of 129 on the 2015 International Property Rights Index. Pirated movies on file-sharing and streaming websites (cams and rips) are practically an Egyptian cottage industry. You can get high quality BluRay rips of just-released US horror movies on Egyptian websites, with expertly translated Arabic subtitles to boot. (They also leave in all the x-rated scenes that are incompetently snipped out of theatrical releases.) Arabic websites are fast filling the vacuum left by Megaupload. As for Egyptian flicks, you have anything from four to eight servers to choose from to copy-stream from grainy mobile phone captures, with the sound of the audience in the background either prompting you to laugh along with them or be perplexed because you can’t hear what’s being said.

An unnatural selection process seems to be taking place with Egyptian audiences becoming more choosey. Many viewers now want to see a little quality on the silver screen, insisting on going to the movie theaters only if there’s something both substantive and entertaining out there. Could we be seeing the eclipse of the Sobky empire? We can only hope.

Emad El-Din Aysha 

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