Mohammed Saeed Harib, the man behind the FREEJ series and the first 3D cartoon animator from the Middle East is ready with his new directorial feature. An Image Nation film – ‘Rashid and Rajab’ that releases during Eid this year about body switching. An Emirati and an Egyptian switch bodies and what follows is a riot of confusion, slapstick humour, cultural understanding and emotional learning. Manju Ramanan explores further.
The film is about body switching. Tell us about it.
Imagine waking up in an ambulance in a body that is not your own. Then imagine having to live in that body in a life that is not your own. Finding myself directing a live-action feature film after an established career in animation, was similarly jolting. A huge responsibility, but enormously enriching and a great honour. At its core, Rashid and Rajab is a film about those parallels – not just of the characters, but of cultures too. It also lightly pokes fun at some of the quirks of the Arab way of life – our relationships, our work, and our lifestyle.
How tough was it for you to film this complex film?
A young Emirati entrepreneur switches his body with a poor Egyptian delivery guy. Both have daughters of the same age and are of the same age groups, so their milieu is the same. The Emirati guy is somewhat detached to his daughter while the Egyptian guy is very attached to his daughter. These are drastically different personalities and the challenge was how to get one to be exactly like the other. I am an Emirati and I know that despite being Arabs we are very different to each other. Our ecosystems are completely different. People consider the Khaleejis to be rich, entitled, taking things for granted etc while others are struggling to make a living. Technically speaking I was looking for an Egyptian actor who could ape the Emirati dialogues. We found actor Shadi Alfons and nailed it.
How different was it for you to switch from animation?
Unlike animation, which largely comes to life well before a single frame is even created, this film came to life the moment our cast of incredible performers came on board. Right from the start we established a very trusting relationship, which allowed me to develop the films characters in ways I did not expect. The very physical nature of the cast’s acting style also helped to shape the humour of the film.
Where was it shot and what were the other challenges?
It is a demanding film and we shot at different locations in Dubai. The 16-hour schedule that spanned over 36 days was demanding. We shot at Citywalk, Global Village etc. Shooting in Global Village was good and challenging since it involved crowd control.
Does the film aim to send out a message?
As a director, I’ve tried to craft the process of a man adapting to another man’s life in a different body and explore what he learns along the way, and to create something that is as fun for an audience to watch as it was for us to film. But Rashid and Rajab also has a message – seeing the world through someone else’s eyes shows us that despite our differences we are all remarkably similar. When it comes to wanting to be someone else, be careful what you wish for.