Egypt Remembers: The Theatre’s Naguib El-Rihani Was The East’s Charlie Chaplin

The General Authority for Culture Palaces, affiliated with the Ministry of Culture, celebrated the 132nd birth anniversary of renowned Egyptian actor Naguib El-Rihani last Thursday.

Naguib Elias El-Rihani was born in the Bab El-Shaareya district of Cairo, on 21 January 1889 to an Iraqi father and Egyptian mother.

Writing on Facebook, the authority said that El-Rihani was one of the most famous theatre actors in the 20th Century, and was well known by the name of the character “Kesh Kesh Bey”.

He studied at the Frere Primary School and was fluent in French. At school, he joined the theatre team, where he saw his acting talent grow day-by-day.

After obtaining his baccalaureate, El-Rihani started looking for work to help his mother and two brothers.

The late actor took several jobs, including working in the Agriculture Bank of Egypt (ABE), and later on in the Sugar Company in the Nagaa Hamady region. His obsession with acting, however, soon won the day, and he went on to pursue his love for the art.

El-Rihani met the artist Aziz Eid, with the pair going on to work together.  He also worked with George Abyad’s troupe, until he eventually befriended Badie Khairy who became his acting partner, and together they wrote numerous theatrical plays.

El-Rihani was also known as the Charlie Chaplin of the East, as according to several critics, the two had several things in common. Both had difficult beginnings, but also shared points of view, and the main themes they chose for their artistic work.

Both El-Rihani and Chaplin chose to deal with the psychological insight of the poorer classes against the unjust aristocratic class, making fun of aristocracy in a sarcastic manner.

It is surprising to know that Naguib El-Rihani always wished to become a tragedian, and that becoming a comedian was never part of his plan. Despite this change in direction, he found success in both tragedy and comedy.

His nickname “Kesh Kesh Bey” came from a character he took on in one of his plays, and which became very popular. Due to the character’s success, El-Rinahi decided to embody it in a film.

In 1918, El-Rihani initiated a new form of theatre in Egypt, that of Musical Theatre or “Operetta”, in which he cooperated with one of Egypt’s most famed musicians, Sayed Darweesh. This also saw him collaborate with the famous actor and writer Badie Khairy, and together they presented several successful operettas.

He toured with his own artistic troupe, the El-Rihani Troupe, to different countries to present his work, moving as far afield as South America. In the final stage of his artistic life, El-Rihani starred and wrote several successful films that are considered some of the greatest of Egyptian cinema.

These works included a number of famous singers and actors, such as Laila Mourad, Aziz Osman, Anwar Wagdy, Abdul Fattah El Kosary, Youssef Wahby, Hassan Fayek, Taheya Karyouka, Bishara Wakeem, and many others.

In all his plays and films, El-Rihani always aimed to bring in a comedy element that would chime with the poorer classes in Egypt. He also insisted that his work would adopt topics of personal interest, especially those translated from French and English, and which were set into a distinctly Egyptian environment. This would ensure that his target class could easily understand and react to his work.

El-Rihani died on 8 June 1949 after a battle with illness. Despite his few works, he left behind a deep mark on Egyptian cinema and theatre that has remained in the people’s memory.

Related Articles

Back to top button