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Why Rising Saudi Actress Maria Bahrawi Says She’s Lucky To Star In ‘Norah’
ALULA: On a beautiful day in AlUla, Saudi actress Maria Bahrawi answers questions from journalists for the first time in her life. As the star of the first Saudi project to film in the historic region, the 16-year-old is experiencing her first taste of stardom, surrounded by flashing lights, cameras and presenters she once watched on television, each the pointing now as a source of inspiration. for a new generation of young Saudi girls.
Tears stream down Bahrawi’s face. It’s not the moment that overwhelms her, it’s the glimpse she gets of her mother, standing right next to the camera. She runs to kiss him, knowing how much she owes him this moment – and a family that allowed her to dedicate her life to pursuing her dreams.
“As young as I can remember, my mother never stopped me from pursuing anything I was passionate about. My family was always supportive, never restricted me and without them I wouldn’t have never been able to become an actress. I love you so much, mum,” Bahrawi told Arab News.
While Bahrawi’s face may well become a symbol of the next generation of Saudi artists, Saudi women of past generations have not had the same opportunities as her. It’s something she became very aware of while making ‘Norah’, a film that explores these themes.
Set in the Saudi countryside of the 1990s, the film follows an artist named Nader, who gave up painting due to societal restrictions and became a schoolteacher, where he meets a young woman named Norah (Bahrawi), an illiterate orphan who seems n has no way to go to pursue her own dreams, faced with an arranged marriage she doesn’t want and full of emotions she doesn’t know what to do with.
“The first day I walked into this setting in AlUla, I was transported back in time. Suddenly I could understand how people were feeling. I had watched so many videos of people back then, but I had to be there to really feel it,” says Bahrawi.
In the film, Bahrawi’s character carries a tape recorder wherever she goes, recording her thoughts and feelings on it as if she were whispering them into a wishing well. Tape recorders were just one thing the 16-year-old didn’t even know existed at the time.
“It’s something I learned on set. Tawfik (Alzaidi, the Saudi director of the film) had to show me how to fix it, how to play it,” Bahrawi says. .”
Bahrawi, who was born and raised in Jeddah, even had to learn from her family how women wore an abaya and niqab.
“My family lived this life, but I didn’t know how they would wear it, how they would take it off, what their clothes would look like from below. How to tie the niqab above all. Everything was new to me”, she said, “Of course I know the niqab, but the precise way women wore it was all new to me. My family taught me how to do it like them.”
Bahrawi was cast in May this year after auditioning in person just once, driving with her family to AlUla from Jeddah in case she could land the role. When filming began a few weeks later, Bahrawi found herself overwhelmed.
“I expected it to be difficult, but I really thought that I might not be able to do it. To get through it, I would have to remember that it’s bigger than me” , says Bahrawi.
Bahrawi’s co-star Yaqoub Alfarhan, who plays Nader, was invaluable to the young actress. Alfarhan, who quickly became arguably Saudi Arabia’s hottest rising young star after starring in MBC’s hit ‘Rashash’, rehearsed over and over with Bahrawi until she felt like it. comfortable, giving her a safe space on set when she needed guidance.
“He really helped me a lot. We read almost every scene together and we rehearsed the really difficult scenes over and over again. I was still balancing school and my outside life at the age of 16 years old, but Yaqoub taught me to mentally isolate myself and forget everything when I get on set so we can all focus and be together in the moment. I’ll never forget that,” Bahrawi says.
However, perhaps the most important lessons came from the character of Norah herself. As Bahrawi immersed herself in the role, coming to the small, real-life village in which they filmed each day, it was the journey of this young woman who slowly discovered the power within herself and refused to compromise beliefs. who have changed her, and will help her become the woman she wants to be.
“She taught me to be myself, to be true to my own spirit and to stand up for myself despite all the challenges,” says Bahrawi. “From now on and for the rest of my life, because of Norah, if I can’t find support, I will support myself. I want to find success, and I will against all odds.
While the experience of playing Norah has been an eye-opening experience in countless ways, the young actress is already looking to the future and the many roles she could play that could explore life in a very different, a kingdom that she makes grow. more proud of each day.
“I want to explore a role that speaks to the current times, and speaks to my generation of young women at this time in Saudi Arabia. There are also challenges now. There are a lot of things that women go through, and a lot positive things too that haven’t been shown on screen yet. There’s so many things that have happened that would be great to show in a movie, and that’s something I’d love to be a part of,” says Bahrawi.
As the sun sets in AlUla, however, Bahrawi pauses to reflect on how lucky she is to be a part of it and write history in the first Saudi film to admire the majesty of this very special place. .
“Every day we pass historic sites such as Elephant Rock and Hegra, exploring these incredible mountainous regions and landscapes. I can’t believe we could do this together,” she says.
“Right now, I’m living the dream. Inshallah, I will achieve bigger and higher goals. I have all the opportunities in the world, now it’s up to me to seize them.