Tunisian actress puts cabaret dancers in new light

Mona Talmoudi played the role of a cabaret dancer, a profession often stigmatised.
Wednesday 17/06/2020
Mona Talmoudi plays "Shiraz," a cabaret dancer in the TV series "Nouba 2."
Mona Talmoudi plays "Shiraz," a cabaret dancer in the TV series "Nouba 2."

TUNIS - Tunisia’s 2020 Ramadan television drama series brought many talented actors to the screen, notably Mona Talmoudi, who played the role of dancer “Shiraz” in the series "Nouba 2.”

Talmoudi painted a new image of what it means to be a cabaret dancer in the series, she told The Arab Weekly in an interview, adding complexity and intrigue into a profession that is often stigmatised by society.

This was evident throughout the series, but especially during her heartfelt performance of the song "Wahech El Sara," which conveyed a sense of both hope and pain that gave her character -- and the world she inhabits -- a new dimension.

Before Talmoudi began her role, she watched many Arab films featuring similar characters for inspiration, including the 1989 movie "Khamsa Bab" starring Egyptian actress Nadia El Gendy. She also went through an intensive, month-long training on Arabian belly dancing that focused on the prevalent technique of the 1990s, which is much different from how the dance is performed today.

"Nouba 2" took the audience to the mysterious cabaret world of 1990s Tunisia. It presented two distinct genres -- popular Mezwed folk music , frowned upon by high brow artists as an expression by marginalised youth and convicts, and string music, which is more accepted in audiovisual media and festival events.

Talmoudi said the story explores concealed issues in Tunisia due to social and cultural taboos and inhibitions, and hopes to connect with a popular audience in a way that few shows have. Tunisian viewers are hopeful that the crew will continue its journey next year.

If the show continues with a third season, Talmoudi expects to play an even bigger role. She said the audience would discover new aspects to Shiraz’s personality.

Many critics have commented that Shiraz’s character could be a more important focus for the series given her complex nature. But Talmoudi said that none of her scenes were cut or deleted from the past season and that she trusted the director’s artistic discretion. She sees her scenes as helping contribute to the development of the story and noted that it would not make sense for the cameras to focus on one individual character.

Talmoudi’s acting journey began in 2003, taking her on many theatrical adventures with numerous veteran and young directors, including Houssam Essahli and Walid Daghansi, with whom she received an award for most promising actress at the Carthage International Theatre Days Festival (JCC) and the Sharm El-Sheikh International Festival for Youth, for her role in a play titled "The Revolution of Don Quixote.”

A portrait of Tunisian actress Mona Talmoudi.
A portrait of Tunisian actress Mona Talmoudi.

She has also landed a role in the play "Declared suicide" by Egyptian director Mazen El-Gharabawy.

She says: "The theatre was and still is my eternal passion. For me, it is a spiritual remedy, when I get tired... When I get sick... When I want to escape from the world and its problems, I resort to the stage on which I recover myself... It is my comfort and refuge."

Regarding future projects, Talmoudi stated: "We will soon resume filming, Al Harqa soap opera (illegal migration) directed by Lassaad Oueslati, which is expected to break the seasonality of Tunisian drama. The cinema world remains my goal in my upcoming artistic experiences, as it is the artist's true legacy."