Hind Rostom

Hind Rostom, a reel and real superstar

Nicknamed the “Marilyn Monroe” of the Arab world, Hind Rostom was undoubtedly one of the most famous actresses of the golden age of Egyptian cinema.

Hind Rostom was born on November 12, 1926, in Alexandria, under the name Narimane Hussein Rostom. At the age of 16, she made her debut on the big screen as an extra in the film Azhâr wa ashwâk (Flowers and Thorns) directed by Mohamed Abdel Gawad in 1947, and quickly became known for her strong character.

During the filming of the movie, Hind Rostom noticed that the technical crew did not pay Egyptian extras the same salary as the Europeans. Due to her appearance, the film crew initially assumed she was European. This was enough for the actress to rebel and demand equal pay by leading a commission. She not only achieved pay equality but also started to build a reputation as a strong-willed and rebellious actress. Subsequently, she played a prominent supporting role in the film Ghazal al Banat (1949), alongside the singer Laila Mourad.

The audience truly got to know her in 1955 when she landed her first major role in the film Banât al-layl (Daughters of the Night), directed by Hassan Reda, who would later become her husband. The actress’s paternal family condemned both her acting career and her marriage to Hassan Reda. However, the actress’s career was just beginning, and she distinguished herself with her strong character, which was perfectly reflected in her bold choice of roles. As early as 1954, she portrayed a woman fighting for gender equality in the film Banat Hawa (Daughters of Eve) directed by Niazi Mustafa.

Both a dancer and an actress, Hind Rostom worked with the greatest, including the Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, when she portrayed the unforgettable Hanuma in 1958 in Bâb-al Hadîd (Cairo Station). This film marked a revolution in Egyptian cinema as it tackled challenging and taboo social issues of the time, such as the living conditions of the working class and sexual frustration.

Throughout her career, she appeared in over 80 films, portraying diverse characters ranging from pin-up girls to lovers, mothers, and even nuns. Through her acting, she explored various facets of femininity. Comfortable in both comedies and melodramas, Hind Rostom offered a wide range of interpretations and did not limit herself to her seductive image. She worked alongside the biggest names of her time, such as Farid al-Atrache and Shadia in the musical comedy Enta Habibi directed by Youssef Chahine in 1957.

Known for her strong-willed character, her advocacy for equal pay, and her undeniable acting talent, the sultry Hind Rostom managed to establish herself in a thriving Egyptian cinema. She retired from the world of cinema in 1977, at the height of her fame, stating that she wanted “the public to remember the best of her.”

Selma Chougar is a French independent journalist of Algerian origin who writes for several magazines based in Paris, London, and Dubai. Culture and societal phenomena in the Arab world are her areas of expertise. She contributes to both French and English-language magazines.