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Love among the suicide bombs: Iraq's opera
Updated: 2004-03-21 09:32

It has all the familiar ingredients of a television soap opera: a young couple's wedding plans for ever delayed by bad luck, mothers-in-law always interfering and every joy laced with new tragedy.

In another tentative sign of the return of normal life to Iraq, a film company is making the country's first post-war soap opera about two middle-class families in Baghdad.

This being Iraq, however, the kitchen sink drama is spiced with elements unfamiliar to viewers of EastEnders and Coronation Street: there are raids on houses by American troops, kidnappings and arrests and, of course, the odd suicide bomb. Love and War claims to be the first significant television drama to be filmed since the fall of Saddam Hussein. It comes amid a general revival of film-making and theatre across the country.

The filming takes place in the Baghdad district of alAdhamiya, a predominantly Sunni neighbourhood, where on most days American forces find themselves under some kind of guerrilla attack. Despite the ever-present violence, the characters generally find room for optimism.

¡°This is really a story about ordinary people,¡± said Hassan Dixon, the scriptwriter. ¡°It is about love under this American occupation. It shows how life goes on despite all the things we are living through.¡±

During Saddam's reign, show business was under tight state control and all actors were employed by a government ministry. Television and feature films were heavily censored.

Since the fall of Saddam last year, independent film-makers have enjoyed unprecedented freedom. Ironically, as the plots of Love and War indicate, much of this new-found artistic energy is being used to criticise, subtly or not, the American and British forces who brought the freedom.

Fala Aboud, the programme's producer, said that it did not set out to be overtly political. It reflects the everyday experiences of a typical family in the new Iraq ¡ª and how both the Saddam regime and its new coalition successor affect their lives.

In one episode, for example, American forces spoil a party by raiding and searching for weapons. ¡°We are Iraqis and we don't accept searching women and houses in this way,¡± said Aboud.

Most of the show was being filmed for Arabic satellite channels, he said. It has a cast of almost 100 and an overall budget of just over ¡ê40,000.

Most of the action takes place inside a couple of suburban villas. Outdoor scenes include American roadblocks. Genuine American uniforms and replica weapons are used for scenes involving US troops, who are played by fair-haired and black actors.

Awatif al Salman, the leading actress and a veteran star of Iraqi television, describes the show as ¡°a simple story of Iraqi life¡±.

She said: ¡°This family suffered from the former regime and is suffering now under occupation ¡ª through the lack of security and lack of jobs.¡±

It is not only the events shown on screen that make film-making difficult in Iraq.

Oday Rasheed, one of the country's best known directors, was recently caught in a bomb blast. ¡°After we finished the first shot of the first day of filming, an explosion almost blew our set away,¡± he said. ¡°We are making a film and trying to stay alive at the same time.¡±

Back on the soap opera set, the crew are preparing to film the last of the first series of pilot 16 programmes. At the risk of giving away the plot, it includes a suicide bomb that will kill one of the interfering mothers-in-law.

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