Meet Mohammed Hareeb, the creative genius behind the successful TV series Freej. Since I started the blog this year I have met some very inspiring people and the exciting thing for my readers outside of the UAE, these inspiring people have been Emraiti’s. Coming from Dubai I believe our generation has seen the city go from a sleepy port city to a bustling cosmopolitan city that has inspired everyone to achieve their dreams.
When I met Mohammed, I of course had many questions about my favourite show Freej. This show has been so much a part of my life that I have friends we have nick-named after the characters and since the English subtitles I have introduced the show to many of my expat friends. The characters were born from a college in project in Boston where Mohammed was studying animation after swapping from Architecture. Mohammed was asked to create a super-hero that represented the culture of his country. Well, of course his initial thought was a macho character that is typical of Gulf history but, in the end he drew his grandmother and many years later that character would be the inspiration for a show on four grandmothers trying to deal with the modernisation of Dubai.
When Mohammed was asked to create his super hero he realised there had been much documented about our grandfather’s and their trips for Pearl Diving but, not much was written about out grandmothers. Therefore he drew his grandmother, he named his sketch Umm Saeed which is a sign of pride to be called after their son in this region. Of course, as he developed the character and in turn Freej he did not have a particular audience in my mind. The show was made for 18- 35 and would be cultural, comedy and for female audience because they watch more than 10 hours of TV per week and were more inclined to buy merchandise. “Thankfully though, it captured a wider market, Children saw it because it was cartoon, teenagers saw it because it was animation and cool, senior citizens liked it because it was cultural”.
The interesting part of my conversation with Mohammed was that he found it funny that people really took Freej into their lives and made it like a huge achievement for the UAE. Freej was something new and different for Arabic TV shows and Dubai was riding a successful wave and Mohammed was part of that. He said “I believe the show would not have been the success it is if we had try to launch it a few years later, because at the time I started Freej companies were looking to sponsor something different and creative but, now they are much more careful with sponsorship”.
Walking into the Lammtara office and studios, its like a creation wonderland, bright colours are everywhere and it reminded me of visiting a pier arcade …… bringing out the child in everyone. Concealing my excitement of being in the home of Freej I had to say “This seems like a dreadful place to work”.
As I have mentioned before, Dubai is now nurturing and trying to encourage the creative industries. We spoke about this and Mohammed said “If Freej had not been successful then I don’t think other shows would have come out”. Since Season 4 of Freej there has been an off-shoot TV game show, a theatrical production and Mohammed says “We want to be a brand that is associated to the culture of the UAE”. Although, they took a 2 year gap their audience have stayed loyal and people haven’t forgotten the four grandmothers. I think the fact that every episode is different and you see the characters deal with such a wide range of everyday issues, we don’t get bored with them. Today product placement is still in demand and Mohammed has created the safety video for Fly Dubai featuring the Freej characters and road safety videos for Chervelot. Freej 5 this year comes after a year’s break.
I had to ask Mohammed if he though there was a big western audience considering all the expats that live in Dubai, well he said “I hear we have a large Western audience, they are intrigued about how we show our culture and that we are making fun of ourselves”. Mohammed never wanted the show to go international and there is no plan to dub the show in English but, at the moment you can buy the DVD’s with English subtitles which of course helps to widen the audience. I told Mohammed, that for me, Freej was exciting to celebrate what our grandmothers had achieved and show the western audience that the women here were brave and perhaps were the ultimate independent women. Mohammed said ” Normally women here are portrayed in documentaries and drama’s and they are either sick or dying and now they were being shown as hero’s”.
Of course, to follow on from asking about the audience I had to ask how East and West could be merged, “He is happy that Freej found its own style, it’s not too Manga (Japanese) and not too Disney”. Whilst the stories are kept very Arabic themed, they still try to be understood by a wider audience and for example don’t use typical Arabic music but, the music is produced in London. The interesting thing with Mohammed is that he describes himself as very Western thinking ” I really wear my Kandora but I am very western, I am western educated and my English is better than my Arabic.” I think this really describes the cross over I see in Emariti’s from Dubai and how the city has made itself a business hub in the East.
Tomorrow I will tell you all about the products and the other cultural side of Freej.
Have you seen Freej? What do you think?
Ciao for now xx
P.S Pictures courtesy of Lammtara Studio’s.