Fatin Hamama discovered the cinema when she was young, living with her family in the eastern Delta, where her father worked as a primary school secretary. Her father took her to see her first film in the provincial town of Mansura. The actress Asya was there for the opening of her new film. Young Fatin saw her from a distance, glittering in the lights, surrounded by the admiring crowd, and was captivated.
Around the same time, her father entered her for a magazine beauty contest for children. Fatin won the contest, and her father won the cash prize. Her winning picture soon found its way into the hands of director Muhammad Karim, who saw in it a delicacy he wanted for a young girl’s role in his next film with Muhammad Abd al-Wahab. The film, Yawm Sa’id (Happy Day), was released in 1940 and when audiences left the theaters, the talk was not of established stars but about the young girl who said to Abd al-Wahab, “Mama cooked some apricot preserves for you today”
Hamama grew up in the industry and married in it, twice—first to director Ezz al-Din Zulfiqar, then to actor Omar al-Sharif—before finally marrying a respected radiologist, Dr. Muhammad Abd al-Wahab.
She was especially loved by the middle-class girls of Egyptian society, even Arab society, because in almost one hundred films she created the image of the good girl, whose fate was always in the oppressive hands of others. Her character was essentially passive, never struggling against challenges, but facing them instead with a forbearance that bordered on surrender. Her films were overwhelmingly melodramatic, to the extent that she became known as Madame Melo.
Despite the huge number of tear-jerkers she appeared in, her image was redeemed by a sharp intelligence. She was leading lady in Henry Barakat’s best films: Du’aa al-Karawan (Call of the Curlew, 1959), al-Haram (The Sin,1965), alKhayt al-Rafi’ (The Thin Thread, 1971), and La Azza’ lil-Sayidat (Women Can’t Come to the Funeral, 1979). In the 1993 she appeared in Dawud Abd al-Sayed’s Ard al-Ahlam (Land of Dreams), which, despite its box-office flop, is considered by many one of the best films of the decade.