After watching the new season of the massively popular show Tash Ma Tash, I think it is safe to say that, on its fourteenth consecutive season, the show is still going strong as ever: pushing limits and breaking taboos, dealing with sensitive issues in a way unheard of when it comes to local media and entertainment business. However, the long journey was not always rainbows and butterflies. For Abdullah Al Sadhan and Nasser Al Qasabi, lead actors and producers of the show, have faced many challenges, obstacles and hurdles over the years, but they have managed to overcome all of that, to gain the place where they are standing today: the most important duo in showbiz in Saudi Arabia.
But early on they had to stand in the court against the director of seasons 1 and 2 A’mer Al Humoud, who claimed he owned an equal share in creating the show as the duo, saying they had no right to replace him as director, and that they have to give him credit as one of the creators of the successful show. Clearly Al Humoud wanted a slice of the pie, and probably he deserved one, but due to the absence of functional intellectual property regulations in the country the case did not seem to come to an end, while the two parties kept on attacking each other in the media all the time. Nevertheless, the quality of the show was not affected by the legal war.
This year, Al Humoud convinced executives at LBC to produce what he called The Original Tash Ma Tash, to rival his old partners. I think LBC made a big mistake, not just by producing the show that comes with a heavy baggage using newbie actors, but also by choosing to air it in the same time the real Tash Ma Tash is aired on MBC. I don’t have any official ratings information, but I can predict correctly that not even a tiny fraction of the viewers have decided to turn to LBC instead of MBC.
Another issue Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi has to deal with was a fatwa issued a few years ago condemning Tahs Ma Tash and its creators, and warning people from watching the show. Those who issued the fatwa and those who supported it have justified their stance by saying the show is making a mockery of religion and religious people. I beg to differ. If there was any mockery of religion in this case it is the fatwa itself and not the show.
People should understand that if a religious man was portrayed in a comical way during the show it is the negative behavior of the religious man that is criticized and meant to be laughed at, not religion or being religious. People should differentiate between religion as something sacred and those who speak in the name of religion and claim to represent it while their words and actions tell otherwise. The problem with some of the religious elite here is that they believe they are Islam, and I think time has come for someone to wake them up and tell them they are not. As far as Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi were concerned, they have dealt with this fatwa properly, imho: they have ignored it and kept on doing what they do best, which is entertaining people by tackling issues they care about the most.
Like any other successful business, Tash Ma Tash has grown over the years, and naturally its cost has become bigger and bigger. The budget has become very big that the former producer of the show, the Saudi Ministry of Information was no longer able to handle it, so the creators had to take their show somewhere else. Middle East Broadcasting Center, or simply MBC, a Saudi television network based in Dubai, opened their arms to welcome the show. They had to pay a large sum of money, but they were pretty sure about the quality and popularity of the show, and the faithfulness of its fans.
Moving Tash Ma Tash to MBC was a good deal for everyone, except for the Saudi TV of course: MBC can attract huge amounts of money from sponsorship and advertising to compensate their investment, the creators will have better ability to make what they have in their minds into reality, and the viewers can expect and enjoy a show of higher quality. Another advantage of moving the show out from MOI was getting rid of restraints associated with government funding, especially censorship. It is well known that MOI have banned some episodes in the several past years, although Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi never publicly complained about it, and when asked about it they always reply that the number of banned episodes was very small.
The effect of the move has become very clear during this season, with many episodes that caused mixed feelings among Saudis. The issues tackled, and the way they were demonstrated, have touched people from inside, sometimes shocking them, and sometimes just making them laugh, but above all highlighting these important issues and making them visible to everyone in the society. An episode such as “Irhab Academy” which makes fun of recruiting young men for terrorists is a good example for raising awareness to this worrying matter, while the episode titled “Sour Al Harem” was a clear warning sign against the strict segregation of sexes.
And to expose the Saudi hypocrisy, leave it to Humoud and Mohaimeed. The two guys go to Cairo on a secret sex weekend away from their wives, and while they are enjoying their time in a nightclub one of them says, “this is really great, but God forbid to have such thing in our country,” and the other replies, “No, we have our ‘khusousiya’.” On another episode, the same guys decides to go to Beirut, but with their wives this time. While planning the trip, Mohaimeed tell Humoud to wear pants and shirts instead of thobes when they go to Lebanon. Humoud did not like the idea, and went asking his friend: “int 3almani?” (are you a secular?) I also liked this episode based on a true story, which is about a couple who lived happily for six years until a judge divorced them because the wife is tribal while her husband is not.
Some people have complained that Tash Ma Tash does not offer any solutions for these issues, and to those I say it is not the job of Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi to solve the issues, but rather those in charge, whether they were government officials, religious leaders, or anyone else. I believe that the first goal of such show is entertainment and not lecturing people on what they should, or should not, do. Some argue that it is better to solve our issues between us instead of exposing ourselves in a TV show like that, but I think this is mainly due to the same Saudi hypocrisy portrayed in the show: “even if we have issues, let’s not discuss them publicly,” they say, as if we shoved them under the carpet they will magically solve themselves somehow.
There is also the argument that Tash Ma Tash, especially this year, is being biased to the conservatives and pushing for a liberal agenda at the expense of a society that is not only conservative but one that “others are expecting it to be conservative,” to quote Abdullah Al Ghadhami. Since the creators of the show have never declared their political and/or social ideology, all what we have here are mere assumptions. I think such argument is caused by the feeling of all Saudis, whether they were conservative, liberal or otherwise, that Tash Ma Tash belongs to them, all of them.
I don’t think that anyone has imagined the show would ever become in the center of a debate between people here, but I think it is a good thing, the debate that is. We would disagree on many things regarding the show, but I think we all can’t imagine Ramadhan without Tash Ma Tash. I mean, if you don’t watch it, do you consider yourself a Saudi?