It should come as no surprise that the score to Mohammad Saeed Harib’s upcoming body swap comedy, ‘Rashid & Rajab’, sounds straight out of ‘Pink Panther’ or Disney’s golden era.
After all, Harib’s biggest claim to fame is the 3D Emirati animation ‘Freej’. Cartoons have always been in his DNA, and he carries that seamlessly into his first live action directorial feature, set to release in the UAE this Eid Al Fitr (June).
The Dubai-set slapstick comedy follows a wealthy Emirati executive, Rashid (Marwan Abdullah Saleh), and a carefree Egyptian delivery man, Rajab (Shadi Alfons), who switch bodies after a freak accident on the way to work and must find a way to revert.
Cue amusement park chases, an Easter egg as ‘Freej’s’ Um Saloom punches one of our heroes and eye-popping scenes from a luxury Dubai villa.
“We’ve been doing a lot of genre films, serious stuff, and I don’t think the UAE audience necessarily clicks with that kind of stuff. I think if you give them a slapstick comedy, something that they are used to watching on TV and enjoying, and [you] do it on a very high standard ... there is hope,” said Harib.
THE GREAT CHASE
The film’s lively score was composed by Jerry Lane, who was thrilled when he first watched the actors’ physical performances and learned about Harib’s animation background.
“The first thing I thought of was ‘Pink Panther’. I loved growing up with that music, which is quite minimal, cheeky and a little bit jazzy,” said Lane.
The cat-and-mouse chases also reminded him of another childhood love: ‘Tom and Jerry’.
“The music for ‘Tom and Jerry’ was by this dude called Scott Bradley, and that music is amazing, if you think about just the story that it tells, even with no picture,” said Lane.
The music of ‘Rashid & Rajab’ grows in urgency and follows every start and stop in the film.
“[Even] with ‘Freej’, I’m very particular in the sense that the music needs to lead and follow the action, and stop at certain places and enhance at certain places, instead of having one full soundtrack that does not work,” said Harib.
Lane has a history of composing for Arabic films, from the Jordanian Oscar-nominated Bedouin survival tale ‘Theeb’, to the Emirati psychological thriller ‘Zinzana’.
This is the third Image Nation production he’s worked on, but the first outright comedy. Does he enjoy switching up genres?
“As a composer, one thing that’s important to be is versatile. It sounds like a bit of a cliche, but you do have to be a little bit like a chameleon,” said Lane.
‘Rashid & Rajab’ requires high-energy musical pieces, but also gave Lane and Harib room to play rather than striving for perfection.
“The tuba and the bassoon sound quite fun if it’s a little bit loose here and there,” said Lane.
Earlier this month, on a bitterly cold morning in London, Gulf News tabloid! sat in on a three-hour recording session with the London Contemporary Orchestra (LCO) at the world-famous Angel Studios.
The same studios were used to record Gabriel Yared’s Oscar-winning score for ‘The English Patient’, as well as ‘Moulin Rouge!’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘The Full Monty’ and ‘Downton Abbey’.
Cool-and-steady conductor Hugh Brunt (also the co-founder of the LCO) led 22 musicians on everything from the cello and violin to the trumpet to trombone.
Behind a glass wall, we watched on like medical students. To the untrained ear, every note sounded perfect — but Brunt, a musical surgeon, needed “a whisker quieter” here and “a little more” there.
He called the project “one of the happiest things I’ve heard us play, in a lovely way — it’s sunny.”
Lane explained: “They have a sort of relationship with Radiohead, and they do a lot of quite heavy stuff for [guitarist and keyboardist] Jonny Greenwood. Sometimes they’re knocking out some really sinister stuff, so I think that was probably quite fun for them.”
The composer admits he’s “not a great reader of music” himself, and was delighted to hear some of his piece come to life at the hands of Brunt, who he has worked with before.
“You spend a lot of time playing stuff on a digital clarinet, just to get an idea, and it’s always fun to walk in and just hear them at the beginning going, ‘Do do do do do.’ And you think, ‘Yes! A real clarinet!’ It sounds so much more fun and real,” said Lane.
Following the London recording session, there were plans to add more elements in Dubai.
“There’s a layer of Arabic instruments, because there’s something very funky about having this orchestra play and then overlaying it with some oud tracks,” said Harib.
KEEPING IT LOCAL
‘Rashid & Rajab’ was produced by Rami Yasin and two of Harib’s fellow Emirati directors, Ali Mostafa (‘City of Life’, ‘From A to B’, ‘The Worthy’) and Majid Al Ansari (‘Zinzana’).
What made them want to come onboard?
“Number one, we are all friends from the start. Number two, I’m the kind of guy who is not stubborn, in the sense of, like, ‘Oh, this is my film and this is how it should be.’ I believe that there is a lot to learn from their experiences in film,” said Harib.
“When they will do animation one day, they will probably come to me and say, ‘Mohammad, what does it take to direct an animated feature or show?’ So, I really needed their guidance. Having them really made this film feel like my third directorial film, not my first,” he added.
The script for ‘Rashid & Rajab’, originally penned in English by Mo Youssef, was reworked by more than a dozen people, including Harib himself.
“When we translated it into Arabic, it became another beast. And when it was acted out, it was totally different,” said Harib.
Approximately 40 per cent of the film, he added, included improvisation from the actors.
“They come up with better ideas than you see on paper … Unless there’s something very specific to the script or the scene, you say, ‘It’s yours,’” said Harib.
A MODERN MAN
‘Rashid & Rajab’ shot for 36 days, involving 16-hour shifts.
It joins a legacy of well-loved body swap fantasy-comedies, from Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother-daughter switch in ‘Freaky Friday’, to Matthew Perry and Zac Efron’s time-travelling fiasco in ‘17 Again’.
“The genre is very familiar to people. We don’t have to explain why it happens and whether it makes sense. People switching souls does not make sense … Just embrace it and have fun with it,” said Harib.
Meanwhile, he wanted to move away from past portrayals of Emirati families.
“I’ve seen so many examples of, unfortunately, local families represented in an old, tacky soap opera-ish way. This is a modern guy, modern house, lovely wife, modern furniture — it became the contemporary kind of local,” said Harib.
Then there was the Egyptian family man, who was jubilant yet struggling to make ends meet.
“There was so much fun in the local versus Egyptian switch. Especially the dialect — they switched the accents. They were both helping each other [learn] — Marwan speaks Egyptian in the entire film, and Shadi speaks local. They did a great job,” said Harib.
‘Rashid & Rajab’ is set to release in the UAE for Eid Al Fitr (June 2019).