The opening lines say it all. "Casino life is a different world. If you choose to enter this world, you have to forget about your other life."

With these words, Omar Harb (Khalid Saleh) introduces Khalid (Hani Salama) to the lure of gambling in the controversial new Egyptian film Rayes Omar Harb (Omar Harb, the Boss).

Set in a casino in Sharm Al Shaikh, Egypt, Rayes tells the story of Omar Harb, an infamous casino owner, and his young protégé, Khalid, who is shunned by his family the moment he starts working at the casino.

Harb teaches the new recruit gambling skills and the rules of the casino, and Khalid soon comes to learn about the brutal underground dealings of his master.

Khalid falls in love with Habiba (Soumaya Al Khashab), one of the casino customers, and starts an affair with a prostitute and addicted gambler, Zeina (Gada Abdul Razek).

He discovers, however, that everything in his life — from the people he meets to the events he experiences — is preplanned by Harb. He realises that he has no choice but to obey the rules of his master because leaving would result in retribution.

Sending a message

For director Khalid Yousuf, this is at the heart of the struggle between good and evil. tabloid! caught up with him at the film's Dubai premiere, which was also attended by stars Salama, Khalid Saleh, Soumaya Al Khashab, Gada Abdul Razek and scriptwriter Hani Fawzi.

"The film deals with a profound, philosophical issue that concerns humans. It discusses the universal issue of the struggle between good and evil," Yousuf said.

"When you look at the Arab world, you see the magnitude of destruction and the death of hundreds of people. You wonder why is it that the forces of evil overtake good at the end and how long it will be that way."

The director said that he ended the film on a negative note so that viewers feel the desire to initiate change. "This film is a cry for change; for taking control and leading life towards the good.

"Those who are uncomfortable with the fact that evil wins at the end must do something about it. A good ending gives viewers a satisfaction that does not instigate any change."

Controversial scenes

Religious circles in Egypt have denounced the movie for the explicit sex scenes that are unprecedented in the Arab movie world.

The film contains several daring shots of Salama Al Khashab and Abdul Razek. The actresses said that they were comfortable with their roles and accepted them as part of the job. "Not all people have the same opinion; some will support it and others will be against it. This is the way it has been with all my roles," Al Khashab told tabloid!.

For her part, Abdul Razek said she was not hesitant. "The role of Zeina is intimidating and unaccepted in the Arab world, but I was daring enough to take it. If I shy away from the roles I'm offered, I won't have the chance to act."

In the film, Abdul Razek plays a prostitute who sells her life, dignity and even daughter in return for money and physical pleasure. Those who vehemently reject the movie now will come to accept it with time, Abdul Razek added.

The director says that the sex scenes were an integral part of the movie. "This is my vision. If I remove any part of the film, it remains incomplete. Other people might see that half of the film must be removed, but this is their own opinion," he said.

Producer Kamil Abu Ali said, "Although some people believe that certain scenes are too controversial to be included, this remains one point of view. People don't want to see cinema from one viewpoint; we present this film in a certain way because this is reality and it exists.

"Alternatively, it could be perceived as a fabrication by the director, which he leaves to the audience." While the film has attracted controversy for its risqué scenes, it is not void of political statements. "Absolute power is absolute corruption."

Harb might also been seen as a world power in the global political context.

"Some people said that Omar Harb symbolises the US, and the casino customers are nothing but representatives of Arab countries being controlled by this dominating power. This is another point of view," Yousuf said.

The hardest part in shooting the film, says Yousuf, is regulating the way in which ideas are presented so it appeals to everyone.

"I always calculated what is presented to the audience through the actors … How to embody the devil in the movie without displaying too much aggressiveness: the words that Rayes Harb chooses and how he says them and when, and how this is given to all different levels of people."

The title of the movie, originally supposed to be Al Rayes (The Boss) was changed to Al Rayes Omar Harb so that it better defines the character of the movie and eliminates any resemblance the Rayes might have to an Arab political figure.

Abdul Razek said, "The story itself is original and new to Egyptian and Arab cinema. The movie discusses the casino world, with all the conflicts and contradictions that it presents. We want to tell people that the casino lifestyle ruins and even ends lives and forces people to do things beyond their control.

"The people who visit the casino are normal people we meet every day. We are trying to show that this life is totally unacceptable and that the casino life is dangerous," she added.

A step forward for Salama

Hani Salama told tabloid! that he instantly accepted the role he was offered because it was new and challenging. "The story is deep and deals with an important topic — this is certainly a forward step in my career," he added.

What's next?

Khalid Yousuf is currently working on his upcoming movie, Dukkan Shehata (Shehata's Shop), which will be released in December. Like his previous movies, Dukkan Shehata zooms in on the Egyptian society and is shot in Egypt.