There is always a fascination to learn everything there is to know about actors, even beyond their films. So was the case with Soad Hosni, the Egyptian actor who starred in about 80 Arabic films, from the 1950s-90s, and died under “strange" circumstances in London in 2001.

“Even today the local paparazzi write about her," says Rania Stephan, the Lebanese film director who has taken 10 years to make The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni. The film, which won the Sharjah Biennial Prize in 2011, is being shown on a loop at Delhi’s Khoj Studios.

Stephan says there is still speculation in the Arab world about whether Hosni’s death was suicide or murder. Though the official version is that she took her own life, one popular story is that Hosni was preparing to write a memoir which could potentially tarnish the image of some important political figures. It’s hardly surprising then that her death and every detail about her life still occasionally fire the local rumour mills.

Three Disappearance, however, is only semi-biographical work. Stephan has pieced together a “tragedy in three parts", borrowing snippets from Hosni’s films. Act I shows her aspiration to become an actor; the second act shows her flourishing in the film industry and highlights some of the key characters she played in her career; and Act III is a collage of grim images of the violence shown in her movies.

“We know she’s about to die," says Stephan, “but how to show that?" Here, the film-maker turned to her research on Hosni. That she slept poorly and had nightmares was documented. Stephan then meticulously spliced those scenes from her films that reflected her troubled state. “It is my imagination of her that creates the film, not her reality," says Stephan.

Three Disappearances is also an exploration of the movements in Arab cinema at the time. “Most of Hosni’s films were on VHS (video home system). When I went back to get some of her movies recently, I had a hard time trying to find any VHS tapes in the market," she says. So the three disappearances reference the effacing of the person as Hosni herself became trapped in the public image of her, her suicide/murder and the obsolescence of the VHS technology, Stephan says.

Viewers in India will likely find the setting of her films familiar. There is song and dance, stories of love, betrayal and separation, and a beautiful woman at the centre of it all. The film is entertaining in itself, even if you don’t know anything about Hosni to begin with.

The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni is on at Khoj Studios, S-17, Khirkee Extension, New Delhi, on a loop from 11am-7pm, till 18 August (Saturdays closed). For details, call 29545274.

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