||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (August 2014)|
The cast of Freej, clockwise from front to right Um Saeed, Um Saloom, Um Allawi, Um Khammas
|Created by||Mohammed Saeed Harib|
|Country of origin||United Arab Emirates|
|No. of episodes||45|
|Running time||approx. 0:30 (per episode)|
|Original channel||Sama Dubai|
|Original run||September 24, 2006 – present|
The show was produced by Mohammed Saeed Harib, who also directed the fifteen standalone episodes of fifteen minutes each. It is the tale of four old Emirati women living in a secluded neighbourhood in modern day Dubai. The show's main characters - Um Saeed, Um Saloom, Um Allawi and Um Khammas - try to live a peaceful life in the midst of the ever-expanding city around them, but the city’s boom unveils new social issues every day that they would have to tackle in their own simple way. For those four old women, there is no issue too hard to crack with a good cup of coffee at Um Saeed’s house.
The show's title is a reference to "freej", a term which means "neighbourhood" in Emirati Arabic, based on accent of the people of Dubai's slums. Freej, originally produced in Arabic, is available with English subtitles.
FREEJ started off as a six-page study book in 1998, but did not materialise until 2003 when it was adopted by Dubai Media City. A small demo was created to test the concept and shortly after it was given the official go ahead by the Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for Young Business Leaders (SME) who took on the initial funding of the project. In September 2005, with around 3 million Dhs of funding provided by the SME , Lammtara Pictures was established to oversee the production and a team of almost 500 people were signed up to make this big dream a reality.
The series premiered on 24 September 2006 – the first day of Ramadan , and was broadcast across the GCC countries on 'Sama Dubai' (Dubai's Sky), one of Dubai's many TV channels and which broadcasts mainly local programs and material. The series became an instant success and a major hit in the region  with immense viewership in the Gulf especially among UAE Nationals.
In 2008, Season 2 DVDs were released in September at Toys R Us etc.
In 2010, via a partnership deal with Turner Broadcasting System, Lammtara, the Dubai-based studio company behind Freej's production, had agreed to broadcast the show on the newly launched Cartoon Network Arabic channel, making Freej one of the first home-produced shows for that channel, along with the Jordanian series Ben & Izzy. Additionally, the main characters from Freej are added for a localised version of Skatoony at April 12, 2011.
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The show is now in official association with Dubai Media City, Awraq Publishing, Arab Radio Network, JBM and the Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for Young Business Leaders (SME). The show also benefited from a pool of 100 volunteers from across all national universities who worked on its research and development.
Mohammed Saeed Harib began developing the concept while attending Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. A professor asked his class to create superheroes originating from their culture. Harib selected the Emirati women of the previous generations of the heroes, because they worked and taught in difficult climates and financial environments. While the men in his grandfathers' generation dove for pearls, their wives accomplished the other tasks. Harib added "On top of that she looked very unique, thanks to the mask she was wearing. Hence my first character was born."
All four voice actors are Harib's personal friends. They had no previous acting experience, and Harib believed that audiences would accept them since "they were your regular local person." He had held script readings with these friends, and Harib said "they matched perfectly." Harib previously held a casting for 60 people, and he said that "none of them spoke to the woman that was in my head."
The production has about 500 employees. In terms of his involvement, Harib said "I am pretty much captain of the boat." Harib created all of the main characters. He works with the actors, and with the scriptwriters, develops the scripts. He personally revises the draft scripts. He adds that "[t]here is always reasoning for everything we do, even the buildings; they have to be skewed in a certain way."
Freej does not discuss politics. Harib said that the show does not discuss current issues because he wants "something that lives, and to make it live forever you need to speak about themes which can withstand the passage of time." Harib said that while "I am Dubaian. By default I have certain borders in me," the television stations do not force the production to avoid discussing certain subjects.
The show stars four main characters, all elderly women who wear Bedouin face masks. The women's names refer to their eldest sons. "Um" means "mother of". Mohammed Saeed Harib created all of the main characters.
Um Saeed (أم سعيد)
- Eldest member of the group and the wisest
- Loves reciting poetry and old traditional sayings
- Has a short posture
- Very sarcastic in nature
- Addicted to coffee
- The group gathers at her house everyday
- Shortest member of the group
Majid Al Falasi (ماجد الفلاسي) is the voice actor. This was Mohammed Saeed Harib's first character. "Saeed" was the name of his father, and "Um Saeed" is Harib's homage to his paternal grandmother.
Um Saloom (أم سلوم)
- The kindest member of the quartet.
- Suffers from temporary memory loss.
- Never leads and always tags along.
Abdullah Husain (عبدالله حسين) is the voice actor.
Um Allawi (أم علاوي)
- The tallest member of the group and the most educated.
- Addicted to all kinds of gizmos and gadgets.
- Has her own mobile and laptop.
- She is a close follower of the stock market.
Since Um Allawi is of a Persian heritage, she does not have an exact Emirati accent. She speaks multiple languages. Ashjan (أشجان) is the voice actor.
Um Khammas (أم خمّاس)
- The rebellious member of the group.
- A three time widow.
- Runs her own catering service and traditional music band.
- Has a very dictating strong personality.
Salem Jassim (سالم جاسم) is the voice actor. Jassim says that he likes Um Khammas because "she is the classic Bedouin character and reminds me of my grandmother."
- Khalid Herya (Arabic : خالد حرية ) - National Figure known for being the best football supporter in the Middle East
- Um Jameel
- The Tribe Advisor
- Rahmah the Teacher
- Bu Daryah
- Um Al Duwais
- Bu Khammas
- Dalouat Dubai
- Um Um Khammas
- Abood (عبود) (Season 2)
- Abood is a mischievous little boy.
- Fatoom Eloom (Season 3)
- Jameela (جميلة) (Season 3)
- Jameela is obsessed with fashion.
Freej's seasons premier at the rate of one season every Ramadan, although they are sometimes re-aired later in the year. Season One aired in 2006 and Season Two aired in 2007. On September 1(Ramadan 1), 2008 the third season aired its finale on September 12, 2008, and is re-airing its episodes for the rest of Ramadan. The show then went on a hiatus, not releasing any new official episodes for the next four years, in spite of the characters appearing in other animated productions for promotional reasons.
As of 2012, the fourth season has been completed and the fifth season is in production. The fourth season premiered on Cartoon Network Arabic starting November 4, 2012.
Mohammed Saeed Harib said, in relation to the first and second seasons, that "it was in my head, I was the only one who could express it." For subsequent seasons, he said "I have a very good team, they know the parameters. We say “Um Saloom would not say that” or “OK, this fits her”."
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The second season first episode was watched by 680,000 viewers, making it one of the most watched shows in Dubai. Voted number one show of all Dubai. In the second season the writer Najla El Shihi wrote six episodes and Amna Al Mansoori wrote nine.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2012)|
In the episode called "Blagh El Kazeb" Um Khamas was going to die in ten days. Um Saeed councils Um Khamas and helps her straighten herself out. Um Khamas then becomes strongly religious and is miraculously cured. In this episode Um Khamas says derogatory things about Islam, which provoked criticism from some viewers. In defence Mohammed Saeed Hareb said that the episode reflects how Muslims can wander and become "bad" but that Um Saeed corrects Um Khamas and helps her straighten herself out. This episode was not broadcast in the rerun of the season.
In an episode that was broadcast on 12 August 2011, Um Saeed had a heart attack while visiting patients at a hospital after being insulted by a friend. She 'dies' at the end of the episode as the nurses and doctors run in to attempt to restart her heart. After the credits had finished, Um Saeed's heart miraculously began to beat again.
Freej 2009: The Book Of Riddles and The Special
On Ramadan 2009 Freej airs a quiz show that is about 2 to 3 minutes long. The prize is 500,000 AED. Freej will get a special hour-long episode that will air on Eid. The episode will feature a surprise guest.
The Economist said "the show has gained the region-wide, cross-generational popularity of an Arab "Simpsons" and "[t]his depiction of raucous and irreverent Arab matriarchs has proved to be a revelation."
Mohammed Saeed Harib said that Freej is popular because there were few quality productions in the Arab world, and because the residents of the Arab world had watched many imported shows and wanted local shows reflecting the Arab culture.
Harib said that his grandmother's generation "love it to bits. These grandmothers have seen the country evolve from some small village in a desert to this place where they have the tallest skyscraper in the world. So how do they adapt, how do they react with the new generation who is riding this wave? Through their simple way and their simple judgement, you can find the purest solution."
The following writers have contributed to this TV show:
- Mohammed Saeed Harib (CEO)
- Amna Al-Mansoori (Novel writer)
- Najla Al-Shehhi (Left the team of FREEJ and started Khosah Bosah, another Emirati cartoon show similar to FREEJ in scope and theme, which span two seasons, yet it didn't have great success similar to the one achieved by freej).
- Saffarini, Reema (2006-10-04). "Students help bring cartoon to life". Gulf News. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
- http://www.freej.ae/uploads/headers/English/freejhomeflash_en.swf freejhomeflash_en.swf]." (Archive) Freej Official Website. Retrieved on 26 March 2012.
- "Cartoon Network Arabic free-to-air goes live on October 10th". Zawya. 2010-10-10. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
- "The Q&A: Mohammed Saeed Harib, animator." The Economist. August 10, 2011. Retrieved on March 29, 2012.
- "Meet the Cast Umm Saeed." (Archive) - Arabic version (Archive) Freej Official Website. Retrieved on 26 March 2012.
- "Meet the Cast Um Saloom." (Archive) - Arabic version (Archive). Freej Official Website. Retrieved on 26 March 2012.
- "Meet the Cast Um Allawi." (Archive) - Arabic version (Archive). Freej Official Website. Retrieved on 26 March 2012.
- "Meet the Cast Um Khammas." (Archive) - Arabic version () Freej Official Website. Retrieved on 26 March 2012.
- "flydubai premieres exclusive FREEJ film." flydubai. 19 December 2011. Retrieved on 29 March 2012.
- Byrne, Michelle. "Profile of Mohammed Saeed Harib" - Granny-loving creator of the UAE’s first animated series. TimeOut Dubai. 19 January 2006.
- Freej Official website - The official website for the animated series.
- Freej Official website - The official website for the animated series. (Arabic)
- Saffarini, Rima. "Students help bring cartoon to life." Campus notes. Al Nisr Publishing. - An article about supporting Freej from Zayed University.
- Oman3d.com - An early Omani article regarding the anticipation of the series.
- Freej (2006) at the Internet Movie Database.
- Alsaloom, Ali. "Freej: a Ramadan treat." The National. 31 August 2009.