Escape to victory: TV challenge Al Shifra allows Leila Ben Khalifa to shine
Set to air in the UAE from September 5
What is an escape room? If you’ve seen the eponymous horror flick, you’ll likely run a mile at the sight of one! However, the fictional gore will most definitely not be on the menu if you make your way to one of these very real world activity centres which number in the many in Dubai. What you will find is not only a variety of fun puzzles to solve in order to literally escape from the room in which you’ve been locked, but a highly enjoyable way to pass a few hours and bond with those you have chosen to take along for the ride. This is the premise for OSN’s latest celebrity television show Al Shifra where a plethora of stars from the MENA region have been paired up to overcome challenges for our viewing pleasure.
24 A-listers have been roped in for the ‘break-out’ series presented by Dubai-based influencer Sherif Al Fayed, TV and radio host Mohamed Kais and Nancy Eskander, and the stellar cast includes Palestinian artist Mohamad Assaf; Lebanese TV presenter Joelle Mardinian; Iraqi singer Shatha Hassoun, Lebanese TV host Wissam Breidy; Tunisian top model Rym Saidi, Lebanese TV presenter Wissam Hanna; Emirati anchor and actress Mahira Abdel Aziz; Emirati actor Saoud AlKaabi, Lebanese media personality Zoya Sakr and actress Leila Ben Khalifa. Each will be given an equally famous partner and face unique conundrums to test their mettle, planning, and creativity. With a focus on rapid responses and agility, the personalities will be surrounded by richly-designed sets. The dynamic duos will have to escape from either a hospital, a haunted house, a grim zoo, or a disaster-stricken resort. Which of the teams do you think will sing for their supper and ultimately be successful?
Leila on board
One of Tunisia’s most recognisable faces, Leila Ben Khalifa is a staple of Arabic-language TV and film. As well as appearing as a judge on the wildly successful MENA couture reality programme Fashion Star, the 39-year-old is regular on French panel show Vendredi, Tout Est Permis Avec Arthur and made her name in her native land on continuing drama Chouerreb. A repeat visitor to Dubai and a recent UAE Golden Visa recipient, she is happy to have filmed an OSN show on a network primarily based in her new ‘home’ and is planning to spend more time here.
“I’m very happy and grateful for that,” Ben Khalifa said about now having the ability to come and go as she pleases as a result of her updated residency status. “I think that Dubai is one of the most beautiful and safest places in the world. And I only see a bright future for all the people living in the UAE.” We were speaking to the performer over the phone as she was en route to a social engagement abroad. “I like everything there: the food is amazing, the people are the nicest, it’s a fashion universe and shopping haven,” she continued, pouring praise on the Emirate. “Then there are the cultural events! I love all activities in the desert and even the adrenaline-pumping activities like skydiving or the zip lines. I never get bored there. I always have something to do.”
An active personality, Ben Khalifa says she’d be more than open to fronting a local show although honing down the genre was less important. As long as it were a ‘new concept for the Arab world’ the talent said she’d sign on and revealed her ‘screen-ready’ training regime.
“I am very open to new challenges in hosting or acting. I wish I can have the opportunity to present a new programme,” she said. “I am very addicted to movies and series, all types. I like to observe, learn and try out scenes by myself in front of the mirror. This is how I enjoy my free time at home!”
Al Shifra expectations
Despite never trying out a real escape room before, the Al Shifra experience has instilled Ben Khalifa with a love of the concept, vowing to return the next time she has a spare hour with friends. During her episode, the actor was paired with Lebanon’s Wissam Hanna in the hospital set, both having to work-out a labyrinth of medical mysteries.
“It was an incredible experience,” said Ben Khalifa. “I have never experienced something so challenging and fun at the same time. I can’t wait for the people to watch it.
“I have been dear friends with Wissam for such a long time. I couldn’t have picked a better partner. He cracked me up with his jokes. It was hilarious.”
Ben Khalifa credited the format’s universal appeal for its undoubted success. Observers need only look at British comedy vehicle Taskmaster for proof this form of entertainment works well.
“It’s actually a perfect idea for the Middle East, she said. “It is really suitable for everyone: children, young people and adults. It’s a balance between challenges, laughter and fun. We were all very spontaneous and fun. I can’t wait to watch it too! We need such programmes, especially at this time, where certain countries really suffer from a harsh reality.”
A glimpse into the future
While running to the airport, Ben Khalifa had just enough time to let us in on her upcoming film plans.
“I just shot an international series directed by the amazing Lassaad Oueslati where there is a mix of talented Arab, Turkish, English and French actors,” she said. “It’s a historical series and it was an amazing experience to work with such a great director, especially when we shot in such beautiful locations in my home nation Tunisia.”
Ben Khalifa said returning to work was a crucial step in emerging from the pandemic she recognised has changed everyone’s lives.
“I always stay positive. This pandemic made me understand so many things. It taught us to respect what we have and don’t assume that it will always be there. If you love something or someone, respect it/them because you never know when it/they will be taken away from you. Never take things for granted.”
Al Shifra will be available on the OSN Streaming App and will air on September 5 at 8.45pm on OSN Ya Hala Al Oula and OSN Ya Hala at 9.35pm