Spoiler alert, I would rather you watch Rivo than read this text because I don't review Rivo but I discuss the details which would only make sense if you have seen it. But if you've seen Rivo, please read ahead.
In recent times the quality of Egyptian shows produced has deteriorated so drastically that it has become nearly impossible to watch a show till the end. Everything produced has to be about something meaningless and divorced from reality or at least the political reality we live in so that it can be released. Writers and directors struggle how to do something within a context that does not allow for meaning.
A notable exception was an episode by Khairy Beshara on Netflix titled “National Day of Mourning in Mexico”. The episode is built within a fantasy land, and a very thinly veiled reference to the revolution. While beautifully shot and meaningful, that one episode lacks the emotional depth of what the revolution really means to those who made it happen, it contained some of the emotions that come with memory and trying to remember, it spoke about the resilience of memory and the determination to remember.
I’m hesitant to write what I’m about to write next, or perhaps hesitant to make it public, because I’ve stumbled upon another open secret, a show that has recently produced and published called ‘Rivo’. I’ve always published my reviews without spoilers but this is not a review, this is me visiting the world of Rivo and basking in it with others who have. I cannot review this show in the sense of treating it like a production. I do not want to comment at length on the choices of camera work or sound editing or acting. All such commentary is useless in the face of what the show actually is. Though for what it’s worth, the show is a treasure trove of talent and attention to detail. You can really tell that it is a labor of love just by how every small detail was given attention.
Rivo is nostalgic emotive show that transcends the technicalities of production, and I say this with bias because I am a part of Rivo. Here I don’t mean the actual production, I have nothing to do with the show, but what Rivo represents. The story of Rivo is not about a band, but about us, those of us who consider ourselves the revolution that took place in 2011 and continued through the next ten years only to fade and disappear, much like the old footage referred to that seems impossible to restore in the recent production.
The show is set to tell a story of a band in the nineties, a fictional band that had never existed, and we look at the past through a curious lens of discovery. The mystery around the past and the emotions that present has brought is authentic, yet why are we so drawn to it?
Perhaps it’s only in the final episode that it all became clear. I was watching with my mother and she asked, “Why did Shady have to die?” At that moment without a moment’s thought, it was clear to me, he had to die in the show because he actually really did. Shady is the best of us who fought with their life for a better future in the revolution, the chance to be different, the chance to express ourselves in a way we never had before. Shady is the revolution, a spark that came out of nothing and ignited the world around us and changed it forever, and was simply killed and crushed and even their memory is something to be silenced.
The show doesn’t delve so much into the name of the band, Rivo, presenting it as some chance name based on the local asprin pill that the protagonist Marwan was taking on the day they were performing, but in fact, the name is an ode to the circular shape that binds us together, us being the revolution, the real band members who had no start and no end, gravitating towards an idea, a dream symbolized by Shady, the best of us, who had to die in the show, because he was killed in reality.
The aftermath of that crushing defeat, is the scattered band members who could not deal with what they lost along the way. They lost everything they had ever hoped for or dreamed of. Everything that happened, no matter how beautiful turned into bitter memories that they had to escape. We see revolutionary defeat through the eyes of Marwan played by Sedky Sakhr, a lone talented kid who thought he was completely alone, but little did he know that there were others like him. They were not exactly like him but he was part of them, no matter how different. He clawed his way out of isolation and finally learned that he belonged, that it was possible to belong. That’s why it hurt him so much when the dream had gone, because there was nothing to live for. There was no one to belong to, nothing to belong to. It was just the greatest moment that transformed him into everything that he could be, but it was taken away from him. It drove him to a death wish. After all what kind of life was possible without hope?
Sakhr travels effortlessly between the various characters he plays, the dorky introverted young man whose life is lit up when he encounters Shady, to the hopeless shattered defeated man no longer willing to live and even later to Lazarus who has been raised from the dead.
But if we look at other band members, they represent something so diverse yet each, with all of their flaws are beautiful in their own way. Maged George, a drummer, a part of the circle, a part of the dream, perhaps the most level headed character portrayed masterfully by the Cairokee drummer Tamer Hashem. His name, casually Christian in a world where such names do not come up. There was no emphasis on tolerance, or even difference, he was just there, a part of them without the usual tired attempts impose a hypocritical message of integration. When it was all over, he went into exile and yet kept the beautiful memories. He lost something, he was injured, and yet he was able to still love his dream, his past.
Omar, the talented guitarist who was not even a member of that middle class club they all belonged to, who took a chance using his gift to take a chance on a dream. When it was all over he had transformed almost completely into a conservative, and turned his back on his beautiful Fender guitar which he made cry and sing. Even Noaman, a pragmatist who went on with his life and at times seemed not to belong, had constantly made clear choices in favor of the dream that Shady represented. He was always so fickle because of his cynicism but deep down inside him he still wanted to be part of the dream and in the end, he wanted to revive that memory of the dream.
We see our story through the eyes of Mariam, the young woman who had no idea of her father’s involvement in that dream, in his inspiring words and actions that paved the way, it was only after his death that she even realized she needed to explore the past. The story is through the eyes of those who never lived the revolution or perhaps not even heard about it. She explores the story of strangers that she thought were remote, but the story wasn’t only about them, the story was about her too. She was also a part of Rivo without knowing it. At the time when Rivo was thriving, she could only find an old message left by her father damaged by time. He had wished she was old enough to experience how people had experienced the revolution. Her father’s work lead her to the story of her own life, a path of self-discovery.
The show starts with a story and ends with a promise, and a reminder but I’ll get to that later. Mariam’s exploration of the past ignites hidden feelings in the band members that they thought they had lost forever. I watched the last episode and I identified with their feelings, because I too had loved Shady and wept for his loss. I too wanted Rivo’s story to be told and the legacy of Shady to be remembered with the love that I had for him as well. That love was inside each of them because Shady had left pieces of himself in them. Some of them had simply forgotten to love themselves, or that part of themselves. These feelings are just a memory of who they were, they were a circle of friends that shared a dream, no matter how different they were.
But where do we go when the dream is gone?
The transformation of Marwan is perhaps the most telling arc of the story. From isolation to stardom and self-actualization and then into loss with a crushed dream. Yet maybe he owes it to Shady not to die just yet. Maybe they can never play again, but they can keep the memory of what they have done alive if it is told once again by Mariam. In the end he rises like a phoenix from the ashes to realize that Rivo still exists after all those years, in the friends that have gone their separate ways but have kept a piece of Shady within them throughout all their years of defeat. One day we shall meet again and stand side by side, not to play the music that we did, but to remind ourselves that we can be there for one another.
Beneath the rubbles of old papers and a beautiful Fender guitar that had not been played, we find an old contract, an old pledge that they had long forgotten. That the members of Rivo have control over how their story is told, if they all come together, they can still tell their story in the way they want to. It was never a question about money, but about their inner demons and their own defeat. What can they hope for after the dream is gone, perhaps just the memory of what it truly was. Their choice is to come together, because Mariam needed them, and because they needed her to tell their story. They wanted to be seen through her eyes, because she was the future and she had also been there from the start.
We’ve had to escape the memory of the revolution because of how much it has crushed us, but those of us who have survived must remember that it may be the most wonderful part of who we are today. We are the defeated, those who have lost hope, and cannot play anymore because we cannot touch the instruments that we played so masterfully, or parts of our arms have gone, or have lost the will to live, or even found success in pragmatism and killing off our passion. But one day we may live again if we are sought or discovered by those who we fought for, those who have been shielded from the story of Rivo or the story of the Rivolution. They are part of our story and it’s up to them to tell our story and theirs. But no matter how tough this will be, and it will be, we will be there for them. We owe it to Shady and Hassan and all of those who fought with their lives for the dream we all lost.