JEDDAH: During the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, a panel entitled “Hawjan: From the Novel to the Screen” was held in Jeddah today to highlight the transformation of the best-selling novel HWJN. into a movie.
From written word to screen, speakers explained the success of the famous fantasy novel and the complexities of bringing it to the big screen.
The book, pronounced Hawjan, was the best-selling novel in Saudi Arabian history when it was published in 2013. It is the first book in a series of metaphysical and supernatural novels that are the results of interaction with the unknown realm of jinn that coexists with the human world.
Written by Ibraheem Abbas and translated into English by Yasser Bahjatt, the action-romance describes the interaction of two worlds and the unity of two different species to prevent the evils of their worlds from merging.
It also sheds light on good jinn and shows the world from their perspective, with people haunting their homes, and shows how some people are more evil to one another than jinn are to them.
The idea of adapting the novel sparked the ambitious spirit of producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari.
At first, Al-Yasiri was not interested in the book until his friend insisted that he read it. “I read it overnight and I was like, woah, this is something I want to work on,” Al-Yasiri said in a press release at The Ritz-Carlton Jeddah on Saturday.
He added that he decided to work on it because it “tackles a genre that is rarely addressed in the Arab world” and “wants to break the norm and bring something fresh”.
The two men immediately started working on the script and started the casting and filming process in 2018 with Al-Ansari as director and Al-Yasiri as producer. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Al-Ansari from coming to Saudi Arabia, leading to Al-Yasiri becoming a director and he continued filming.
The story introduces Sawsan, a medical student from the human world, and Hawjan, a curious man from the realm of jinn that humanity cannot see. The Djinn takes an interest in getting to know Sawsan and her family after moving into a new house where Hawjan and his family have lived for years.
As he tries to maintain the boundaries between his life in both worlds, Hawjan discovers he comes from a royal bloodline and seeks to reclaim his right to the throne.
The screenplay, written by both Al-Ansari and Al-Yasiri, ensures that the story includes the necessary changes for the screen but does not deviate from the book.
One of the biggest challenges for the crew was creating a city that exists in the Djinn world – Milaj City that no human has seen. Al-Yasiri said they must consider the civilizational landscape of the jinn world that existed before humans.
Casting the actors was a bit tricky trying to find characters in the actors rather than actors who could portray them. This led to the casting of brilliant Saudi actor Baraa Alem as Hawjan, Nour Khadra as Sawsan, Nayef Al-Dhufary as Zanan and Al-Anood Saud as Jamara.
When the book became a huge hit in 2013, publishers were ordered by the religious police to halt sales 11 months after its release as it sparked controversy among parents, who began complaining about their children learning black magic and how to use it calls upon Djinn.
A month later, the book was back on shelves after the editors and review committee ensured the claims were free.
A teaser trailer was released today by Vox Cinema and gives a glimpse of the world created by Al-Yasiri. Produced by Image Nation, MBC and Vox Cinema, the film will be released in 2023.