House of Gods

In the community belonging to a Shiite mosque, ambitious Isa is hoping his father will become the new cleric -but at what cost?

In the world of ABC’s House of Gods, Iraqi-Australian businessman Isa (Osamah Sami) life is a clash of conservative traditions and modern Australia.

The son of Sheikh Mohammad (Kamel El Basha), and brother to Batul (Maia Abbas) and Hind (Safia Arain), he runs a truck washing company by day whilst ambitiously hoping his father will win an election at the local Shiite Mosque. If his father wins, he becomes a ‘right hand man’ elevating his status within the community.

But his father’s opponent, Sheikh Shaaker (Simon Elrahi), and local elders are dismayed by an incident in which Sheikh Mohammad was photographed inadvertently receiving a kiss on the cheek from a young girl for a selfie. A local radio presenter (Antoinette Lattouf) drives controversy on air which divides the community and threatens to derail his chances at winning the votes, to be overseen by a visiting grand cleric Seyyed Modhaffer (Faris Daniel).

Under the Mosque roof there is more competition than an Australian Survivor win. The drama highlights the male rule while the women peer through a screen at proceedings.

But election divisions prove so vicious, it even bricks being thrown through windows.

Meanwhile Batul has returned home from Iraq several years after flying the coop, which is not so well received by her siblings who remained, being Isa and Hind.

“You think you can disappear for 3 years and return as some kind of saint?” – Isa

Batul is also escaping complex problems from her Iraqi husband, Bilal.

Also featuring is Batul’s friend Jamila (Priscilla Doueihy), daughter of rival Sheikh Shaaker, who is also dealing with marital problems whilst drawing attraction from Isa. Oh what a murky web we weave….

But Isa will find his own financial problems drive his ambitions and conflict to new lows.

ABC’s new drama series House of Gods begins with controversy, community and collision, created by lead actor Osamah Sami. Cameras take viewers deep into a world usually reserved for an SBS drama, and which screens at a sensitive time for the broadcaster. Yet regardless of real world conflicts, it’s important to represent multiple aspects of the community, which this attempts very authentically.

Sami has managed to capture how different generations linked to a Shi’ite mosque mix in modern Australia. There’s music, fast cars, football, make-up alongside prayer, hijabs, separation of men and women (including at the local pool), honour and corruption. There’s also some very Aussie accents which, if you closed your eyes, would not be out of place on Home & Away.

It’s also a very serious drama, finding little time for humour. I was surprised something as flippant as a kiss (and one in which the Sheikh Mohammad character was not a willing participant) deserved so much conflict focus, but at least episode one ends with an interesting twist.

When compared to another recent faith-based family, that of Stan’s Prosper, the House of Gods clan is almost saintly, and certainly a lot more measured. Where Prosper‘s characters break all the rules in the pursuit of power, House of Gods reacts to a lone outlier blinded by faith.

Episode two will also begin to highlight how women in modern Australia expect a greater role in their local community, and indeed as viewers expect in a contemporary drama.

All of the principal cast are first-rate in their roles, particularly the gentle Kamel El Basha, lead Osamah Sami (who is rarely out of his work fluros) and daughters played by Maia Abbas and Safia Arain -it can sometimes be a little tricky to discern between female players, such as conversations between Maia Abbas and Priscilla Doueihy.

Some Australian dramas have successfully embedded middle-eastern characters alongside caucasian performers, such as East West 101, Heartbreak High, Stateless or even led with fully-fledged comedies such as Here Comes the Habibs and Salma’s Season. But not so many have emerged from within its own community and embraced it with as much insight and authenticity as House of Gods.

House of Gods screens 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.

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