Is Netflix’s Paranormal Based on a True Story?

Created by Amr Salama, Netflix’s ‘Paranormal’ (‘ما وراء الطبيعة’ or ‘Ma Wara’ al-Tabi’a’) is an Arabian-language Egyptian mystery horror series with elements of humor, romance, and drama embedded into it. The plot revolves around Refaat Ismail (Ahmed Amin), a frail, chain-smoking, balding, cynical, 40-year-old hematologist and professor living in Cairo. As a child, he had his first supernatural experience when he discovered that his friend Shiraz was a ghost.

Years have passed, and Refaat has come to consider himself unlucky because of the accidents that keep happening to him. He still sees Shiraz and has developed a process to ignore her inspired by Murphy’s law. But when his young nephew also begins to have visions of Shiraz and Refaat’s life is suddenly plagued by various mythical entities, he has no choice but to acknowledge their existence to unravel their mysteries and save his loved ones. Predominantly set in Egypt in 1969, ‘Paranormal’ is a love letter to a bygone era. If you are wondering whether the series is inspired by actual events, we got you covered.

Is Paranormal a True Story?

No, ‘Paranormal’ is not based on a true story. Salama and his team developed the show from an immensely popular series of books by late Egyptian author and physician Ahmed Khaled Tawfik (also known as Ahmed Khaled Tawfik Farrag). Mahmoud Ezzat, Dina Maher, and Omar Khaled also share the writing credits for the show.

An icon of Arabian and global literature, Tawfik is regarded as the first contemporary writer of horror and science fiction in the Arabic-speaking world as well as the first author to develop medical thriller stories in the region. Refaat Ismael is one of Tawfik’s most well-known characters. Between 1993 and 2014, 81 novels were published as part of the ‘Ma Wara’ al-Tabi’a’ series. The Netflix series replicates the narrative style of the books, and the action is punctuated with the main character’s inner monologue. In the source material, Refaat is about 70 years old and a lifelong bachelor, and the stories are formatted as his recollections of his adventures when he was in his 30s.

Salama grew up with the books and identified with Refaat. He first contacted Tawfik in 2006 with the idea of developing the ‘Ma Wara’ al-Tabi’a’ books as a TV series. The two subsequently became friends. In 2014, Tawfik was a guest at a TV program that invited viewers to call in and ask the celebrated author questions. Salama was one such viewer. “I want you to know that as long as I live, I promise I will fight until ‘Paranormal’ comes to light in the best shape and best quality to be competitive on the global stage,” he promised his longtime friend. In their later interactions, Tawfik reportedly expressed his regret that he might not see Salama’s promise coming to fruition. Tawfik passed away on April 2, 2018, at age 55. Before the production began, Salama rewatched films like ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Shining,’ and other projects with similar themes from all over the world.

In an interview with the ‘Akher An-Nahar’ program broadcast on the Al-Nahar channel, Salama stated that the author became a friend, teacher, spiritual father, and a true guide, calling Tawfik’s death before the series one of the greatest pains of his life. Salama shares directing credits for the show with Majid Al Ansari, each directing three episodes of the six-part first season. “For me, it was more about discovering what was in Amr’s head and how he wanted to portray character themes. Because he directed the first episode, [I was trying to figure out] how would I do the second, third and fourth before he steps in again,” Al Ansari told The National News. “It was more about dissecting and going into the journey that Amr has pieced together in his head.”

‘Paranormal’ is the first Egyptian Netflix original series. It’s not based on a true story but succeeds in faithfully depicting the Egypt of the late 1960s and the unique cultural, social, and political setting of the country during that time period. The team behind ‘Paranormal’ hoped their show would bring the same global exposure to Middle Eastern storytelling as ‘Money Heist’ did for Spain. “If we achieve this, it will be a breakthrough for Egypt and the Arab world,” Salama said in an interview with GQ Middle East. “It will raise the standard of what we can provide for the world.”

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