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While Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) continues to garner high ratings, cast member Orna Banai is also holding her own in the new drama, Imaleh.
After heavy promotion, the 10-episode series launched on December 21 on Keshet (Channel 2). While on Eretz Nehederet Banai takes on a slew of different characters with nary a resemblance to herself, on Imaleh she portrays Efi (Efrat) - a persona very similar to the actress.
The character Efi is a 38-year-old single Tel Aviv woman, who finds herself pregnant and opts to keep the baby even though she swore to herself that she'd never have children. She was involved in a once-a-week fling with a married man, and then after they broke up rebounded with a 22-year-old barman. Efi doesn't know which one is the father of her child.
While Banai, in real life does know who fathered her son, Amir, she too is a single mother in her late 30s, and someone who never thought she'd be a mother.
"Efrat is not me," Banai told Yediot Aharonoth. "But it is true that she's not really a fictional character either. Tamar [Merom] wrote the script to stay very close to who I am, to be similar to my biography in many ways."
Keshet came up with the idea for the show. Originally it was intended to be a sitcom starring Banai as a single mother. A pilot of the show was made, but it never took off the ground.
Scriptwriter Tamar Merom, who penned the popular series Rak Be'Yisrael (which starred Banai), was asked to take on the project.
"It was more interesting for me to see Orna in a dramatic role," the 35-year-old Merom told The Jerusalem Post. "She's usually hidden behind a character or behind costumes. Here, we see her front and center. I'm surprised and impressed at how well she performed the role."
Efi was written specifically for Banai, but Merom insists anyone can relate the character. "The show is close to Orna's life but also related to my life. And I'm not a single mother," said Merom, who has a three-year-old daughter.
Some critics cited in the local Hebrew press that Imaleh glorifies single motherhood.
"To be a single mother is an extremely difficult task. It's impossible to glorify it," said Merom, when asked to comment on the criticism. "As the series continues, viewers will see that the subject matter is not dealt with lightly. Imaleh shows the reality of the situation - the difficulties and advantages of being a single mother. The show does not judge single mothers."
Ram Nehari (Love Hurts) directed the series, and also helped with the script. Other actors in the show include Alon Abutbul (Nina's Tragedies) as Micky, the married man with whom Efi has an affair; Tiki Dayan (Krovim Krovim), as Ilana, Efi's mother; Maya Dagan (Hashir Shelanu), as Dafna, Efi's best friend; Yuval Segev (in his first dramatic role), as Franco, the young barman; and Alon Fridman (Gesher Theater actor), as Kobi, Efi's gay neighbor.
When asked why Merom decided to put in the gay neighbor and whether it hinted at something, she said: "Hinted at what? We used the character because Keshet's original pilot included a gay character. It also makes the relationship between Efi, a single mother, and Kobi more interesting. Moreover, it's difficult to disappear from the gay part of Tel Aviv. There's nothing sensationalist about Kobi's character. It was almost a given that in a series like this there would be a gay character."
The obvious draw to the series is Banai. From the character Limor (Rak Be'Yisrael) to her portrayals of Judy Nir-Mozes-Shalom and Christiana Hochman (Eretz Nehederet), Banai is one of the country's top comedians in the business today. So, would the show still be a hit if Banai weren't the star?
"The premise is an appealing one," answered Merom. "Like in every program with a big star, that person is the pull. At the end of the day though, the show must be first-rate because if it's not, viewers will wane."
Imaleh was written as a one-season drama. However, the likelihood of seeing more than just a handful of episodes is to be expected.
"With a sitcom, one can continue for years. With a drama that has a limited cast it's more difficult to extend into a long running series," she said. "We wrote 10 episodes. However, yes, we're talking about a second season. We'll see how it goes."
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