The “new Hollywood”
By: Usman Ghafoor
The posh suburb of Yeniköy, along Istanbul’s gorgeous Bosphorus waterway, home to the rich and the beautiful Ziyagils — the fictional family of Ask-i Memnu, Turkey’s all-time popular TV series now charming international audiences — is fast becoming a favourite with tourists pouring into the city from all over the world. So much so that guides around Istanbul are said to arrange special tours to the place. It is also the most-filmed location, next to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and Maiden’s Tower. The Turkish television industry is finally doing for Turkey what Hollywood has long done for America — sell a kind of a ‘Turkish dream.’
For Pakistani TV viewers, raised on the hyper-dramatic saas-bahu sagas that are ‘vintage’ Star Plus, Turkish soaps and serials were an uncharted territory that many local broadcasters were also initially skeptical about. Till very recently, when a new private TV channel Urdu 1 entered the fray and, within very little time of its otherwise subdued launch, captured the entire local market — on the strength of just one mega show Ishq e Mamnu, dubbed from Turkish in Urdu by local artists — taking everybody in the business by surprise.
The series — based on love triangles, intrigues within families and a subtext of the eternal clash between conservative forces and a West-inspired modern sensibility — went on to clinch the highest TRPs ever recorded for a TV show in Pakistan. Its lead actors: Beren Saat, K?vanç Tatl?tu? and Hazal Kaya — better known by their fictional names Bihter, Behlul and Nihal respectively — have become a rage with the masses and the high life of Istanbul doesn’t cease to beckon.
The show’s success has obviously propelled other private TV channels to follow suit. At the same time, it has busted the myth that dubbed foreign shows aren’t a selling proposition. Ishq… should go down in the history of our TV as the first dubbed Turkish play that occupied the primetime slot every single day of the week — unlike all other local and Indian shows which are aired on fixed days only.
Rid of their initial apprehensions regarding the viability of such shows, Geo TV and Express Entertainment have already embraced a popular Turkish line-up — Noor and Minahil Aur Khaleel, both starring K?vanç Tatl?tu?, the nation’s newest heart-throb. Reportedly, Geo TV had bought the rights of Noor from the Istanbul-based distribution company Global Agency four years ago, but it wasn’t until Urdu 1’s Ishq e Mamnu had ‘tested the waters’ for them that they decided to air the show.
Today, Samanyolu Television (STV), one of the highly-rated private TV channel in Turkey, has earned the landing rights for Pakistan. It is expected to air Turkish-only content. STV has formerly only exported its programmes to countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mongolia.
Urdu 1 also looks forward to following up on the phenomenally successful Ishq… with another Beren Saat magnum opus, titled Fatimagul Aakhir Mera Kasoor Kya?, originally an 80-episode serial (91 minutes each) produced in September 2010 through June this year. Entertainment pundits are expecting a match of a lifetime as these programmes start the fight for ratings.
According to Mr Izzet Pinto, the CEO of Global Agency, “Our plan for future is to keep producing high quality projects. As long as we are able to do that, the export markets will be interested in us.”
Talking to TNS exclusively from Istanbul, Pinto reveals that the budget for Turkish plays is generally very high: “An average play is made with a budget of USD 500,000. That’s why the quality is of world standard.”
When asked if he is aware of the kind of mass hysteria Ask-i Memnu has generated in Turkey’s maiden market Pakistan, he says, “Yes, I know it’s a huge success there and we are very proud of it. But, honestly speaking, I am not surprised. I was expecting this. We are the new Hollywood.”
Pinto also speaks of a “big deal” his distribution company has inked with Geo TV whereby Pakistan’s largest private TV network will broadcast “the very best of shows which have broken records in Turkey and many other countries.”
It may be mentioned here that Turkish TV series have been showing in the Middle East, Asian and European countries for a few years now; Pakistan was late to pick them up. Pinto sees it as a matter of “a good marketing vision. Maybe, the Pakistani media executives didn’t look at our shows as commercially viable for their viewers, so they took a long time. I have faith in Turkish TV shows, though; if they can work worldwide, they can work big-time in Pakistan as well.”
TV shows also serve the purpose of the tourism industry. As Pinto puts it, “We are seeing an increasingly large number of visitors from different countries of the world. I know for a fact that the number [of these visitors] has risen by 200-250 percent in recent times. More and more people are interested to learn about our culture and traditions. Not only does this bring us revenue, it helps the domestic industry grow as well. The TV shows are considered the soft power of Turkey.”