Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Turkish dramas and the Pakistani audience




Remember the first time there was talk about banning foreign dramas? That happened when Indian serials flooded our TV screens in the 2000s. Some were in favour of banning them in order to support our local TV industry (which had begun flourishing again, with the mushrooming growth of private TV channels); whereas others, especially housewives, were happily consuming daily doses of saas-bahu-susraal conspiracy (mother-daughter in laws) episodes at their convenience. Several intermittent banning and blatant copying of Indian sets and costumes later, Pakistani audiences were finally fed up of the whole situation. There was too much of the same thing, whether Indian or local, and so any drama which did not follow the typical ‘saas-bahu’ (mother-in-law, daughter-in-law) formula became the most sought-after and likeable alternative.

The stereotypical Saas-bahu-susraal conspiracy Indian drama


We can say that the influx of Indian dramas had actually caused a revival of the local Pakistani TV industry. Spurred by competition and filling a growing niche of audiences yearning for something more real, our dramas once again entered a golden age. As a result, new talents, new storylines, and increased quality of production surfaced in recent years. The same audience that had embraced Indian soaps is now switching daily to our own TV serials.

one of the most successful local dramas this year- Humsafar


Recently, Turkish serials have taken the audience by storm. There is constant debate about how damaging it is to our industry, and the dramas being culturally irrelevant. Again, some argue for a ban on foreign dramas to support our local television productions. But is it really true that these dramas spell disaster and a premature death to our recently revived TV industry?

Let’s first take a look at the appeal of the Turkish series. There is glitz and glamour, lots of stunning outdoor scenes, good-looking actors, crisp dialogues, and last but not least the perfect Urdu dubbing. People are engrossed in Turkish dramas out of curiosity about a different country that few will have the chance to see in reality. The audience wants to see how people live in Turkey, what they talk about, how similar or different they are to us.

The drama that started all the drama- Ishq-e-Mamnu


Those who oppose the introduction of Turkish soaps usually point out that their culture is different to ours. Well, so is Indian and Western culture. Our audience is capable of understanding cultural differences, and treats the situations onscreen accordingly. When watching foreign shows before has not made us forget our culture, the Turkish soaps can hardly be a serious threat. Those who are still in favour of remaining unaware and unexposed to other cultures have the choice to switch to local productions.

One of the Turkish dramas being shown at prime time- Fatma Gul


I also want to say that themes such as romance, family attachments, heart break and revenge are common throughout cultures. I can point out several of our local dramas having similar plots to the Turkish dramas being shown currently. People also object to the presence of bold scenes and ‘immodest’ dressing of the women in Turkish dramas. In reality, all such scenes and short dresses have been carefully censored for Pakistani audiences.  As for depicting issues such as rape in Turkish dramas, Pakistani dramas have also included such themes as part of their plots.

local drama involving a bold theme - Mere dard ko jo zuban mile

People object that our dramas show ‘reality’ while foreign dramas are overly glamorous. If every drama depicted ‘reality’ (often depressing and tragic) the audience will get bored. Entertainment should also be enjoyable and provide a refreshing escape from reality, although I agree that there should be a balance. Finally there are objections on Turkish drama characters having Muslim names being somehow ‘misleading’ for our audience. I am most surprised at the objections, because I’m aware that these Turkish serials have a huge fan-following in relatively conservative countries such as the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan.

In the end, it’s all about quality. People watch what they like, and that is the purpose of entertainment. If Turkish dramas have shown the audience a different glamorous world, our TV industry too can learn from it. We have to admit that they are better in some respects. We can either shut our eyes and deny the fact, or open our eyes and accept it. We can ban and forget about it, or we can see and learn and perfect ours. We can either shut ourselves in with our culture or go global and promote our TV serials. I don’t look forward to the day we ban foreign dramas in Pakistan. I look forward to the day our TV dramas are so good that they are dubbed and watched in other countries. That can only happen if we accept healthy competition and foster the need for improvement and perfection. That will be another golden age for Pakistani drama, and hopefully it is not too far.

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