It isn’t an overstatement to say that there are two outbreaks in Pakistan at the moment: the first is the deadly novel coronavirus, that the general population isn’t paying much heed to, and the second is that of the Turkish series ‘Diriliş Ertuğrul,’ which may or may not be the only reason Pakistanis are staying at home as the government mandated lockdown eases.
Diriliş Ertuğrul, a drama which explores Turkish history and Islamic culture, was aired on state run TV, dubbed in Urdu, on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s request. While it was already available on streaming platforms such as Netflix, the masses only started watching it once it became readily available on cable TV and YouTube. What Diriliş Ertuğrul did however – is bypass the hype – and bring a very vivid reality to the forefront: Muslims are tired of being cast as villains.
And while Pakistan is decades if not centuries away from airing a no holds barred show like Game of Thrones on PTV, Diriliş Ertuğrul checks all the boxes – it’s completely ‘halal’ and perfect for family viewing.
Ertuğrul’s popularity is so widespread that even Pakistani producers were called in to comment on the trend. Responding to the popularity of the Turkish series, Faisal Javed Khan, chairman of the Standing Committee on Info Broadcasting & Heritage in Pakistan, stated that Pakistan needs to up its production value in comparison. The series single handedly shot up PTV’s popularity which is now eyeing to break the Youtube record for most follows by achieving a target of 6.6 million by 25 May 2020.
While muslims are usually cast as the villains in shows, Diriliş Ertuğrul showcases muslim men and women as scholars, conquerors and healers. Turkey’s ‘cultural export’ in the form of drama series is not only showcasing a different aspect of muslim history but it is also a lucrative endeavour: in recent years, the annual export worth for Turkish TV rose to more than $300 million.
Turks themselves refer for Diriliş Ertuğrul as Erdogan’s ‘Soft Power A-Bomb’ – an internationally viewed series that highlights social conservatism which counter acted the image cast by ‘The Magnificent Century’, a show which was referred to by the New York Times as ‘Ottoman-era Sex and the City.’
Imran Khan himself may be a major reason for the show’s popularity in Pakistan, not only did he request for the show to be aired, he also stated that the country can learn Islamic values by watching it. While Imran Khan’s initial campaigning was done on the backs on liberal youths, with time he has crafted an image as a conservative leader who treads with caution when it comes to the far right – a trend that has won him even more support.
Considering how the programme is being portrayed as the saviour of Islamic culture, which has come under international scrutiny after continuous linking to extremism and terrorism, followed by widespread stereotyping not only in policy and politics, but on screen as well – its no wonder that people in our neck of the woods are psyched about a series that doesn’t portray them as bearded blood craving uneducated savages.
But that isn’t to say that the Pakistani audience isn’t acting out occasionally: over the weekend, many followers of the show commented on an old picture of actress Esra Bilgic, comparing her IG attire to the more conservative clothing showcased on Ertugrul. Surprisingly, more than a few Pakistani men seemed quite heartbroken to discover that Esra is not the real life embodiment of her role in the show.
Safe to say, us Pakistanis need more than a viral Turkish drama to give us a good moral shaking.
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