I thought I was keeping abreast with what is happening in the entertainment world by downloading the latest episodes of Homeland and American Horror Story and listening to the Top 40s on the radio but I found out that I was wrong.
My bubble burst during a trip to Karachi in December where I realized that I have been practically living under a rock in Islamabad and had no idea that we were facing what is now called Turkish invasion.
Nope, the Turks are not attacking us — they are one of the few countries who still tolerate us — it was the Turkish soap that everyone was watching, talking about and obsessing over. From my sister’s maid to my friend’s teenaged sister to my adult male cousin, Ishq-e-Mamnoon (or Aşk-ı Memnu as it is written in Turkish) was all the rage with everyone.
My sister’s maid wanted to know if the characters on the soap are Muslims and if they will burn in the eternal hell fire for drinking, wearing western clothes and for their permissive attitude towards pre- and extramarital sex.
My friend’s sister was obsessing over the hotness of the male lead and had his face on her desktop which was a vast improvement on her previous crush (Justin Beiber hogged the screen the last time I visited their house).
My adult male cousin who markets television software for a TV channel was also talking about it. He sat me down and ran through the economics — like how the first channel bought the soap for just $900 per episode and how the copycats are forking $5,000 per episode after the first one turned out to be an off-the-chart hit.
As if that was not all, I ended up witnessing a protest by Television Producers Association in front of Karachi Press Club against foreign content.
Things went crazy during the telecast of the final episode and my timeline — both on facebook and twitter — was so full of Ishq-e-Mamnoon, I ended up googling Turkish soaps that are or will be aired in Pakistan and it turned out that most of them have the same actor.
|He is that guy.
Till now, my experience with Turkish television was limited to watching some of it on long bus rides from Istanbul to Izmir and then from Seljuk to Konya – that, too, without subtitles — during a visit to Turkey. My friend Sam and I made a guessing game of the dialogues and storyline. The one we watched was the Turkish version of Grey’s Anatomy and yes, Turkish doctors were way hotter than anyone on the American series, but I digress.
When I came back from Turkey, no-one asked me much about the people — it was always about the places — but ever since Behlul (the male lead of Ishq-e-Mamnoon played by Turkish actor Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ) graced our television screens, every woman who is hooked onto Ishq-e-Mamnoonwants to know if Behlul was a fluke or do other Turkish men look like him.
It is not just the young ones; aunties who were in love with Ashar of Hamsafar just a few months ago have now forsaken their affections for him and have moved on to the taller and blonder Behlul.
If a man can capture the fantasy of an entire nation with a name as ridiculous sounding as Behlul — it rhymes with mehlool — then he should be commended for pulling it off.
If you thought that it was only women who were watching it, you had it all wrong. This Turkish soap was just as popular among men and I have actually heard a few of them discussing the ladies of the cast with as much gusto as teenage girls reserve for boys of One Direction.
|The Turkish beauties
When I asked a socialite why she is obsessed with Ishq-e-Mamnoon— I only caught part of the last episode and the dubbing was a major letdown — she retorted, “What’s not to like?”
When I asked her to elaborate, she went on, “There is a gorgeous man torn between what is right and who he loves, he is conflicted and in pain, what can be more engaging than that.”
I agreed with her, a distressed good looking man is television gold because every woman who watches him wants things to go right for him. “And if the male lead was not enough of a reason, I watched it for clothes and accessories,” she added.
I have been told that ladies with disposable income have planned shopping trips to Istanbul to buy baubles by the designers featured in this soap, many a fashion blogger from Pakistan have even listed the names of the designers that Pakistani buyers should look for when they are in Turkey.
A web designer who does not watch anything else on the local television but watches Ishq-e-Mamnoon thinks the reason the Turkish soap broke all ratings record is because it had fresh faces. “I have been watching the same actors doing the exact same sh*t since I was in diapers. Back then, they used to romance the ladies with their real hair, now they do it after getting follicle implants.”
Serious pontification and discussion with a friend who is pursuing a doctorate degree in England on Pakistani television content validated this claim. From Noman Aijaz to Faisal Qureshi, from Shahood Alvi to Aijaz Aslam, they have either been under the knife for follicle implants or sport a toupee. The only people who still have all their hair are Adnan Siddiqui and Humayun Saeed but they, too, have been at it since I was in grade school and that happened in last century — like literally.
The best bit that I heard was when a friend who is pursuing PhD in Canada (yes, I have very learned friends; they all either have doctorate degrees or are pursuing them, I am considered barely literate amongst my friends) was cornered by a Hijabi lady at a dinner.
She was asked about her plans of finding matrimonial bliss with a suitable partner and her prospects of landing one in Canada — she is over 30 and according to most married women with children in Pakistan, ovaries of every unmarried woman over the age of 30 are dying a lonely miserable death.
As the lady knew that Pakistani men would not want anyone over the age of thirty — unless she happens to be Mahnoor Baloch — she was persistent in her queries about the suitable men for her in the frozen land of Canada.
My friend who was a little perturbed by the inquisition tried to put a stop to it by telling her that there are no desi men where she lives and obviously, the Hijabi lady would not want her to end up with a gora.
The aunty thought for a while and said that after watching the Turkish soap, she has realized that there are other kinds of Muslims out there and as long as my friend ends up with a Muslim — even if he happens to be a sharabi kababi Turkish or Algerian man — she is okay with it.
Who would’ve thought Turkish invasion would bring a change of heart and an overall acceptance for bad boys among ladies of Hijab. If airing just one soap has done this, imagine the hell that will break loose if they start airing two or four of them simultaneously!
|This picture is added solely for the benefit of female readers and has absolutely nothing to do with the text
PS:This was written sometime last month, now there are three Turkish soaps that are being aired from three different channels. We don’t know if they are as popular as Ishq-e-Mamnoon or will impact the hijabi ladies as strongly as Behlul did. I did manage to catch the first episode of Manahil and Khalil and though the play was a bit of a meh, I found the tickers with text messages sent to the TV channel about the Turkish Hottie most hilarious. Azra from Lyari wanted Behlul’s phone number and Zareena from Khushab wanted to have dinner with him. The boys in Lyari and Khushab will have to up their game if they want to have a chance with either Azra or Zareena.
Originally written for Monthly Pique, I like them Pique people, not only because they pay on time and well, they call me a major league blogger.