One has to feel for the leaders trying to contain the spread of coronavirus or worrying about their country’s position in the new world order that the current pandemic will create in its aftermath. Because in a parallel universe, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is binge-watching Turkish drama serials and giving us recommendations.
Oh, the luxury of someone else running the country for you.
Imran Khan is smitten by the period drama Diriliş: Ertuğrul, upon which he has showered lavish praise, much to the dismay of Pakistani filmmakers who crave for their PM to promote their projects. But Imran Khan’s love for the historical-adventure series, which has been billed as a ‘Turkish Game of Thrones’, is cultural.
He says “our children and youth” should watch Ertuğrul, so that they can learn to differentiate between the real Islamic culture and the “third-hand” one that reaches Pakistan via Hollywood and Bollywood. “It (the Turkish show) also has romance, history… (and) has Islamic values.” That was a five-star review from the PM, and Turkey duly noted it.
— Ali ŞAHİN (@AliSahin501) April 25, 2020
But wait, don’t be so quick to tune into your Bollywood or Hollywood favourite after dutifully watching Diriliş: Ertuğrul. The PM has another Turkish serial recommendation for you — Yunus Emre: Aşkin Yolculuğu. If you are too American to mind the subtitles, then the PM has decided to get the show dubbed in Urdu. In time, he will have more suggestions.
Sharing Islamic history with Turk Ertuğrul
So, what’s the fuss about Diriliş: Ertuğrul? Titled Ghazi Ertuğrul, the dubbed version of the show running on Pakistan Television is based on the life of 12th century Oghuz Turk, Ertuğrul (whose son Osman Gazi founded the Ottoman Empire). The series documents the valour of Muslim Oghuz Turks fighting and invading the Mongols, Christians and the Knights Templars in Anatolia. The show is a hit among period-adventure buffs in many countries. In Pakistan, it knocked PM Khan’s socks off because of what he often describes as ‘a shared Islamic history’ (if at all there is such a thing). Ever since his promotional speech, Ertuğrul has been creating waves in Pakistan.
But is the latest craze good for a country whose people are perpetually embroiled in discussions, debates and confusion over who their national heroes are? All that the show does is add another entry to the list: Ghazi Ertuğrul. Only last week Pakistanis were trying to choose between Muhammad bin Qasim and Raja Dahir.
Even though we revere the Afghan emperors — we named our nuclear missiles Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi after them — we still smear Pashtuns who take pride in their Afghan heritage. To say that Pakistan’s roots lie in India is borderline blasphemy, for we are first Arabs or Turks and only then Pakistanis. In the national discourse, heritage is a blurred line and the idea of shared religious history has many takers.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that Pakistanis have owned Ertuğrul. Guess what, now Ertuğrul will free Kashmir for them. Basically, we just need someone else to do our work and then bask in its glory once it’s done.
In the company of Ertuğrul
Like they say, no publicity is bad, so the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government is hell-bent on promoting Imran Khan as Pakistan’s Ertuğrul. Not that Khan sahib himself has to fight political opponents and invade hidden adversaries; most of his work is done by those who actually run the country. But this is 2020, and Ertugrul has to be on the same page as his selectors.
Taking the matter a bit too far was Ali Muhammad Khan, state minister of parliamentary affairs, who tweeted a photo praying to Allah to bring back the ‘golden era of Muslims’. In the photo, Imran Khan (as Ertuğrul) was flocked by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and DG ISI Faiz Hameed. Other ministers were in the background. The post was taken down as some thought the order of men in the poster might not be what it perhaps is in reality.
After constant calls for donating to the PM’s relief fund, it seems promoting Turkish serials is the only job left for the PTI government.
Not a Turkish Delight
It is not for the first time that a Turkish serial has been dubbed for Pakistani audiences. In 2012, Turkish drama Ishq-e-Mamnoon (Ask-i Memnu) or ‘The Forbidden Love’ became a rage in the country. The story revolving around a modern family and incestuous relationships changed the dynamics of viewership. Turks dressed in Western clothes with modern outlook were a revelation for Pakistani viewers. Similarly, Mera Sultan (Muhtesem Yüzyil), an extravagant historical show, or a low-budget Fatima Gul, about the life of a gang-rape survivor, changed the landscape of drama industry. Turkish productions were banned soon after because of local industry opposition.
Like then, even now local artists aren’t happy about Pakistan importing foreign dramas and not promoting its own serials, considering how Pakistani dramas have been loved and watched by people in the country and elsewhere. Actor Shan Shahid expressed his concern about PM Imran Khan promoting and helping import Turkish serials instead of empowering local talent and own national heroes.
@ImranKhanPTI sir I believe in this economic crisis we were not supporting imports .then why cultural imports are open . Why Ptv showing imported dramas believe in your own talent and history .With your supportive policies we can bring 🇵🇰🎥 on the entertainment map of the world
— Shaan Shahid (@mshaanshahid) April 28, 2020
While everyone is free to watch any content they wish to, it is somewhat problematic when the government promotes foreign serials, and uses public broadcaster to push a myopic sense of belonging.
Pakistanis have taken Ertuğrul’s history to heart and genuinely started believing that the 12th century Turk belongs to them. If the Instagram moral policing of leading actors is anything to go by, then Halime Hatun is Halima baji now and Astaghfirullah she needs to behave like a Muslim woman from the 12th century.
And just in case you miss it, Ertuğrul is hanging out with his dog. How is that even possible, bro? Don’t you know dogs are haram in Islam? But Pakistanis don’t care about all that. As Imran Khan once told us that he is “half Muhajir”, his followers have taken it a notch higher — they are on their way to becoming ‘full Ertuğrul’.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
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