The Ottoman Turks may never have made it to Pakistan, but their descendants are now taking the country by storm with their popular TV series.
But while the public is keen on Turkish soaps, some in Pakistan are expressing growing concern at what they see as a cultural invasion of their country, saying they threaten Pakistan’s conservative Islamic values.
This Pakistani actor says the problem is it’s cheaper to buy a Turkish series than to produce one at home: “Turkish shows have high production budgets, our industry can’t afford that kind of cost,” says Abid Ali. “We are not prepared for this, our country is going through difficult times, socially, politically and economically. It is tough to keep up with the competition. So our home-made TV series have a low success rate.”
Pakistani actress Javeria Abbasi is one of those who laments the success of Turkish TV dramas:
“if movie stars dressed like that here, everyone would object to it. But people have accepted these Turkish dramas, which is wrong. If the young generation isn’t made aware of Urdu literature and of the rules of Pakistani culture, they won’t adopt them. So my point is that Turkish dramas are wrong and they shouldn’t be shown here.”
Pakistan’s Senate committee responsible for information and broadcasting has also expressed concern saying it is worried the shows will harm Pakistan’s TV industry and feature content that runs against local cultural values.
But the reality is that TV series made in Pakistan are often produced on a shoe-string budget, whereas Turkish productions offer something new:
“Turkish TV dramas have a certain freshness about them,” says Athar Waqar Azeem, vice president of entertainment channel Hum TV. “The locations are beautiful. Here in Pakistan we have been watching the same stars on TV for years. There are new faces on Turkish soaps, they bring something fresh and new. That is why they have attracted Pakistani viewers, they provide a change,” he says.
The boom of Turkish TV series is good news for one category of media professionals: voice-over artists, who dub the dramas from Turkish into Urdu.
Tasleem Ansari, a veteran voice-over artist, said she doesn’t agree with those who say Turkish shows threaten Pakistani values.
“The way you dress is not a criteria, I don’t believe this, you won’t convince me. What is going on in Pakistani dramas is our dress codes are vanishing. I experienced this just yesterday – in a television program, a local actress was wearing a mini skirt, too. I agree that these costumes do not match Pakistani culture, but Turkish drama is all about Turkish culture, and people like it and have accepted that,” she says.
It’s not just in Pakistan that Turkish soap operas are perceived as a cultural threat.
Balkan and Azerbaijani TV channels are joining in on the action with intellectual circles buzzing with claims that Turkey is spreading its cultural influence throughout what was once the Ottoman Empire.
But all of this criticism has done little to erode viewer enthusiasm:
“Turkish dramas are good. They have changed the trend, there’re different to Pakistani and Indian dramas. We are able to see new places and new faces and they are glamorous and fascinating,” says Turkish soap opera fan Samina Ahmed.
TV shows are big business in Turkey. According to one publishing group, the export of TV series to some 20 countries brought in more than 60 millon dollars in 2011.
With public interest growing and money flowing in, it looks like the Turkish TV industry’s influence over the Middle Eastern media market still has some good days ahead of it.