Turkish dramas are rewriting the global entertainment script


ISTANBUL – Producer Timur Savci knows a good story when he sees one.

In 2009, Savci sent the draft of a screenplay about a legendary Ottoman sultan from his mentor and collaborator, the now respected screenwriter Meral Okay. By the time he finished reading it at 2am, “I knew we had a project that, even on paper, had tremendous international potential,” Savci told Nikkei Asia.

The rest is entertainment history. “Magnificent Century,” the epic Turkish drama that tells the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and features unforgettable characters such as his beloved concubine Hurrem, has been viewed by 500 million people around the world and acted as a trailblazer for others diziwhich literally means “sequence” or “series” in Turkish, but is also used to refer to the unique genre of Turkish drama.

Since then, these shows have been subtitled, dubbed, adapted, or exported to more than 150 countries, including Japan, where Magnificent Century became the first Dizi ever sold. Exports soared from a modest $ 100,000 in 2008 to $ 500 million in 2020, making Turkey the second largest exporter of television content, surpassed only by the US

Turkish shows now account for 25% of imported shows around the world, according to Eurodata, and global sales are expected to exceed $ 1 billion in 2023.

Savci, the founder and partner of Tims & B, is behind other classics, including “Calikusu” (“Lovebird”), a literary adaptation of the story of an orphaned teacher from Anatolia from 2013, and “Bir Zamanlar Cukurova” (“Bitter Lands”) ), a “Dallas” -style family saga set in the 1970s and filmed in Savci’s hometown of Adana in southern Turkey.

For him, common themes are like “[strong] Women, Family … and Authenticity “are anchored in the DNA of Turkish drama and find broad appeal to viewers from a number of cultures around the world.

Above: Nazan Kesal is a favorite with Turkish directors and plays Sevda Caglayan in the long-running “Bitter Lands” series, a “Dallas” -style family saga set in the 1970s. Below: A statue erected in the Pakistani city of Lahore in honor of the Turkish drama Resurrection: Ertugrul – widely known as the Muslim Game of Thrones. (Photo by Mohsin Raza) © Reuters

For many of the screenwriters, producers, directors, and actors who spoke to Nikkei Asia, the authenticity possessed by Turkey’s realistic, socially conscious, and relatable bourgeois dramas makes them a unique art form that has been perfected over decades.

“Viewers adopt stories that mix a modern lifestyle that doesn’t reject tradition,” said Burak Sagyasar, Savci’s business partner and the “B” in Tims & B and a former actor himself. “Our dramas have long been inspired by real stories and strong characters. These instructions are modernized in order to develop new concepts, which is why the projects we have implemented are multi-axis, fruitful and long-lasting. “

For Western and Eastern viewers alike, the slow-burning T-dramas are a window to a world many yearn for, especially Western women who mingle with the romance and old school passion that American dramas lack today. Eastern audiences, on the other hand, like the fact that Turkish stories depict secular modernity with relatively traditional values ​​and principles as opposed to an emotionally corrupt society. The fact that most of the Turkish shows are family friendly, with no nudity or rough language, adds to their popularity.

“It is very important to us that our Dizi literary depth, her characters are believable and her motivations realistic and solid,” said Ayfer Tunc, the main screenwriter of “Bir Zamanlar Cukurova” or BZC, as his template. tough fans like to call it. “Solid story structure,” she said, and an “epic storytelling style” add to its appeal abroad.

For the actor, director and screenwriter Ercan Kesal, whose hit series “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and the phenomenally successful Mafia-Dizi include “Cukur” (“The Pit”), Turkish dizi and films are today characterized by honest stories real locations shot. “Anatolia has started telling its own stories again,” said Kesal.

BZC director and Dizi veteran Murat Saracoglu, whose “Mrs. Fazilet and Her Daughters” was an instant hit in Latin America, recalls being surprised when women from as far away as Chile and Peru started writing to him how much they cried while watching the show.

For Saracoglu, the tradition of storytelling and the power of myth-making in Turkish countries resonate worldwide. “We are still telling the ‘old affairs’ of humanity … especially by presenting issues such as country belonging,” said Saracoglu. “Our difference to the productions in the West is that we don’t try to make appearances; these are still the real causes and the real problems that interest us in this country, ”he added.

Even if the story is an adaptation of a foreign original, the success of the Turkish version often exceeds the original. Originally from Japan, two series, Anne and Kadin, depicting strong women trying to live their lives despite the trials of modern society won Tokyo International Best Foreign Drama Awards in 2017 and 2018 Drama Festival and struck strong competition from South Korean dramas.

Above: Another consequence of the success of Turkish television dramas is their value as a pillar of soft power, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urgently needs. © Reuters Below: Filmed and filmed in Istanbul and published in April, “Fatma” tells the story of a cleaning lady looking for her missing husband.

When “What is Fatmagul’s fault? – a drama about a young woman’s search for justice after gang rape – first broadcast in Latin America and later in India, provoking such a storm of comment that it was even credited with kicking off the #MeToo movement in Peru and Mexico. Now seen in 154 countries, it received the Audience Award for the best foreign drama in France in 2019 and is now being reissued in Spain under the name “Alba”.

“What makes Fatmagul so special is the fact that it has a social wound [like rape] is not told about a woman’s body but about her soul, “said the show’s director Hilal Saral, adding that Turkish dramas are heavily based on emotion.

While Turkish dramas manage to create a cultural zone that speaks beyond Turkish countries by combining Eastern and Western values, an additional dimension is their value as pillars of soft power that Turkey urgently needs.

There is perhaps no better example of this than “Resurrection: Ertugrul” Nickname of the Muslim “Game of Thrones” a five-season epic dramatizing the adventures of Ertugrul Ghazi, the father of Osman who founded the Ottoman Empire, broadcast in Turkey from 2014 to 2019 and later exported to over 100 countries worldwide.

“Do you think they teach in the Middle East how just and protective the Ottomans were?” asked Savci. “They tried to portray the Turks as invaders alongside the colonial Westerners and bend history according to their political goals,” he added, arguing that Turkish dramas have achieved what years of diplomacy failed to achieve, and fans and even allies of the Turkey created in historical regions hostile to the Ottoman Empire.

Even in traditionally hostile countries like Greece, Bulgaria and Russia, viewers can’t get enough of two of Tims & B’s recent hits: “The Trusted” about a former SWAT team member fighting drug lords; and “The Shadow Team”, which is loosely based on the Turkish secret service.

“When communism collapsed, democracy came [in Bulgaria and other former Eastern bloc countries], but also capitalism, “said Yasemin Celikkol, an ethnic Turkish woman whose family immigrated to Turkey from Bulgaria in the 1980s and is now an academic at the University of Pennsylvania, whose doctoral thesis on Turkish television series in Bulgaria and Russia aptly titled” The Terribly Charming Turk in the Global Media Matrix. “She believes that Turkish dizi’s popularity in the Balkans cannot be explained simply because they live in the same neighborhood and share strong cultural ties.

Above: The Turkish entrepreneur Efe Cakarel, doyen of arthouse films and founder of the MUBI film platform. (Photo by Victor Bastidas) Below: A series of stills from MUBI’s “Hey There!”, A musical comedy shot entirely on an iPhone directed by Reha Erdem.

“Families fell apart and people were poor,” said Celikkol. Slowly, people began to miss the “comfort of moral values” and were nostalgic for the feelings that come with a sense of community and a large family. It is this emotional vacuum that Turkish dramas fill: “There was a reaction to Hollywood. [The viewers] realized that it’s not all about money, sex and drugs. “

International streaming giants are also showing interest in Turkish content. Netflix has commissioned a handful of hits including the black humor series “50M2” and “Fatma”, a murder drama about a cleaning lady turned serial killer, with local over-the top streaming services BluTV, Gain and Exxen are all with it.

“It is even better to see brands that strive from the very beginning to develop their unique broadcast philosophy and identity,” said Efe Cakarel, Turkish entrepreneur, doyen of arthouse films and founder of the MUBI film platform, delighted at the introduction new streaming platforms in line with the zeitgeist.

“Having more options is something that gives viewers the freedom to choose and advance their viewing experience,” said Cakarel, whose most recent releases include Hayaletler (“Ghosts”), a feature length film directed by Azra Deniz Okyay , and “Seni Buldum Ya!” (“Hey There!”), A musical comedy filmed entirely on an iPhone, directed by Reha Erdem.

MUBI is also preparing to produce and release more Turkish content over the next year, including several television dramas by well-known Turkish filmmakers.

For Ayfer Tunc, the screenwriter of “Bitter Lands,” the Netflixization of the Turkish entertainment industry says it is becoming uninspired as it is being adapted to appeal to the same cohort – whether they are in Thailand, Russia, South Africa or Belgium.

“When our stories are no longer ours due to the intervention of Netflix, our DNA is corrupted,” said Tunc. “And a corrupt DNA is not good for anyone.”

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