Pakistan Hit by Fever of Turkey’s Popular Cultural Export

*Originally published in Turkey Tribune.

It is 9pm in Pakistan. An estimated thousands sit intently to watch what will unfold in a mansion scenically facing a shore of the Bosphorus, and in lives of the people who dwell in it. A handsome, philandering blonde, his sturdy uncle’s young gorgeous wife, her conniving mother and the mansion’s elegant governess. Characters that have eased into a part of their own lives.

These Pakistanis sit in anticipation of what will unfold in the Ziyagil Mansion. And so was the routine for them since months, until ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ ended last December.

What began as a venture by a new channel last year eventually evolved into a nation-wide mania of ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ (Urdu for ‘Aşk-ı Memnu‘).


The first of its kind in the country, the UAE-based channel Urdu1 became available in Pakistan in June 2012 by broadcasting two foreign TV dramas dubbed immaculately in Urdu, one Spanish and the other Turkish.The latter’s fresh storyline, cast and their convincing performances set in the ambience of Turkish culture and the picturesque locales of Istanbul, within a matter of months ensconced itself in a large Pakistani urban audience. 

A diverse audience composed by people belonging to both sexes of all ages, occupations, backgrounds, stripes and walks of life. And Toygar Işiklı’s masterly music production only augmented its appeal for them.

During its run on TV, it was not an uncommon sight to see many Pakistanis jestingly meeting each other in the Turkish style of greeting with a peck on each cheek, the two genders swooning over Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, Beren Saat and Hazal Kaya and women raving about Firdevs Yöreoglu’s and her daughters’ fashion. Hearing ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’s theme music as ringtones and heated discussions on the drama, with the obligatory dental clicking for poor Adnan Ziyagil, in various cafes, lounges, restaurants was an even more ordinary scene.

It was, literally, the talk of the town.

tumblr_m76wxbXjHx1r6nm6ao1_500fsdfConsidering Pakistan’s long-standing cultural, historical, bilateral and exceptional brotherly relations with Turkey, Pakistani interest in the Turkish state and nation is rather natural. Turkey frequently occupies a place in Pakistan’s political discourse; as an ideal political model. Recently, amid the fluttering of Pakistani and Turkish flags all over Lahore and much fanfare and excitement, the provincial government of Punjab inaugrated Pakistan’s first Metro Bus service in the city modeled on the Turkish system of this public transportation. It was also attended by the deputy prime minister of Turkey.

Add to this, the creation of frenzy owed to ‘Aşk-ı Memnu‘ . The massive following of the drama furthered the fascination with Turkey, its people, language and culture. Inevitably causing a shift in people’s travel preferences, wanderlust towards it and a surge in plans for Turkish vacations. It would come as no surprise, if soon Turkish tourism is compelled to welcome eager and swelling Pakistani throngs.

Televised the entire week, ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ propelled the remarkable skyrocketed ratings for the channel, blurring behind well-established rival entertainment channels. This disconcertedness forced them to jointly file a petition in court against the Urdu1. While equally upset were and still are the numerous local producers and veteran drama actors and actresses, openly clamoring for protectionism for the entertainment and drama industry in Pakistan, with direct reference to ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ whose sensational rise has posed a threat to them and their own soaps and TV shows.

50bf1c73654cf-Untitled-2In contrast to this, one notable veteran Adnan Siddiqui, who also played a role alongside Angelina Jolie in the film ‘A Mighty Heart’ , had a different approach and reaction.  Succinctly writing a note on ’Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ which acknowledged it’s attributes, he called on the Pakistani entertainment industry to accept it (the Turkish soap) as ’a production which is a learning mechanism to provide our industry with better quality for work’ and to learn from its causes of swift success to espouse professionalism and up their standards in conformity with international ones.

Presenting and dealing with subjects ranging from alcohol consumption, adultery to abortion under its themes of glamour, deception and betrayal, it came as surprise that it stirred no significant controversy involving conservative groups in Pakistan.

Ask-i-Memnu-Bihter-Behlul-bihter-and-behlul-19813315-766-690The slashing of steamier scenes in ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ under the scanner and sword of censorship paved the way for its social and cultural acceptance but generally, the soap fuelled attraction and greater want for Turkish TV dramas in Pakistan.

The sudden popularity of actors Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ and Beren Saat in Pakistan along with the striking success of ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ has led to many other entertainment channels following the trend set by Urdu1: with “Asi”, that started during ’Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ to have recently ended and replaced by Menekşe ile Halil” by one channel, andGümüş” now being televised as “Noor” by a separate one.

Urdu1 has also replaced ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ with the dubbed version of “Fatmagülün suçu ne?” which it proudly calls on its official Facebook page ‘A perfect successor to Ishq-e-Mamnu!’  due to its successful maintenance of the highest ratings amongst other dramas during prime time that the former achieved. It has become apparent that ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ might just have been to Pakistan what “Gümüş” was to the Arab world: a flare that ignited a boom in dubbed Turkish dramas.


With Adnan, Bihter, Behlul household names in Pakistan, several other Turkish soaps being shown and the final episode of ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ having surpassed local blockbusters by garnering record-breaking ratings; Turkey’s current greatest cultural export, which has and continues to captivate millions around the world, should add another country to its map. For Pakistan has been swept, taken and transfixed by the thrilling storm of Turkish dramas!

~ Hafsa Khawaja

8 comments on “Pakistan Hit by Fever of Turkey’s Popular Cultural Export

  1. Ammad says:

    Great work Hafsa! But write on Fatmagul too. It is much stronger story then Ishq-e-Mumnoo. Baren Saat is peforming brillinatly as Fatmagul. Our society can learn a lot from that greatest of the drama serial.

    • Thank you Ammad!
      Actually, I’ve been watching ‘Fatmagul’ since August of last year and it is one drama that I have been emotionally and psychologically-attached with till its end; to the extent that I ‘braved’ Youtube bans, flakey internet connections, site crashes and loadshedding issues to watch it till the last episode.
      It is indeed, a brilliant drama with much to understand and learn from.
      I will probably write a post on the issue of Rape soon, just a candid one though with my personal thoughts on it and its perception in our society.

  2. Rai M Azlan says:

    Good Job! very well written i must say and this remind me the discussion of this issue we had on twitter a couple of months ago. the problem with our mindset is that we consider and claim art and entertainment above borders and beyond nations only if the content is either not hitting our pocket or we have compromised with it.
    there was a time when our drama was strong enough to compete with anyone in the cross regions too. but it WAS when we lost in the shine and the glimmer coming from the neighborhood and started to follow that compromising over the content and the quality the out come is in-front of us with the scorecard of our drama from late 90s till the 2008-9.
    it is not the foreign content that is the danger to our own entertainment industry it is our own content that can be the strong ground for building the industry or vice verca. I am not that old but still i can recall glimpse of American tv series’ like CHiPs, Miami Vice, Dark Justice, Saint, Colombo, and many more regularly appearing on the state run and the only private tv channel in early 90s. and this trend was present during 80s and 70s too.
    most of entertainment on tv that we are presenting to kids is “imported” which i believe is a bigger threat than the Turkish dramas that are watched and followed by above teenage segment.
    i agree with your points that you mentioned as the reason of this successful “invasion” i truly believe that competition can result in quality Pakistan Railways can be the biggest example i can quote here (might sound irrelevant). so rather than whining over it we should take it as a challenge and improve the quality of our content which surely is not a difficult job for us due to having a huge amount of experience. and quality here i mean the quality drama that give me the feel i used to (and still) get when i watch old dramas from golden era. we did experiment with our quality with crappy mocks of Indian soups and i guess that is enough lesson for us to realize that mockery is not the solution. having said that i know the “money making” and “jo bikta hay wohi dikhta” hay mindset of our media owners i am expected some crappy copied version of turkish dramas on many channels now.
    such a long comment eh! i shall finish it by saying i haven’t seen any Turkish drama completely due to busyness but i am a huge fan of Turkish food so i can say i have a fair idea of the amazing flavor 😀

  3. Sarwat AJ says:

    Very well written and this shows keen observation.
    Check out my few words regarding the topic

  4. sadaf jamal says:

    very well written….u should write about another play Kuzey Guney that has mesmerized me for 2 complete years n the way kivanc acted in it…no doubt he is one of the best actors across the world…bugra n oyku also did well in it… i don’t even watch hollywood movies anymore…the dream of a butterfly… kivacnc’s brilliant performance can also be seen in it ….kindly watch it

    • Thank you for reading and commenting Sadaf!
      And I can’t agree more with you on Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ’s acting in ‘A Butterfly’s Dream’. It was absolutely splendid, I fell in love with the film.
      Hopefully, Iranian and Turkish films will be shown in Pakistani cinema soon.

  5. Sania Sarwar says:

    Great work “”Hafsa”” i really like to see plays of Beran Saat like Fatmagul & Intikaam. these are much stronger stories but i just love Ishq-e-Mumnoo. Baren Saat is peforming brillinatly ….. & you are very well written i must say and this remind me the discussion on this..
    I want to see this show everyday in my life…. but i just request you kindly play this show again……………!!!!

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting Sania!
      Ask i Memnu was the first drama I saw of Beren’s but to be very honest, it was Fatmagul which made me fall completely in love with her. She played and lent the role every bit of the sensitivity, emotion and strength that it required.
      I’m sure you can Youtube the dramas you’d like to watch again, they must be available online by now.

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