It’s no secret that the subcontinent is absolutely crazy about cricket. Who can forget the image of the newly wed Pakistani bride and groom turning their faces to catch a glimpse of a Pakistan v Australia match?
Now, one of the Pakistani Super League teams, Peshawar Zalmis, have doubled the excitement for the coming season by combining with the other craze sweeping Pakistan right now the Turkish drama serial Drillish Ertugrul ( Resurrection Ertugrul).
CEO and owner of Peshawar Zalmi, Javed Afridi tweeted recently, asking fans how they would like Ertugrul Ghazi, Turkish actor Engin Altan Duzyatan, himself to be brand ambassador for the team . A couple of hours later the Afridi doubled up on the offer with the bonus of having Halime Sultan supporting too. While Bilgic promised her Pakistani fans some good news soon, Duzyatan remains silent as yet.
While the Turkish serial Dirilis has been a worldwide phenomenon it has reached dizzying new heights of popularity in Pakistani, where the state broadcaster PTV has dubbed into a slightly over-pristine Urdu.
Along with the praise and fandom the Turkish actors have also come under a barrage of criticism from deeply conservative fans who cannot reconcile the secular lives of their favorites lead with the traditional, religion-oriented roles the play in screen.
Duzyatan has received flack for of all things owning a dog, and keeping it in his house, because some devout Muslims consider an unclean animal meant to be kept outside living areas. All this completely ignores the fact that Pakistan’s more secular founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah kept his dogs close in a similar way .
Being a woman Bilgic has borne the brunt this barrage with “fans” trying to shame her for posting pictures of herself in revealing clothing on her Instagram page. Many Pakistani artists, especially actresses like Armeena Rana Khan came out in support of Bilgic lamenting the fact that such slut shaming and trolling have become an inescapable feature Pakistani social media for people like her. Not to be daunted the Turkish actress has silently pushed back by posting another picture of herself this time in a bikini and turned off her comments section as if to drive home the point that she will not be intimidated or controlled.
While some of those keyboard critics have been disappointed , most have moved on to simply appreciate her as an actress . Even more interesting is the way that the Drillish team and Bilgic in particular have not disengaged with their Pakistani fans. In fact in a recent interview, she has stated she will be working with three of Pakistan’s foremost brands soon. Just like her Pakistani counterparts , the actress has shown a lot of determination and grace under pressure, refusing to be defined by anyone or directly retaliating. Fairly or unfairly, as a foreigner in Pakistan she still has the advantage of a lot more leeway than the average home-grown actress.
Perhaps Bilgic’s foray into the Pakistani entertainment circle can be a defining , even teaching moment for the masses as they learn to accept and tolerate the choices their stars make without constantly evaluating their religious values . This may be a good time for culture warriors to learn the difference between an actor’s personal life and the character they play on screen.
Muslim women like Esra often fall victim to extra trolling because of the modesty prescribed in Islamic culture . The same trolls will let an Indian or American actress doing exactly the same thing pass because of their different religious traditions.
What keyboard critics ignore is that Esra Bilgic and other actresses, Muslim or not are not are more than clothes horses. Bilgic is an informed person who has studied International Relations at Bilkent University in Ankara and is now completing a law degree at Istanbul’s Sehir University. She also famously called out Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra for her tweet during India Pakistan tensions early 2019.
As this intelligent young woman engages with Pakistani culture and society lets hope this leads to more international cooperation and understanding. Pakistan has a strong drama industry and this maybe an opportunity to make this more of a cultural exchange than a one-way street. At first glance Pakistan and Turkey are very different nations but they say do share some surprisingly deep historical and cultural connections as well as two strong drama industries.
If managed correctly this rapprochement could lead to some crosspollination between the two entertainment industries, opening a wave of growth and innovation for the Pakistani entertainment industry which has too long limited its gaze to Bollywood .