Are Turkish soaps really a challenge for Pakistani TV industry?

Published: December 21, 2012


KARACHI: What started with a bunch of beautiful Turkish people talking in Urdu has apparently turned into the Pakistani drama industry’s great challenge. Many in the industry and certainly viewers have welcomed and fallen in love with these dramas, coming in as they are from a Muslim country like Turkey, which has been an inspiration for the Islamic world.

The United Producers Association (UPA) – the guild that has poised itself as the vanguard of the local drama industry – recently held a press conference drawing attention to issues with the foreign content. Since then, the matter has turned into a hot news issue.

It is without a doubt an achievement on UPA’s part that both the government and the country’s press, which is traditionally obsessed with politics, have turned their attention to a relatively lighter matter. However, the problems they have highlighted are based heavily on assumptions and only partially on logic.

Among the major problems UPA has highlighted is that Pemra censorship laws hold a double-standard for foreign content, which can show things local dramas are prohibited from showing. For instance, some have argued that Pakistani dramas are not allowed to show liquor, while the Turkish drama ‘Ishq-e-Mamnoon’ (IM) showed a women sipping liquor while lying in a bathtub.

This in itself is an inconsequential argument. IM did not gather ratings from a certain scene showing a pretty woman in a bathtub. Rather, it was successful with audiences due to the strength of its content and production value. By holding cheap tricks responsible for the drama’s success, local artists are attempting to sensationalise an otherwise serious issue and hide their own failure to produce better quality content.

Apart from one inconsequential detail, there is nothing that IM showed which local dramas cannot. While ‘Isabel: Meri Akhri Mohabbat’, the Mexican soap which aired alongside IM on UrduOne, did feature wardrobe (low-cut dresses that display ample cleavage) which could be consider objectionable, the channel blurred out any objectionable images present in the soap.

We recognise that the local industry is full of talented and hardworking people who can compete in any environment. At the same time, using cheap ploys like handing on-screen characters liquor or having them don revealing clothing will not cover for weak content.

Many industry professionals have termed the Turkish soaps a cultural invasion or a ‘yalghaar’ as put by the sensational media. However, this is another misplaced concern. Unlike the infamous StarPlus soaps, which were previously dubbed a cultural invasion as well, the Turkish soaps are devoid of any overt cultural references. This is something the audience can answer itself; How many people can accurately describe Turkish culture and history after watching IM?

In comparison, after watching a StarPlus soap, one could actually describe in detail Indian cultural and religious practices. Moreso, that cultural invasion left Pakistani audiences with a more Sanskritised version of their own language.

What IM did depict was a concept previously thought taboo, both in Pakistan and the Arab world. That is among the reasons of its overwhelming success. The drama, for instance, would not have been as successful in the US, where divorce and infidelity are not taboos.

This is where local artists underestimate the audience’s capability to absorb bold and more progressive ideas. There is nothing wrong with the audience or the drama. Something is terribly wrong with local artists’ perception of their audience.  This is something positive for the industry in general because if nothing else a producer will not be as reluctant to take risks from now on and will in turn rely less on research and more fresh ideas for better content.

The last and by far the least debatable argument of the UPA is based purely on economics  and had a lot of actors not stressed on the cultural aspect instead of the economic one then their plea would have been noticed sooner. For the channels the Turkish soap is a cheaper option because it costs them less than 0.2 million per episode  on an average as compared to a Pakistani drama that costs them around 0.6 million per episode at an average.  Turkish soaps give you better ratings in a lesser amount hence all the major channels are slowly switching to foreign content and that too in prime time by replacing local dramas. Which is a major concern for the producers since the livelihood of artists, producers and countless numbers of daily wage technicians is associated with these dramas .The channels are indeed taking away a level playing field from the local producers ignoring the fact that this could might as well be a short lived bubble and the payment of the whole chain of a production is dependent upon the channel airing it and not the producer completing it. As per the industry practice the payment to a producer is made 90 days after that particular episode is aired as a result of which many producers who have completed their projects will not be paid since channels are not willing to air dramas they themselves previously commissioned.

There is no doubt that a major government intervention is required to save the Pakistani drama industry. All stakeholders need to come forth and resolve the economic challenges presented by the foreign content. At the same time Pakistani producers and writers must draw lessons from this crisis in order to strengthen their content. By raising absurd arguments such as a threat to culture, they are doing both themselves and their audiences a disservice. The entertainment industry must concern itself with entertaining its audience. Waning audience interest will always be a failure on their part.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Aisha azeem
    Dec 21, 2012 - 9:08AM

    We don’t want Indian and Turkish dramas on our Pakistani channels,That’s it,Pakistani dramas are the best…Agree with me?Hit that Recommend button please..


  • JB
    Dec 21, 2012 - 9:17AM

    This is just laughable…one old Turkish soap is threatening the whole industry!! Have the artists tried to figure out why exactly was the general public attracted to these soaps in the first place? Might as well ban Hollywood and Bollywood movies as well! They are threatening our film industry too!
    Banning or restricting foreign content is not the answer and is not the solution to our own failures!


  • Khan
    Dec 21, 2012 - 10:09AM

    The Govt. can raise the tariff on international content (per episode) and that will drive up the price of foreign content a little.


  • Gul Khan Momand
    Dec 21, 2012 - 10:22AM

    As if we dont have our culture and civilization. From India to Turkey now.


  • Dec 21, 2012 - 12:30PM

    Everyone is a threat to pak entertainment industry and is famous in pakistan except pakistan’s own people.

    Either there is an conspiracy against them or they are really dumb.


  • Azhar N
    Dec 21, 2012 - 12:59PM

    To be fair, Pakistani dramas look like school plays compared to Turkish dramas which have a very high level of technical proficiency. People loved Ishqe Mamno not just because of the storyline, but also because of the nice scenery, dresses and most of all – the attractive looking actors.

    The Pakistan drama industry should think about beating the competition, not banning it


  • Kosher Nostra
    Dec 21, 2012 - 1:09PM

    One more reason to stop watching TVs.


  • Amna
    Dec 21, 2012 - 1:25PM

    Pakistan has failed to produce good quality dramas. All channels are producing same sad love stories Pakistani dramas have become typically boring. I was purely Pakistani drama fan but I can’t promise myself to watch crap being shown on t.v you can not force a viewer to watch xyz drama. I agree with the fact Indian drama’s should be banned because they are not worth watching but hey if you see Turkish dramas you instantly fell in love with the characters, direction and story telling itself. Even if these dramas get banned in Pakistan I will watch them on youtube with subtitles but I will not contribute in the Pakistani drama rating as I am seriously not interested to waste my time watching love lover love pain sadness typical unworthy stories. After watching Ishq e Mamnu which was modern Turkish story I am following Fatima Gul which is story of a village girl in short I want to say if one Drama story gets famous in Pakistan all the other channels will try to make similar story some way or the other. If one channel has produce a quirky show they other will try to copy, hey Mehmodabaad ki Malkayen got famous so make Ghareebabaad ki chichoriyaan, Lalokhait ki bachiyaan etc
    I am sorry I am so not interested to waste my time watching all this maybe few of you would agree with me.



  • Asad
    Dec 21, 2012 - 2:03PM

    Pakistani channels, drama makers and artists are just afraid of competition as consumers competition is good. What they need to do is step up their game instead of hiding behind the guise of morality and patriotism and complaining about so called turkish invasion. Why force people to watch crap you churn out? If you have confident in your capabilities you won’t be afraid of any kind of invasion.


  • Dec 21, 2012 - 2:12PM

    If channels get cheaper content from abroad that everyone is hooked to, then it affects our local industry because it is a fraction of the price to syndicate. I believe in a certain amount of regulation to support local industry. (The ideal situation is a private-public regulation board, so that its not misused by the authorities to manipulate information) Our television entertainment industry just re-established itself after the banning of Indian channels such as Star Plus and Zee on cable networks. We haven’t seen a phenomenon like ‘Humsafar’ since the 90s, and it is a result of these regulatory policies such as banning Indian channels.

    Unfortunately, we have mob thinking and after the success of Ishq-e-Mumnu, channels are syndicating Turkish (and other foreign) shows in droves. This also leads to importing a cultural identity that is not our own. To respond to the point in this article that “How many people can accurately describe Turkish culture and history after watching IM?”, Its pretty clear to us, the audiences, that this is not an indigenously produced product just by looking the outfits that are worn and the racy situations that are depicted. It may be considered ‘Western’ but it is certainly not a mainstream depiction of our society. Now, more than ever we need to discover and construct our own identities through popular culture and export our voice to the world. We need to develop a counter-narrative to the main stream news media coverage in Pakistan. And like the PTV days, we need to tell our own stories. We have a very rich tradition of storytelling that has evolved from the oral tradition, and our strength has always been social dramas. While I agree that a lot of our locally produced shows are not directly addressing pertinent social issues, we need to press for exactly that.

    I’m not saying we should outrightly ban these syndicated shows, but perhaps we should regulate them through a central authority. (Unlikely in reality I know, but I speak in principle). Perhaps every entertainment channel should be allowed to syndicate one show for a weekly broadcast. In this way, we can stay in tune with current trends, and also not inundate our own impressionable sensibilities by importing foreign cultures, while still supporting our local industry. We need to build an identity of Pakistan from the inside-out. Please remember that for many years in the 80s and early 90s. Indians used to watch our dramas and learnt more about who we were as a people consequently.

    As for ‘Khuda Key Liye’ and ‘Bol’, that’s two films in 4 years that have been successful and that’s not good business for an industry from any aspect. Yes, Indian films have encouraged people to return to cinemas (and that’s something I advocated for in my feature length documentary on Pakistani cinema ‘Bhuli Hui Hoon Daastan’) but its a completely different model, as people have to pay to go see films on large screens that they probably would have watched in pirated prints at home before. Cinema also facilitates different social functions in society that can be discussed on another thread. In the case of tv, its practically free and enters our homes.

    Yes, there is a lot of crap on tv, and sure some mindless imported soap opera might keep the nation distracted, but I would much rather (in an ideal world) have intelligent locally produced content running on our channels that supports our own industry, our own economy and helps contribute to our own narrative about ourselves as Pakistanis.


  • Fari
    Dec 21, 2012 - 6:30PM

    Pakistani drama industry should make something totally different which is more fun to watch every drama has love story which is completely boring they should make some teenagers dramas and they can get an idea from disney channel. they can take idea from hannah montana or wizards of waverly place i am sick of these love stories every drama has it our industry has nothing better than just showing love!!


  • Abbas Khan
    Dec 23, 2012 - 11:07AM

    Having seen some of our dramas, with exception to a few good ones – rest were all bollywood like masala stuff (all centered on love stories and shaadi viyaah stuff).
    I can’t remember the last time I saw a Science Fiction or Suspense Thriller or even Horror Dramas ever since the good days of PTV passed (with the advent of cable tv spreading all over Pakistan).

    If you look at the educated teenager’s TV choices currently – Mostly every university student has turned to watching American TV. TV Shows like Dexter, Breaking Bad, Heroes, Prison Break, Six Feet Under, Roswell etc – our local writers have never thrived to match such level of deep writing on topics like SCI-FI / Thrillers etc.

    It’s a wake up call for local production houses. I’m just glad that people have voted and at least watch dramas (foreign) ones that have far superior stories than our current breed. If there were dramas like Dhuwaan, Angaar Waadi, Raahein, Waapsi, Alpha Bravo Charlie etc still being aired, it’d be another story. Sadly, All our writers/channels have settled down on lame love stories 24×7.

    With the internet use rising all over Pakistan. I won’t be surprised if ALL our teenagers/techy moms/girls move to internet based foreign TV. And those channels do deserve our time more than the B-grade content we’re being provided currently on geo and all other channels alike. Not to mention the damned 10mins ads every other 7 mins is massively annoying.
    For now, I refuse to watch the excessive ad-filled low-quality content on any local channels. Oh, and I’m gonna watch an episode of Sopranos without Ads and then probably an episode of MadMen on NetFlix (Thanks god PTA hasn’t considered NetFlix against our beliefts yet and isn’t banned yet unlike youtube)


  • Shoaib
    Dec 27, 2012 - 12:26AM

    Turkish programs are nowhere close to pakistani culture. Infact, Indian culture is much more close to our own. Most people watch them for their entertainment value. Viewer knows what he/she wants to watch. These programs are a piece of fiction and not meant to replace someone’s personal values and religious beliefs(please educate youth and children incase they are learning something wrong in your view). As they say, please take the good and leave the bad. In worst case, please switch the channel if u like. There is no need to panic or worry about any sort of invasion. In the end, comptition is always good. We should make good entertaining programs that everyone will watch.


  • Feb 2, 2013 - 8:19PM

    If you allowing Indian boring dramas to be shown on Pak channels so whats wrong with Turkish Dramas, these dramas are much much better then Indian’s dramas.please do not ban on Tirkish and if you are going to ban then ban all Indian,English and other stuff too.I think our entertainment industry must compete them, thats it.


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