The new cultural cross-pollination in Pakistan, but Bollywood obsession remains

The rising popularity in Pakistan of Turkish television series ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ has raised prospects of a larger Pakistan-Turkey collaborations and how these are being encouraged by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has criticized “Hollywood-Bollywood vulgarity.”

Mahendra Ved Jul 07, 2020
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The rising popularity in Pakistan of Turkish television series ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ has raised prospects of a larger Pakistan-Turkey collaborations and how these are being encouraged by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has criticized “Hollywood-Bollywood vulgarity.”

“We are smitten,” Maliha Rehman declares in ICON, Dawn (June 28, 2020) after interviewing Esra Bilgic, the leading lady of the series, who enacts the character of Princess Halime Sultan, the wife of the main character Ertugrul Ghazi. The Pakistani journalist wrote on how the drama series and its artistes from a country 3,000 km away have become more popular than in their own country, and how they are planning to connect with their new-found fans in Pakistan. The series is aired in PTV and is dubbed in Urdu.

The Turkish cultural factor 

The glamorous Esra is waiting for COVID-19 lockdown to end to visit Pakistan, and plans to appear in advertising campaigns endorsing three “most loved” Pakistani products, Rehman said in her interview after managing to cut through the language barrier. However, the journalist was not able to get the names of these products.

“Yes, better late than never!” Esra confirms. “We will meet when all this is over when I will be working with Pakistani brands. I’m sharing, for the first time, that I’m about to work with three of Pakistan’s most loved brands." She also has a documentary that may require travelling through Pakistan.  

Other media reports say, local artists and models are upset at this prospect and are slowly getting vocal.

Esra, however, wouldn’t be the first foreign artist in Pakistani ad campaigns. Compatriot Nazan Saatchi endorsed Lux toilet soap in the 1980s. Back in 2004, the Lux Style Awards held in Dubai had featured performances by Indian stars Priyanka Chopra and popular Bollywood playback singer Sonu Nigam.

The visits of Pakistani and Indian artists to each other’s countries have always depended on relations between the two countries. All four Bollywood Khans – Aamir, Salman, Shah Rukh and Saif Ali –  enjoy immense popularity in Pakistan.

Bollywood has helped revive the fledgeling cinema theatres for a better part of this century. However, in the last two years, Pakistani artistes like Fawad Khan, Javed Sheikh and Mahira Khan have stopped acting in Bollywood films and Indian artists have stopped appearing n Pakistani ads – all due to the strained relationship between the two countries.

“Now, Ertugrul’s cast could very well become part of Pakistani markets — be part of our home-grown events and collaborate with our brands. In the short run, this could be a downer for our local actors. But with strategic planning, it could open up new avenues in the long run, and be the impetus needed for local TV to improve,” Rehman writes.

The incorporation of Esra and other stars from the Turkish series in Pakistani media “could also, ideally, lead to a cross-pollination of cultures.” Some of Pakistani television’s more exceptional productions could also perhaps be dubbed and aired in Turkey. “Perhaps, in the long run, our stars could acquire similar extensive fan followings in Turkey and, maybe, even brand sponsorships,” wrote Rehman.

'Nepotism in Bollywood'

Besides, the fascination with the Turkish drama, the tragic death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who ended his life by committing suicide on June 14, was extensively covered by Pakistani newspapers, magazines and TV. Some even wrote about how actors like Deepika Padukone have openly talked about battling depression. The Express Tribune (June 22, 2020) reported that the Bollywood actress took to Twitter to share an “important distinction that some might overlook in the avalanche of recent discussion.” “Repeat After Me. Depression is not the same as sadness. Repeat After Me. Feeling depressed is not the same as feeling sad,” the newspaper quoted the actress tweet. 

With Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, the debate on nepotism and favouritism in Bollywood, a much talked about topic, also found wide mention in Pakistani media.

The fallout of such issues is a problem common to both: toxicity on social media. Some quoted actress Sonakshi Sinha on how she quit social media to retain her mental peace. Another Bollywood actress Kriti Sanon, who has also worked with Sushant Singh Rajput, was quoted as saying, "It''s strange that the otherwise trolling, gossiping world suddenly wakes up to your niceness and positive sides once you are gone.

"Social media is the fakest, most toxic place and if you have not posted RIP or said something publicly, you are considered not to be grieving, when in reality, those are the people grieving for real. It seems social media is the new ''real world''.. and the real world has become fake," Kriti's tweet was widely quoted in Pakistani media. 

(The writer is President, Commonwealth Journalists Association.  The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at mahendraved07@gmail.com)