“I don’t have anything against Ertugrul,” actor Shaan Shahid tells me, “or against any production that is done well.”
His Twitter feed, however, has lately seemed to depict otherwise.
The veteran actor is often in the news because of his very opinionated tweets and this time around, he is unhappy that the government is supporting the airing of the Urdu-dubbed version of Turkish hit drama Erturgrul on PTV.
“I have never said anything against foreign content being aired on a privately aired channel,” continues Shaan.
“Some years ago, Turkish soaps Ishq-e-Mamnoon and Mera Sultan were such huge hits but they were being shown on private channels. But when a state-owned channel for which I pay taxes extends its support to foreign content – and furthermore, my government especially endorses it – I begin to lose hope.”
According to Shaan, his problems with the airing of foreign content have a lot to do with hope.
“This is an insecure time for the entire world and every working professional has certain hopes. Some of our hopes are the same: a lower foreign exchange rate, less inflation. But then, there are hopes that are unique to an industry.
Certain industries will feel hopeful if their government extends support to them by lowering taxes or providing them with aid. My industry similarly needs to feel hopeful. We need to feel like we aren’t just standing alone, paying our taxes but not being supported.”
“Why hasn’t the government ever tweeted on behalf of a local drama that was a hit? A local movie that did well? Even a small statement of encouragement can go a long way. Instead, they choose to tell Pakistani audiences to watch an international production. The government says that they want to reduce imports but what about cultural imports?”
“And if this drama does well, don’t you think that other similar dramas will also become popular? Even private channels will reduce their investment on local productions and bring in international hit dramas, dub them in Urdu and air them on our channels.”
Shaan suggests that PTV should instead make an effort towards creating stories around some of Pakistan’s heroes. This is a great idea except that right now, with the entire entertainment industry quarantined away at home, grandiose new productions really can’t be started off.
“And this reflects on PTV’s performance. They haven’t created any production in recent years that they can be proud of which is why they have to rely on foreign content during this lockdown. All that the state-owned channel gives us is the news. There hasn’t been any entertainment that has emerged from it in years!”
In this evident sad state of affairs, perhaps the government has decided to promote Ertugrul, with its religious roots, in order boost morale during these trying times. Also, it is likely that this drama is indicative of the strengthening of political and cultural ties between Pakistan and Turkey.
“But how does that make me and others in the industry make me feel? Irani films are also brilliant. If tomorrow, the government starts tweeting about those when they haven’t ever acknowledged local cinema, how would that make us feel? I am a tax-payer and I have been in this business for 30 years now. And a time like this has made me reevaluate things: how can I protect my front? How can I try to make changes so that there is some hope left in the industry for the new producers and directors that come in after me?”
Erturgrul, in its Urdu dubbed version, is evidently raking in high ratings. This may be testament to the show’s superior content but, as Shaan points out, it is also indicative of the limited content that PTV has, even in the form of reruns.
PTI Senator Faisal Javed Khan has also tweeted that the PM wants Pakistani audiences to watch another Turkish series, Yunus Emre, so that they could ‘#knowIslamichistory’.
Meanwhjle, Shaan is tweeting that ‘we need to transfer our pride to our children our stories our successes’.
There was a time when patriotic dramas were a norm – one remembers the short plays created to celebrate the martyrs that were awarded the ‘Nishan-e-Haider’. There was a time when new patriotic songs – ‘Milli Naghmay’ – would be coined every year, close to Independence Day.
But that PTV of yore has been long gone. There isn’t any riveting new content. No celebration of local heroes. Perhaps this negligence can be corrected once the coronavirus lockdown has ended?
For now, its Erturgrul – and then, maybe Yunus Emre.