Edward Said wrote in Culture and Imperialism, “Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings.”

Reading Fatima Bhutto’s latest book New Kings of the World: Dispatches from Bollywood, Dizi, and K-Pop makes one think hard about what Edward Said — the father of postcolonial studies — said and how some 20 odd years after the turn of the century, the East has started to take its narrative in its own hands.

The book takes the reader on a world tour from South Asia to Dubai, Turkey, Lebanon, Peru and all the way to South Korea. It analyses how pop culture is consumed in these regions and how the tide has turned on Hollywood, under the light of shifting global trends.

Fatima Bhutto’s latest book shows how the East has started to take its narrative in its own hands
Fatima Bhutto’s latest book shows how the East has started to take its narrative in its own hands

“Changing demographics, more than better cable connections, explains this shift. In 2015, over one billion people left their homes in search of a better life,” she writes.

Through her in-depth reporting and research, Bhutto chronicles how American soft power is not able to endure the tough winds of globalisation and how Turkish soap operas, Bollywood films and K-Pop are giving Hollywood a run for its money. These cultural shifts are dominating a new trend in pop culture.

The Turkish dizi (“soap opera”) Magnificent Century broke the 2008 Guinness World Record that American soap Bold and the Beautiful had set. The latter was watched by 26.2 million people worldwide in 2008, whereas the Turkish dizi took the lead in 2016 with a viewership of 200 million people.

The book is full of vivid descriptions and lucid journalistic narrative which, stylistically, is very similar to Joan Didion’s work. The book also has its amusing moments — the unapologetic sass with which the author defends the Pakistani cricket team on T20 cricket, is definitely one.


One of the consequences of globalisation has been the creation of an audience that wants their entertainment to be a reflection of who they are and mimic their values.

For example, “A poor young woman in Guatemala has a much harder time relating to millennials in Girls than she does with Bihter, the protagonist of Aşk-ı Memnu, the popular Turkish soap opera about young Istanbul woman who marries a much older, wealthy man as she reels from the death of her father and her family’s insolvency,” Bhutto writes.

Bhutto starts the book closest to the city where she was born. She takes the reader through the clustered streets of the Qissa Khawani Bazaar in Peshawar which she says is “a legendary bazaar of storytellers.”

Renowned Bollywood actors Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor were born in the vicinity. But the house bearing the crown jewel in the neighbourhood is the house where the father of Shahrukh Khan, arguably the most famous actor in the world, was born.

“As I leave Qissa Khawani Bazaar…I see Khan’s face everywhere,” she refers to the many advertisements bearing the actor’s likeness.

A large portion of the book’s first half is dedicated to Shahrukh Khan and his sprawling fandom worldwide. In Dubai, Bhutto profiles Shahrukh drenched in all his opulence but also paints a humanising portrait of the chocolate hero we are used to seeing in films, one that drinks way too many Nespressos in a day.

Shahrukh Khan has millions of fans all over the world
Shahrukh Khan has millions of fans all over the world

“He smiles often but shyly, checking first to see if you are smiling too. If you are, the hero’s full lips widen and dimples appear in his cheeks.”

She travels with him in his helicopter to the location of an Egyptian TV show that he is filming for. As you read on, you try to crack Bhutto’s neutral journalistic persona and decide if she is also a Shahrukh fan or not; just like when Shahrukh gazes out of the helicopter window before descending towards the TV show set in the middle of the desert and she can’t tell if he is acting or not.

Bhutto profiles Shahrukh drenched in all his opulence but also paints a humanising portrait of the chocolate hero we are used to seeing in films, one that drinks way too many Nespressos in a day.


Bhutto then takes you all the way to Peru in South America and introduces you to multiple Shahrukh Khan fan clubs operating under various names.

All the Shahrukh fans she meets there are indigenous Peruvians. “Bollywood in Peru is not an elite interest. It belongs to the struggling and aspirational...” she writes. She interviews a 72-year-old cancer survivor and widow, who found solace during the turbulent years of her life by turning to Shahrukh’s movies.

Bhutto goes to great lengths in explaining India’s neoliberalism and the rise of Hindutva in the country. This helps in understanding various trends within the narratives and storylines of Bollywood films over the years.

Likewise, in the second half of the book she details Turkey’s Neo-Ottomanism as an explainer for the international rise of the dizi. Neo-Ottomanism itself ascribes to Turkey’s engagement with regions that were once a part of the Ottoman Empire.

Neo-Ottomania has become a worldwide phenomenon
Neo-Ottomania has become a worldwide phenomenon

The Turkish dramas first made their way to the subcontinent because they were cheaper to buy. They quickly gained momentum and “blazed through the subcontinent and far and beyond because their heroes were modern, but not Westernised.”

My Western-educated, millennial husband, who grew up reading Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, is obsessed with the Turkish dizi Ertugrul because he says he gets to see heroes who are Muslims and they don’t happen to be the bad guys in the show as we are used to watching in Hollywood films and American shows.

The diversity in storytelling and characters which look and sound somewhat relatable are also key reasons for the popularity of the Turkish dizi in North Africa as well as the Middle East and the subcontinent.


Ertugrul happens to be the same dizi that Prime Minister Imran Khan has requested Pakistanis to watch. When a premier of a country requests its nation to watch a TV show of a different country, it proves how successful its soft power is. Or as Bhutto puts it, “regardless of which voice was being used to blend nostalgic Turkish history with entertainment, the goal has been accomplished: Neo-Ottomania is a worldwide phenomenon.”

It was reported that despite the internet shutdown, Kashmiris are also watching Ertugrul. Similarly, when Bhutto visits Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon she meets Khadija, a Syrian refugee who watches the Turkish dizi because she says, “I’m living in war. I want to watch romance.”

The diversity in storytelling and characters which look and sound somewhat relatable are also key reasons for the popularity of the Turkish dizi in North Africa as well as the Middle East and the subcontinent.

In the last 20 pages of the book, Bhutto writes about K-Pop’s popularity around the globe. South Korea found the opportunity to invest in the entertainment industry after an IMF bailout, which culminated in the form of K-Pop.

K-Pop has gained popularity all over the world, including Pakistan
K-Pop has gained popularity all over the world, including Pakistan

Popular K-Pop song Gangnam Style's YouTube video broke all records and became the first video in history to hit over a billion views in 2012.

However, as you reach the end of the book, it leaves you a little unsated with the amount of coverage K-Pop has received as opposed to the Turkish dizi and Bollywood which are covered more thoroughly.

Additionally, in the last few pages of the book, China is mentioned very scantily and with all the talk of global hegemony, superpower, soft power, it leaves one wanting to read more about China’s relationship with popular culture as it is on track to become a superpower.

Through her in-depth reporting and research, Bhutto chronicles how American soft power is not able to endure the tough winds of globalisation and how Turkish soap operas, Bollywood films and K-Pop are giving Hollywood a run for its money. These cultural shifts are dominating a new trend in pop culture.


The book is full of vivid descriptions and lucid journalistic narrative which, stylistically, is very similar to Joan Didion’s work. The book also has its amusing moments — the unapologetic sass with which the author defends the Pakistani cricket team on T20 cricket, is definitely one.

Fatima Bhutto has produced a noteworthy creative non-fiction book that will definitely help the reader understand the popularity of the Turkish dizi, the (almost) global Bollywood daze, the rise of K-Pop and how the masses are tuning into the narratives provided by these as opposed to what they are used to seeing in Hollywood.

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