It is quite unexpected to see many educated Indian girls inquiring among each other in the latest story of the Turkish TV serials "Feriha and Fatmagül" or "Kuzey Güney." A country like India, where the daily soaps of "Saas-Bahu" (Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law) have emerged with highest target rating points (TRP), it is still beyond reasonable to think that a foreign series would be selling like hotcakes. However, a new phenomenon emerged on the Indian television screen when the Zee TV's Channel Zindagi started broadcasting different dramas from other neighboring countries in Urdu and dubbed in Hindi languages. The Turkish dramas' increasing popularity is for different reasons. Any Indian travelling to Turkey would encounter youth inquiring about Amir Khan's super hit movie "Taare Zameen Par" or the old generation remembering the epic "Awaara." Human stories have no borders, no limits and no prejudices; they can travel anywhere and find their audiences. So has been the case with Turkey's increasingly popular stories of women in "Feriha and Fatmagül" and "Kya Qusoor hai Amala Ka?"("What is the Fault of Amala?") is the Indian version of "Fatmagül," which has been produced in India and is becoming equally popular.
The Turkish dramas have been gaining a footing on Indian television since September 2015 when the drama "Little Lord" ("Küçük Ağa") was aired on the Zindagi TV Channel, which revolves around the story of a child who is suffering from his parents' divorce. Ever since, it had been a family and comedy TV series touching upon the delicate issue of child psychology, bounding the Indian families to watch the series. The next Turkish drama on Indian TV was "Feriha" ("Adını Feriha Koydum"), which became a huge hit as it directly attached itself to the youth of the country as this drama revolved around the subject of love and the differences between the elite and poor classes of society.
Why these stories are becoming popular and particularly with young educated and working women of India's expanding middle class is a question to be answered. In a country like India, where the people love to watch a lot of emotions and melodrama, the Turkish series presented a particular story line and strong characters together with a realistic set-up. The changing socio-economic context is very important as it brings India and Turkey to common social and political discourses. As the number of women in public places, educational institutes and working places increases, so too become the visibility of crimes and marginalization attempts against women. Women struggle to have their own independent and fear-free space and this is her everyday struggle. Indian women, now very energetic, educated and ready to fight for their rights, see the Turkish women's stories in "Fatmagül and Feriha" exemplifying their day-to-day struggle.
The Turkish stories are easy to connect to because of the strong element of modernity challenged by conservative patriarchal traditions, and also because women are becoming an unavoidable part of modern India and modern Turkey. Turkey's European identity evolves through a mix of Islam, modernity, local Anatolian traditions and Turkic nationalism. Many Muslim women also watch these dramas to connect themselves with a modern tradition where they can raise their voice and ask for their share of dignity and right.
On Dec. 16, 2012, India saw its history's biggest and fiercest agitation against a gang rape incident at the very center of India's political power, the presidential and parliamentary area known as India Gate. Thousands of agitated young and educated women came on the street to protest the rape and the system's failure to stop crimes against women. The images from that protest have made many Indian women more empowered and outspoken. In this context, "Fatmagül's" story of gang rape and the subsequent internal struggle Fatmagül went through can be easily connected by many Indian women. Hence, the Turkish soap operas running on Indian channels reflect the complex subjects in the utmost simple and natural forms with time-bound episodes that are mostly being welcomed in Indian families. It is not that Turkish dramas provide a different or competitive narrative but rather that they complement the ongoing women's struggle in their everyday life.
For a modern Indian family, these Turkish dramas bring them to a space of "women without borders" where Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Arab and larger Asian women find themselves tied with a common struggle and common destiny. Their quest for empowerment, dignity, equality and freedom from intimidation cannot stop just because of language barriers. It is needless to talk about the popularity of Indian movies and dramas in the entire Middle East, as Indian film and TV is a household story of the region. The great Indo-Turkish family is expanding and its local stories are being narrated for a global audience; ordinary stories are becoming the part of their journey to modernity and prosperity where women's stories, ironies and achievements alike are becoming part of "women without borders," bridging the gap between Istanbul and Mumbai.
*Assistant Professor at Jamia Hamdard in New Delhi