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Pakistani TV star Javeria Abbasi applies makeup on her face before acting a scene in the drama serial “Mere Apne” or “My Loved Ones,” at a studio in Karachi, Pakistan. — Photo by AP
Pakistani TV star Javeria Abbasi applies makeup on her face before acting a scene in the drama serial “Mere Apne” or “My Loved Ones,” at a studio in Karachi, Pakistan. — Photo by AP
Pakistani actors Abid Ali, second right, and Javeria Abbasi, third left, act in a scene in the drama serial “Mere Apne” or “My Loved Ones,” at a studio. — Photo by AP
Pakistani actors Abid Ali, second right, and Javeria Abbasi, third left, act in a scene in the drama serial “Mere Apne” or “My Loved Ones,” at a studio. — Photo by AP
Pakistani actor Khawar Hussain speaks during a voiceover recording on a Turkish drama serial. — Photo by AP
Pakistani actor Khawar Hussain speaks during a voiceover recording on a Turkish drama serial. — Photo by AP
Pakistani actress Tasneem Ansari speaks during voiceover recording on a Turkish drama serial. — Photo by AP
Pakistani actress Tasneem Ansari speaks during voiceover recording on a Turkish drama serial. — Photo by AP

Ottoman Turks never expanded their empire as far as today's Pakistan, but some here fear their descendants are now launching a cultural invasion — via popular soap operas that Pakistani artists and politicians say threaten the local TV industry and the country's conservative Islamic values.

Some of the Turkish shows feature actresses wearing miniskirts and showing cleavage, a far cry from the billowing shalwar kameez garments worn by most Pakistani women that hardly reveal skin.

The shows, which have taken Pakistan by storm over the last year, are attractive to local TV operators because they are much cheaper to buy than Pakistani dramas are to produce, and also feature more elaborate costumes and sets.

"It is a big challenge," said Abid Ali, a veteran Pakistani TV star, while filming his latest show, Mere Apne, or My Loved Ones, in Karachi. "Turkish shows have very expensive productions our industry can't afford."

The spartan set of Ali's show, which chronicles the sad life of a young girl after her parents die, helped prove his point. The entire episode was filmed in the living room and driveway of a small rented house in an upscale area of Karachi. The actresses used the only bedroom on the ground floor to apply their makeup, and the kids who lived in the house were scolded for making too much noise while they were filming. Since there was only one camera, they had to shoot each scene three times from different angles.

One of the most popular Turkish shows in Pakistan right now is Mera Sultan, or My Sultan, a period drama about the powerful Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent. The show is no Game of Thrones, but it does feature ornate Ottoman-style sets, scenes with horses and archery and beautifully designed costumes.

"There are multiple reasons behind the success of Turkish drama serials," said Athar Waqar Azeem, a senior vice president at Hum TV, one of Pakistan's leading entertainment channels. "Freshness, better and beautiful locations and new faces attract Pakistanis."

One episode of a Turkish drama costs a Pakistani TV station about $2,500 to broadcast, while the production of a Pakistani show can be four times that amount, Azeem said.

The popularity of the Turkish shows has sparked concern from Pakistani politicians. The Senate committee responsible for information and broadcasting said at the end of last year that it was worried the shows would harm Pakistan's TV industry and featured content that ran counter to local cultural norms.

Pakistani TV star Javeria Abbasi, who co-stars with Ali in Mere Apne, agreed, saying "if a Pakistani actress wears a miniskirt, nobody accepts it, but Turkish actresses are gaining popularity in these costumes."

Turkey is also a majority Muslim country but is generally more liberal than Pakistan. Sometimes Pakistani TV channels blur miniskirts and low-cut tops worn by women in the Turkish shows in the name of propriety.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who heads an Islamic-based party, has expressed concern about the content of Turkish shows. Last year, he accused the producers of Mera Sultan, which is called Magnificent Century in Turkey, and others of "playing with the nation's values."

The Supreme Court of Pakistan also expressed concern last year about "obscenity" shown on local TV. The court specifically mentioned shows made in India, Pakistan's neighbor and archenemy. Indian shows have been popular in Pakistan for much longer than Turkish ones, and have sparked many of the same concerns. The popularity of Bollywood movies has also harmed Pakistan's local cinema industry.

Pakistan is far from the only country to experience the growing influence of Turkish TV shows. Turkey earned more than $60 million in 2011 from exporting over 100 TV series to more than 20 countries, according to the Oxford Business Group.

The shows have also sparked concern in the Middle East, where Muslim preachers have accused them of being un-Islamic and urged the faithful to change channels.

The popularity of Turkish shows in Pakistan has benefited at least one group in the media industry: voice-over artists who translate the dramas from Turkish into Urdu. The pay isn't great — $20 to $40 per episode, which takes about eight hours to dub — but it's enough to make a living.

"For the first time in the history of the voice-over industry, there is enough work for an artist because of Urdu dubbing of Turkish serials and soaps," said Tasleem Ansari, a veteran voice-over artist, who was working out of a cheap apartment in Karachi. "Before this trend, voice-over artists could only perform in commercials."

Ansari said she wasn't persuaded by those who argue that the Turkish shows threatened Pakistani cultural norms.

"Local actresses and models also wear miniskirts on television programs and at award functions," Ansari said. "I agree that these costumes do not match Pakistani culture, but Turkish drama is all about Turkish culture, and people like it and have accepted it."

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Comments (37) Closed

Rahul Nov 26, 2013 01:17pm

Opportunity to export moral police to Turkey

Sana Nov 26, 2013 01:35pm

we are supposed to lead, that is the muslims, we are to set an example how to live and provide a guidance to the rest of the world because we have the best guidance in the form of the Quran and the Sunnah, which will lead to salvation, all other routes take you to destruction. we all believe this as a muslim but still we are not living upto it. instead of leading we very easily get influenced by unislamic values be it hollywood,bollywood or now the Turkishwood. although Turkey is a so called muslim country but the content in their episodes is far from islam. We are a confused nation , we need to sit back and see which road leads to heaven and which to hell, and not only help ourselves but take the beautiful Sunnah way of living the life to all the mankind

rich Nov 26, 2013 01:54pm

in an open world these things will happen

Ali Imran Nov 26, 2013 02:06pm

The simple truth is that Turkish dramas are better in every way and cheaper to broadcast and until we start competing on the same scale Pakistani produced dramas cannot hope to win, As for being contrary to islamic culture what about all the indian movies and dances that are shown on television and the access to cable networks showing western shows etc. Maybe we should stop trying to uplift the religious morality of our country ( a highly hopeless quest by all means) and do something about the basic infrastructure for once.

Akram Nov 26, 2013 02:18pm

why do we not tax the import of such media, in the same way we tax other goods to protect our own industries?

its important for our media and drama industry to thrive, not only creating jobs but also giving this nation control of its identity.

Masoud Nov 26, 2013 03:26pm

Electronic media especially Television has become a major tool of enjoyment for most of the Pakistanis wanting to enjoy their evening in the peaceful environment of their home. Pakistani dramas & other indigenous shows still offer a family together environment for joint viewing. Sadly enough some TV channels most probably for commercial reasons broadcast TV programme especially the item songs & other Bollywood scenes that are most embarrassing to watch in a family environment. There may be some who don't mind such adulteration in the otherwise clean programme of Pakistan origin, a majority of the viewers don't approve them. Some clean Indian dramas, shows etc are also being broadcast without the ugliness of semi nudity etc are OK. Our TV channels should realize that on their shoulders also rest the responsibility of grooming the viewers with healthy stuff compatible with our culture. Running after money alone without other considerations is in bad taste & accountable.

Pakistani Nov 26, 2013 03:30pm

No majority is being impressed by Turkish dramas in Pakistan. This is just an effort to turn the Pakistani dramas also to vulgarity and this is also happening. Please do not claim that Turkish dramas are popular in Pakistan. I think it is totally spurious. I am an ordinary Pakistani. Most of Pakistanis like our traditional dramas. Please give up this false claim and do not bring vulgarity in our local dramas. Pakistanis will not watch vulgar dramas.

oBSEVER Nov 26, 2013 03:44pm

The Turks have not launched this invasion but this is an inside job partially due to poor TV Dramas unlike the 70s to 90s and cheap commercial interests quite contrary to National interests. Sadly very weak overseeing is also a major factor.

umee Nov 26, 2013 04:25pm

Basic economic fact: the existence of competition improves any industry.

Mani Nov 26, 2013 05:04pm

For heaven's sake can some one please spot the obvious. Turkish or Indian or any other brand of soap for that matter excel in pureistan primarily because they are better quality. Hotter actors and classy decor matter but just. Making it expensive won't do much if there is isn't half decent writing behind it. It about characters, plot and the all important drama. Pakistani shows play to the galleries, keeping it safe, the system lacks true artists. They are more business and little art.

doc Nov 26, 2013 06:13pm

what about the imapct of indian films on our film industry.... ???? Indian channels... indian cartoons.... even national geographic in hindi... ??????

Nishat Aleem Nov 26, 2013 06:49pm

has anyone tried to translate Pakistani play and market them in Turkey?...Pakistani plays are already making a mark in the Middle East, UAE and Indians buy DVDs of reason why they would not be popular else where too!!...ppfffttttt!!! don't know why we feel threatened instead of rising up to the challenge!!

Kamal Gupta Nov 26, 2013 07:22pm

If you permit religious oversight, direct or indirect, on the entertainment business, you will kill it. The only TV shows left will be Televangelicals. Blaming Turkey or India or Hollywood is merely avoiding facing the issue.

Face the facts. Pakistanis, like all South Asians, are inherently liberal. The so-called religious values are an imposed import from the Arab countries. Iran has been trying to impose religious prudishness, but under the veils the liberalism of its people has remained alive. The Roman Catholic Church tried its level best to impose religious prudishness, but as education spread, this was "overthrown" by the people.

Har Nov 26, 2013 07:31pm

While on line you can see everything what is the use of dress code on TV.

Agha Ata Nov 26, 2013 07:49pm

Pakistan is not satisfied at all with its own standards, fashions, fads and trends, It hates American's influence, all Western influence, and Indian influence; they are UN-Islamic, they say, and now . . . it shows its dislike even for Turkish influence. What the heck? Fashion- wise all nations are advancing towards one single point. Just look at the change during the last 60 years. From burka and no burka, from no-hair- cut to hair- cut, from no jeans to jeans, hijab to no hijab . . . the list is long. R e l a x people. Change is the only permanent thing in the world. Besides, you can't stop mighty evolution!

GM Nov 26, 2013 11:27pm

Healthy competition is always good.We, as a nation do not want to compete. We just want easy way out on all matters of life.

Fahad Nov 26, 2013 11:33pm

I don't understand why these "some" are threatened by Turkish TV dramas, while these "some" are not threatened by Indian TV dramas. Turkey is the only country who supported Pakistan in every front.

Perciever Nov 27, 2013 03:14am


Hypocrisy at it's best :)

Perciever Nov 27, 2013 03:20am

@Ali Imran: Well said.

Khan Nov 27, 2013 04:22am

I'd rather take the influence of our Turkish brothers and sisters over the anti-Pakistan Hindustani dramas any day...Long Live Turkey, and shame on those who feel threatened by them yet embrace the dramas across the border.

Shahpur Nov 27, 2013 04:27am

Modern Turkey is a lost nation. Some think they are Greeks, others think they are the Turks descendants of Ottomans, and some think they are a creation of the mythical mind of Mustafa Kamal Attaturk. Erdogan thinks, he is a born again member of Muslim Brotherhood, and can bring Egypt and Turkey under one rule. He thinks he will capture Syria, so on, and dominate the region as an Ottomans Ruler. Only thing Erdogan thinks is that "PEDRAMM SULTAN BOOD". However, he even has banned this TV Show, at the Turkish Airline. Turkey should give this TV SHOW FREE to anyone who wants to view it. This is a Propoganda TV Show, Pakisn needs some FREE ENTERTAINMENT, but not for any amount of money.

Xulfjan Nov 27, 2013 05:59am

When we wont or cant compete, we feel threatened!! They forget that cleavage can never replace good television..period!!

PRVN Nov 27, 2013 12:42pm

@Sana: Why u r always worried about afterlife? Is there nothing to do in current life? The most dangerous thought process of islam , a real nuclear bomb threating rest of d world.

Jamal Nov 28, 2013 12:38am

Pakistani dramas are much better than Turkish dramas in everything. I see no competition And also HUM TV is for Pakistani around the globe also and not just for Pakistani inside Pakistan. HUM keep it up. Bring novelty and creativity and a lot of joy for all.

Lo Nov 28, 2013 02:37am

Turkey is the best role model in the Islamic world. No religious intervention.

GA Nov 28, 2013 04:24am

We see obscenity in everything. What is not obscene to us is the murder and mayhem taking place in Pakistan. Disease, filthy cities, polluted environment, hunger and illiteracy doesn't even ruffle our feathers.

jawaidmanzoor Nov 28, 2013 06:32am

If there is anything thing to Pakistan culture, but alone a cocktail largely borrowed from the British Raj, if now the Bollywood train people literally dream in, or the old time Hollywood culture that still exists, at least the Ottoman Turks have a genuine history that has been a pride for Muslims to draw on including common historical elements - well learn, even if out of historical brotherhood. If there is some financial cost much less this nonsense of distortion of Pakistan's culture, more out of all this is really the die- hard efeciendos who only know to cry wolf in the name of Mera Pakistan.....Well, practice before preach.


BNS Nov 28, 2013 06:57am

And how are they able to produce more expansive sets, more pleasant shows, hire more expansive and more astists, cover diversified subjects at 1/4 of the costs? Why cant Pakistani producers follow the same formula they use?

Show business always has to be attractive, pleasant and fun so people can enjoy and relax. Consider any successful show business industry world over, it is always more open, advanced and modern than everyday life of people of that country. It provides a window into future, a wave of freshness and a fantasy to its viewers so they forget challenges of their daily life and have fun. Since Pakistani shows are very depressing, lack freshness and are very conservative, rather backwards, to the extent of literally preaching, people are bored and are starved of entertainment. Any change that offers them what Pakistani shows are misssing attracts them. Why blame others? I hope Pakistani producers learn their lesson and remind themselves what business they are in.

farooq Nov 28, 2013 07:51am

What about the stage shows and movies we produce in pakistan. How do that relate to our culture?

Aqdas Nov 28, 2013 07:52am

well Brazilian soaps are huge in Spain as are Korean dramas in south east asia.I don't agree with the cost factor, Pakistani dramas used to be the best irrespective of cost, Because the writers worked hard on their stories and the actors identified with the people. Ever since we started aping others we lost our creativity and Midas touch. Lesson is : Don't Ape! Go Back to our original successful base start building on that and you will back to the heights where you were before.

Big Pimping Nov 28, 2013 12:08pm

If Pakistani artists continue to produce quality like Humsafar/ Tanhaiyan etc then the people should not worry about anything. If people want to watch sub standard dubbed dramas they can. If they dont want to then they wont. Simples :)

Jeeves Nov 28, 2013 01:01pm

@Shahpur: If Turkey is a lost nation, then Pakistan is more lost than it.

Sachin Nov 28, 2013 01:07pm

Let Pakistan come out with some good TV serials. I am sure they will be readily accepted in India much more than any other country in the world. Pakistani producers can work with Indian TV industry and get financing- part or full. Also Indian TV industry is looking for quality programs at reasonable costs as costs have shot up here. Pakistan is the only nation where they can collaborate given the fact that we at least 'look alike' and also speak alike. I think this is a great moment for Producers in Pakistan to innovate and you can create your own outsourcing industry of entertainment. If Turkey can earn $ 60 million, your partnership with India can earn you many times of that... Think about it

syed Nov 28, 2013 01:09pm

well here is the theme of Pakistani dramas these days... just quantity, no substance...

..... one wife, 2 wives, 3 wives

..... one lover, 2 lovers, 3 lovers

saas vs bahoo vs a 3rd party ...

and in between they remember Allah a lot these days... like they just converted to islam or something !!!

camon.... have some dignity people !!!

when trash is all you see... foreign is what you will get in between as well.. and don't look at TV... ask first who has cleared these dramas for going on air? who censor them? who approve foreign material?

Rafi Ka Deewana Nov 29, 2013 12:39am

Art is a trait that can only flourish when there is freedom. Freedom on all fronts. Can anyone imagine what could have happened to Bollywood had it not been allowed to use Muslim artists? Rafi, Nargis, Naushad, Dilip Kumar, Waheeda, and a thousand more. Pakistan's only identity is - anti-India. So, anything Indian is not acceptable. The irony is, no Arab country cares about Pakistan either. So, it is stuck in between with no where to go. If Pakistan had accepted India, today we would have actors and singers, and musicians crossing borders both ways on a daily basis. The conditions in Pakistan are much worse now. So, if it didn't happen back then, chances are it'll never happen (at least, on a large scale).

saint Nov 29, 2013 01:24pm

you just need to producr better and fresh challangeing stories. as someone once said that if art is not sedicious - challanges society and thought - you are no different than a shoe maker. if someone remembers intelligent tv from the 80s like 50-50 they will know what current pakistan tv is missing.

bkh Nov 29, 2013 01:58pm


Pakistan culture need improvising and adaptation of new values, shedding hang over of the Indian caste system out of its culture