ISLAMABAD: A family watches a Turkish drama series telecast on state-run channel PTV Home.—AFP
ISLAMABAD: A family watches a Turkish drama series telecast on state-run channel PTV Home.—AFP

ISLAMABAD: Dubbed the Muslim “Game of Thrones”, a drama about the makings of the Ottoman Empire has sent Pakistan wild this Ramazan, smashing television records but exposing the country’s lack of original content.

The Turkish-made series has earned praise for its focus on historical figures from the Muslim world who have been framed as role models for Pakistani youths, and the Urdu-language version of the show has racked up more than 240 million views on YouTube alone. “I prefer to watch it with kids, so they can have real-life superheroes instead of fictional ones,” said Hassam Mustafa as he settled down at his Islamabad home to watch the series with his nieces and nephews after breaking his fast.

Resurrection: Ertugrul has gripped audiences with its daring protagonist, cliffhangers and high production values since it began broadcasting on the first day of the holy month.

Usually state broadcaster PTV fills its Ramazan programming with live charity fundraisers, quiz shows and religious content.

But with the virus stifling television studios, Prime Minister Imran Khan issued special instructions to the broadcaster to air the series in a bid to boost Islamic culture and values among young people.

“Over here, we go to Hollywood then Bollywood and back again — third-hand culture gets promoted this way,” Mr Khan told a group of YouTubers recently, referring to the influence of foreign shows. The five-season series tells the story of Ertugrul, the father of Osman I who founded the Ottoman Empire, which ruled parts of Europe, Western Asia and North Africa for more than 600 years.

“The response has been incredible, it’s really great to see how the show is resonating with Urdu speakers around the world,” said Riyaad Minty, digital director of TRT, which produced the series. PTV said viewership has been unprecedented, with the drama fetching ratings five times higher than average.

Featuring heartthrob heroes, westernised heroines and picturesque scenery, dozens of Turkish soap operas have made it onto Pakistani television channels since 2012. But a dependence on imported content is a source of frustration for some Pakistani artists, producers and directors who bemoan prime-time slots being given to a foreign show.

PTV once used to produce the subcontinent’s best soap operas but has suffered in the face of rising competition from private channels.

“It’s a cheap re-run, a temporary filling. If we truly want PTV’s revival we will have to bank on local talent,” Samina Ahmad, a veteran television actress, said.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2020