Return of the Luddites: The hullabaloo over Ishq-e-Mamnu

Published: December 10, 2012

Until we wait for the next big thing on local TV, it is time for us Pakistanis to enjoy the onscreen cheating, flirtatious glances over the dinner table and loosely incestuous forbidden love with a Turkish touch every night at nine. PHOTO:

When a less-than-average foreign TV show dubbed in Urdu on a relatively new and unknown channel sparks an Ottoman invasion on our screens, it is evident that there is something seriously wrong with incumbent TV productions.

It is an established fact that Pakistanis love foreign, especially Indian content. However, it is the biggest mystery as to why anyone was not able to profit from it. Since the early 90s people in Pakistan have been watching ZTV and other Indian channels yet it took more than two decades for someone to take the initiative to monetise this.

Enter, Urdu1 which hedged its bets and launched with Pakistani and Indian shows. In addition to the regular dog and pony shows, it also ventured into dubbed programming.

For the uninitiated, across the world dubbed programming is a common feature of primetime. From London to Brussels, Madrid to Casablanca, Riyadh to Sharjah and everywhere in between, CSI, X Factor USA, Modern Family, Family Guy, Ishq e Mamnu and Gumus dubbed in local languages or with local subtitles either share screen with local programming or are increasingly the only option.

It is not the first time that a Turkish soap has been popular beyond Turkey.

Gumus, dubbed as Noor, run by Saudi-owned, Dubai-based pan-Arab MBC drew in 85 million viewers for its final episode including more than half the number of adult women in the entire Arab world. Commentators present various reasons for its success including for the first time use of colloquial Arabic for dubbing, ground-breaking concepts like equality for women, pre-marital affairs etcetera.

Urdu1 took the cue from our Saudi brethren and used the racier soap Ask-i Memnu for its initial launch. It was indeed a risky bet, as for the first time someone took the huge step of dubbing 150plus-40minute- episodes.

Further, there would be dilemma to edit steamy sequences so that they are fit-for-general-viewing while retaining its sensual charm. And there was a very probable chance that pious Pakistanis would not be able to relate with the binge-drinking Turks.

But relate they did.

Surprisingly Pakistanis loved the Urdu-speaking ladies of the Bosphorus with plunging necklines and rising hemlines. But not so surprisingly, it is causing a predictable out roar from the religious right and centre.

Opinion on the right is crying wolf, and like all ills, bemoaning Pakistan, is calling it a Jewish and American conspiracy to destroy Pakistani values or whatever is left of it.

Did someone not tell them that the people and locales in the show are from the land of the last self-proclaimed Caliphs?

The centre, including people in the media industry, is also crying wolf and asking for trade-protection or outright ban on dubbed programming. After being badly beaten day-in and day-out by Indian programmes in the ratings war, one is clueless as to why the local media industry is still in the ring.

To maintain their share of multi-billion rupee ad market, it makes perfect sense that local producers should up the ante and create programs with good production values. Re-inventing the same morning show concepts the umpteenth time and regressive female characters on primetime would work for some time, but clearly not all the time.

Deal with it.

Adapt and survive.

Until we wait for the next big thing on local TV, it is time for us Pakistanis to enjoy the onscreen cheating, flirtatious glances over the dinner table and loosely incestuous forbidden love with a Turkish touch every night at nine.

Follow Durraiz on Twitter @durraiz 

Durraiz Khan

Durraiz Khan

A Pakistani professional working on Bahrain, Durraiz tweets as @durraiz

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fatima

    Finally! Someone attacked this preposterously-dubbed Turk soap. Good read. Recommend

  • JB

    Well said! People can talk about conspiracy theories and “lets concentrate on the local industry” all they want. Unless our industry brings up programs worthy of our time, there is no way Pakistanis would concentrate on Pakistani stuff. Watching TV is for entertainment. Not public service. The public is not here to ‘benefit the local industry’; they watch tv to be entertained. Recommend

  • Zakarya Manto

    I fail to understand why the ladies love this drama so much. Do people never get tired of the same old tired love stories in these dramas.

    I watch TV shows like Dexter, Breaking Bad and American Horror Story and makes me wonder why we have no similar TV shows on our channels.

    Is the media’s idea of entertaining people is to keep stuffing them with dumb love story soap operas 24×7? Where’s the creativity? Where’s Dramas like Dhuuwaan, AngaarWaadi, Raahein, Guest House, Waapsi??Recommend

  • Ozymandias

    He didn’t attack it. Read it again.Recommend

  • kanwal

    Soaps are all we have and they run me mad! Yes, brong back some thing worth watching! Like Dhwan, and the other quality stuff we could proudly show anywhere in the world. This junk makes me sick. And i am even more sickened seeing the people who actually watch this “stuff”. Aaaaaarrrrrgh!Recommend

  • Fatima

    Why don’t you read it again, hmm?Recommend

  • Go Turks!

    @Ozymandias: true that. he hasnt berrated the show directly but is sarcastic of the overt undertones. the one reason why people are watching this show is becuase the script is awfully straighforward. something that is not found in the local dramas. people confront each other on their face (most of the times, barring the servants who do not have the authority) and throw accusations. local shows on the other hand are churning out the same themes of infidelity, with a nauseous smattering of philosophy right from the rickshaw driver to the main leads.

    if it were just another run of the mill setup like the local dramas, the following might not have been as big as it seems to be now. also, i dont understand all the noise around it, given that we are doing “pretty good” on these themes locally as well.

    i hope the industry takes heed and produces less, with more (more not meaning glamour for God’s sake)Recommend

  • fan

    Love this drama ! a breath of fresh air in ad mist of all our typical dramas . Perfection ! Our dramas are no less , they show cheating , affairs , tragedy . what is the big deal if Urdu one showed a drama on similar lines made my turkish actors ? it was a great experience watching it. Applaud the team Recommend

  • Aina Maria Waseem

    As I see it, there have been three major phases in the Pakistani drama industry. The first, and longest phase included the likes of “Aangan Tairha”,”Samandar” and “Tanhaiyan”, and probably culminated on “Alpha Bravo Charlie”. Then came the first decade of the new millennium. We used to watch and talk “KumKum” and “Kyunke Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”, and we were Recommend

  • Aina Maria Waseem

    There were three phases in the Pakistani drama industry. The first, and longest, included “Waaris”, “Tanhaiyan”, and “Dhoop Kinaaray”, (played in Indian acting academies), and culminated in “Alpha Bravo Charlie”. The second phase, as I see it, was the first decade of the new millennium, when I didn’t feel ashamed of watching such low-quality programs as “Kyunke Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” and “KumKum”, because GeoTv was airing the likes of the eminently inane and never-ending “Tere Pehlu May”. Pakistani drama as we knew it had gone to the dogs. However, HumTV, Abdullah Kaadwani, Sarmad Khoosat and several others, changed that. Now Pakistani Drama is far removed from what it once was, but it is nonetheless at a very high standard indeed. Actors like Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed are captivating audiences who care to watch, with their sheer perfectionism. I see no need to indulge in guilty pleasures like Ishq i Mamnoo. Recommend

  • bangash

    I have been watching HumTV dramas like Humsafar, Bari Aapa and Mar Jayein Bhi to Kya with my wife and they are of very high standard. Pakistani dramas have also evolved, they still contain the mainstay saas-bahu tensions but now include everything from abortion, cheating, murder and kidnapping. No shortage of drama on Pakistani channels.

    I also don’t have much of a problem with the Urdu-dubbed Turkish soaps. They are unlikely to drive any Pakistani channel out of business.I bet many mullahs are also secretly watching the lower necklines and raised hemlines of the actresses on Ishq-e-Mamnu.Recommend

  • Sadaf

    This post is typical of why Pakistan is reduced to it’s present situation. Yes , I know everything is better abroad, why don’t we all just hitch up our skirts , pull down our necklines and bing drink our way to success.? I live in The USA and AL Jazeera English is not allowed to broadcast here . In any industry tariffs are imposed to support local jobs, even in the free wheeling democracy that is America.
    Pakistani Dramas are so good , people are watching them on you tube etc through out the world. Join our discussions at and see the number of Indians, Pakistani Brits and Pakistani Americans and Canadians now commenting on our drama reviews.It is not a question of merit, it is a question of fairness. The frankly repressed general public are simply watching out of vulgar titilation because the people in these dramas wear less and are allowed to act with no inhibitions as to content or style.We would never accept our own industry playing by those rules Well then why stop there , let in the Playboy channel too, if it is just ratings and money which should be the deciding factor. By the way how many of our Dramas are shown in India ?
    This internalised inferiority must be stopped before it spreads. No ,this is not the new wave of Luddites, rather a last stand against the so called Laissez fair capitalism but in reality “Crony Capitalism” which has destroyed the culture and and indigenous industries of many.
    If you wish to call this a conservative backlash go ahead because when you replace a moderate vision of society with vulgar extremes it opens no mind but closes manyRecommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    Its all about Social & Religious values. Durraiz Khan seems to have a penchant for such noxious & Sleezy Dramas. Difficult to watch with your young ones. Recommend

  • Nwaq

    Thank God I do not have low standard to watch this much watched soap.Out of curiosity I keep on asking it’s viewers their interest .I have come across stupidest of reasons like some dumb ladies are impressed by their English looks,some love their glamour etc etc.None of the answers include that our local dramas are boring.They all agree there is nothing special in the storyline.I think our society has become sick to the core and take pleasure in watching plunging necklines along with their families.May God help them with their taste.Recommend

  • JOJO

    “a less-than-average foreign TV show dubbed in Urdu on a relatively new and unknown channel sparks an Ottoman invasion on our screens & incestuous forbidden love”.

    Cearly you hv been watchng it too and still failed to comment on the commendable acting done by the lead actors as well as supportng ones…! Recommend

  • Muhammad AHMED

    The point is not that we like those soaps or not the point is that do the turkish channels or indian channels allow to to broadcast our soaps on their television .The answer is NO! So why the hell we are actually promoting their soaps when we enough our local content .There may be debate regarding the content quality of it , but this quality is improving from time to time. Also , those foreign plays are far away from our local culture and will badly affect the industry too , and no sensible people around the world tend to destroy their own country’s industry….!Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Ishq e Mamnu is not “less than average”. It is a drama made on human characters. The story revolves around mistakes and characters. No one is permanently sane or insane.

    In the meanwhile, listen to this tribute remix:

  • The Khan

    I wonder what’s the reaction of our Mullahs who frequently preach about Muslim Ummat. Recommend

  • Another fan

    Totally agree! A fresh wave of turkish story line.. It was so captivating! Appreciable effort! Love the actor Beren Saat! what perfect expressions she has!Recommend

  • Fari

    I support our drama industry and our actors….. we have so much talent we can make our own reality shows but our channel owners are greedy all they care about is money indians dont even play any commercial which is made by pakistan but our channel they dont care about it everyday i see news about stupid indian actors but i have never seen any news about our legendary actors!! Recommend

  • Scales9

    Pakistani dramas are much better in all respects !Recommend

  • mash

    I always always fail to understand why Pakistanis have to hate the rest of the world to be patriotic. I am a patriotic Pakistani but that does not mean voicing negative comments about every other nation!
    Pakistani dramas have always been good. Dhoop Kinaray, Tanhayian etc are classics. Recently, I also appreciate the revival of good quality plays, especially those with good writers, who contribute meaningful scripts and talented directors and actors.
    Indian soaps are a different story all together. They do not start with an end in mind and hence lose their substanse. There is no substantial story to follow or any literary dialogue to look forward to.
    In the meanwhile, if a reasonably good Turkish drama with good acting, has been dubbed well and we have an opportunity to watch it, why not? The stupid part is that all channels are now running after Behlul and getting his other dramas dubbed. The bandwagon part is truly not making sense. But I like Ishq-e-Memnu.
    Secondly, coming to the more important part about our society and values. For God sake, we watch Hollywood movies Bollywood movies, is this the first time Pakistanis have seen such a thing?
    And I can name ten Pakistani dramas right now in which a married person is having an affair!!
    Such bold topics are being highlighted on our own media, what are you blaming others for? And its a good thing that social issues are shed light upon. Every possible evil is present in our society and closing your eyes to it and blaming everythng on Ishq-e-Memnu is the most illogical thing to do.
    What kind of a closed society do you want? where a girl, fully covered can’t even roam around in the capital city Islamabad without twenty odd men staring consistently? Are these our values?
    NO! and you can’t force them anyways. Millions of Pakistani students go abroad to study, thousands of families live abroad. They make a conscious decision to follow the values they want to with access to all kinds of lifestyles.
    The fact that people can’t help noticing the low necks in this play, shows in itself how immature our society is. Why can’t you notice the brother-sister relationship between Nihal and Bulent? Why can’t people learn from the fact that betrayal does not bring good for anyone? Doesn’t this exist in our society?
    Please! Grow up! Mature! Make sensible choices and stop criticising everything, everywhere only for the sake of criticism. I want us to move forward, to evolve into a conscious society.Recommend

  • Ms. Ras

    Absoultely spot on……

    Most seem to have closed their eyes to so much wrong happening around them…. and low necklines seem to be bothering them too much.

    havent they seen Pakistani models taking a cat walk on the ramp and the shrinking outfit by Pakistnani designers. In any case the drama is about the turkish elite class. Dont they agree that elite class of Pakistan has its own evils. Most of the middle calss watching such soaps are not planning to adopt turkish lifestyle and even trying to change their wardrobes based on the dress sense of cast of Ishke mamnoo. Rather interestingly enjoying the relationship between father and daugter , sister and brother , servants and employers, the governess and the kids. Infact this drama is all about relationships. How relationships get tarnished , how they evolve and how they should be managed. The way director has so superbly worked on the thin story line to prodcues so many interesting scenes is commendable. . Recommend

  • Faisal

    The lady in red looks gorgeous is she the main protagonist?Recommend

  • http://islamabad abc

    @Zakarya Manto:
    Dexter and Breaking bad are awesome!
    watch Game of Thrones tooRecommend

  • Rehan

    This has nothing to do with being a “luddite”. Do you even know what that term means? A luddite is someone who is opposed to technological and industrial progress. People who are opposed to Turkish soaps are not against technology and industry. What on earth gave you that idea?

    I am as liberal as they come. I don’t believe in censorship on “moral” grounds. For all I care, you can show pornography on television.

    But, what I am opposed to is having foreign-imported products ruin our local businesses. Trade protections and tariffs are not part of some conservative backlash. They are a logical response to helping the local economy grow. When we produce content at home, we employ actors, writers, camera people, technicians, etc, etc who then put the money they earn back into the local economy.

    Every country in the world has some sort of trade protections for its cherished local industries. To support the local economy does not make you a “luddite” or a “conservative”.Recommend

  • Zakarya Manto

    Yes I’ve seen GoT and am eagerly awaiting the upcoming season in March.
    I recently picked up Suits and loved it. Also watching The Newsroom and it’s also very nice. Have you watch Six Feet Under (the same Dexter guy stars in it).

    THese are fabulous shows. I wish one of the local TV directors picked up similar topics and ran these dramas around 8pm so some of our population picks up interests in other topics like mystery, suspense, sci-fi etc. Right now all they’re feeding our new generation is love stories, and more tiring love stories.Recommend

  • Red


    I disagree. For every person who is watching Pakistani dramas abroad, there are more who are watching American dramas IN Pakistan. I don’t watch soap operas. I don’t care which country they belong to. It’s not about the clothes they wear (the suggestion, btw, is preposterous…no one needs to sit through a soap opera if they want to see skin…internet, hello?). Not everyone decides on shows based on our liberalism or conservatism. Some of us care about different story lines than a typical soap opera can offer. Others just like watching foreign movies and shows for the different flavor…clothes, language, customs, story lines, even the acting and directing can be vastly different and exciting! There are people in all parts of the world who watch movies and shows from different countries just as they listen to music from different countries. I frankly think it is a positive trait. From my Slovakian roommate who learned English by listening to songs to my native English speaking friend who has a taste for Bollywood movies, let’s all appreciate the diversity in the world and allow each other see and enjoy what we want to and try out new things!

    Before I sign off, I’d also like to point out that it is hardly a “Pakistani” trait (as is obvious from the article as well). It’s not even an Eastern trait. Talk to people of different nationalities. Almost invariably they will be borrowing music, movies and other media from neighboring countries particularly if they can understand the language (Malaysia and Indonesia, for instance). Caribbean music went global. There have been exchanges between Africa and South America. Trust me, it is very common. Music usually goes first because it doesn’t even require you to understand the language. Gangnam Style, anyone? Relax. Experiencing and learning from different cultures is a part of being human. Historically it was limited to who you could physically encounter. Now it’s global. The more, the merrier, I say!

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to a French film…I’ve had my fill of British films for this month =)Recommend

  • raheela s.zafar

    the said play is nothing than an old wine in new glasses,
    what attracted people is the difference they observed in the culture, scenic beauty of Turkey, fresh faces,costumes and the polite expresion of Turks, that is markedly different than the not so polite expressions of some of our local languages.
    but if the same type of plays are thrown again and again,they will not be palatable Recommend

  • Parvez

    This Turkish soap just proves that television dosen’t have to be good for people to watch.Recommend

  • mash

    @ Ms. Ras.
    Thank you for understanding my point of view and supporting it.
    Exactly, so much is going on in our own country, especially if you have a look at the fashion scene which does not even provide any worth while entertainment to the public.
    And yes, all the actors have done a brilliant job in playing their role. The relationships have been shown interestingly.

    @Red: Agree with you.
    Although people say music and art have no boundaries and can be appreciated by anyone.
    Still, millions of artistic works are translated and dubbed in different languages so that the people who do not understand that language can have a feel of it and learn about other cultures and people.

    Globalization is no more an alien phenomenon. Open up your hearts and minds, learn to co-exist guys. This does not mean giving up your values, but in fact improving them by making a conscious decision of what you want to do and what is right for you.Recommend

  • x

    It’s the timeless tale of forbidden love and affairs which are even churned out by our local industry but what makes it so refreshing is that its done without the hypocrisy and preaching which are standard fare in our dramas. the cheating woman has more to lose and it is she who gets more emotionally involved than the man, it is a fact of the nature of men and women but it is dealt with so sensitively and beautifully that one’s heart feels for the woman. in addition, there is no black and white, clear good or evil, there are mixed shades and characters. the depth and relatability of the characters is what makes this drama stand out. it’s a soap, not a deep meaning intellectual show. but good fun, intense emotions and so addictive!Recommend

  • Yamna Hassan

    My only concern after reading this article is the overwhelming pessimism that exists in our nation! What’s wrong with a Turkish soap garnering appreciation from Pakistani audience? Instead of criticizing the move, we could simply use these foreign dramas to improve our production/direction quality and sense of style. The reason why this drama was a hit was because our audience needs change!

    As long as I have observed, our nation watches good qaulity Paki dramas with equal interest as well. Why all this hostility if they show the same interest towards a foreign drama? Recommend