‘Resurrection Ertugrul’: A Befitting Turkish Response to ‘Game of Thrones’

Many people will stop reading as soon as I say this – I’ve found a show which is more exciting than Game of Thrones. A couple of days ago, I discovered a Turkish show called Resurrection Ertugrul or Ertugrul Ghazi (in Urdu), which was all over social media. Since I’d previously nurtured an affinity to the (now banned in India) Zindagi channel, which had introduced the phenomenon and gift to womankind called Fawad Khan, I thought I’d give it a shot. I was skeptical because as Indians, we’re a lot closer to Pakistani content and language than to the Turkish milieu.

The show revolves around a 13th century warrior called Ertugrul who is the father of the founder of the Ottoman or Usmanid Empire, Usman. It portrays the problems and more often than not, catastrophes faced by his nomadic Kayi tribe before they founded the caliphate.

A couple of days ago, Imran Khan admitted to binge watching the show, to which his countrymen gave hilarious responses as to why he should concentrate more on ruling rather than being addicted to shows. After this chastisement, they went back to watching the show themselves. I read an article about how this was a long awaited show on positive Muslim representation in entertainment, and that is why it was appealing to the Islamic world. It shows Muslim and Christian characters with rounded personalities, which is a pleasant change from the constant vilification and oversimplification that the representation of their characters and journeys are subjected to, as can also be seen in the mild to in-your-face Islamophobic content in recently made Indian films.

But I want to change this affirmation to say that it is appealing only to the Islamic world right now because it has only been discovered by the Islamic world. I am culturally distant from Turkey and not someone who binge watches shows, but I was blown away.

As someone who has studied film, I couldn’t help but notice and compare its production value to that of Indian and Western content. Realistically speaking, do not expect hyper-real special effects and top of the line animation. But these makers have really gone all out with the resources that were available with them. The show has all the essential tropes of a drama to make it exciting: a righteous but flawed protagonist, a worthy antagonist, a supportive family which can fall prey to the whirlwinds of time, friends as thick as kin and a lover who he can fight the world for (by the name of Halime Sultan, who is played by an actress called Esra Bilgic and has one of the most striking faces I’ve seen).

The main characters have well-designed/well-choreographed sword fights which they pull off without batting an eyelid. It’ll be best if you can choose to ignore what the junior artists are doing in the background. It reminded of a recent Mahabharata meme that was shared which zoomed into a junior artist playing dandiya in the background during the war. All the main characters can ride their horses well while they also seem to be extremely comfortable with their animals. I could see that all of them have been continuously trained with the same animals throughout for this very purpose.

The background score is exhilarating but I couldn’t help notice that they have created five stock scores according to moods to be used for the entire season. The women wear beautifully designed costumes, but they’ve been given a wardrobe of five costumes that last an entire season. But, I can forgive these things easily for the excitement these makers have lent me otherwise. In addition to this the actors are good-looking AND they can act really well.

Also read: ‘Paatal Lok’, ‘Special Ops’ and the Good/Bad Muslim Dichotomy in Indian Cinema

A key difference between this historical drama and fantastic western dramas we’ve seen is the lack of gore and nudity. Even though blood and gore is blurred, they do not restrain themselves from writing it into the screenplay. There is absolutely no nudity or even kissing, but I am not the least bit ashamed to say that whatever there is, still gives me butterflies because the screenplay has made me invest myself into these characters. Another feat that the writers have achieved is that they have retained excitement throughout the extremely long seasons that they write. I will not mention the number of episodes in the first season here because I want the audience to find out for themselves. I finished all of them in one week.

As the show spreads across different countries, I’m sure that we’re going to be reading different articles about the representation of women, how they’re not given much to do compared to the men, the demonisation of shamanic rituals etc., to which my only response would be – let’s take one step at a time. I can argue that it is being realistic by not showing women on the battlefield or not engaging in politics but I won’t. They show a woman slowly rising to a key position of power and discouraging domestic violence. That is enough for me, for now.

As for the lack of gore and nudity, I’d like to see it as a progressive sign that they don’t pander to the sensationalism of violence and sexuality. I will appreciate a piece of content along with its cultural context. The only thing that makes me whine a little is the sermons that are incorporated in the show. Personally, I believe it slows the show down but does a good job of highlighting the peaceful teachings of Islam. In case you want to skip them, move right along. You won’t miss anything that is crucial to the plot and storyline. A true sign of a show’s success is the number of brickbats it gets along with the bouquets.

I would recommend that everyone watch the show, albeit a few episodes. We can learn a lot about exciting storytelling from Turkish filmmakers. It is available with English subtitles on Netflix and on Youtube with Urdu dubbing.

Featured image credit: Netflix