SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir
Once annoyed at his colleagues' hours-long discussions of a Turkish TV series, Kashmiri public relations professional Mukhtar Ahmad Baba was shocked to find it was not simply an imitation of Indian soap operas.
Hooked after watching the first episode of Resurrection: Ertugrul, Baba, like many Kashmiris, binge-watched the acclaimed historical drama -- a great feat considering its 150 episodes lasts over 10 days back to back.
Fast becoming Turkey's main cultural export to the Indian-administered region, many Kashmiris find Resurrection: Ertugrul to be highly relatable.
Set around the deeds of 13th-century Ertugrul Gazi, warrior and father of Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, it depicts the struggle between a minor group of Turkish nomads in Anatolia against a myriad of adversaries, from Christian crusaders to Mongol invaders.
Baba’s takeaway: "Every Kashmiri must watch it. A small tribe of 2,000 people triumph. It's inspirational. If you have a goal and the will to achieve it, nothing can come in your way."
Why would a Turkish series resonate among Kashmiris, especially in their history’s most troubled phase? Writer Najeeb Mubarki said Kashmiris watch the series as entertainment but also absorbed its political message.
"We might be a landlocked place, besieged, but we have always been receptive to what comes from the Muslim world and the narratives we can relate to. Ertugrul definitely has a political agenda, like the Indian series on Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in the mid-80s," Mubarki said.
Mustafa Akkad -- director of renowned historical films including Lion of the Desert and The Message -- was well received in Kashmir even as unrest against India boiled over in the late 1980s, Mubarki said.
The political subtext of the series so appealed to Ahmad Raafi, a publishing executive, that he "couldn't help laughing with the characters when they laughed and crying when they cried."
Raafi said he watched all 150 episodes in 50 days last summer and mentally connected each of the characters to someone in Kashmir.
"The best thing about the series is that no matter what, [it shows] the people fighting for a just cause should never lose hope. Surrender is never an option," he said.
Faraz, an academic, calls himself "Ertugrul watchers' watcher". He takes pride in being among the select few who had watched the series before its popularity washed over the region.
"Most youngsters immediately see this as a break from what they have been watching. For example, the Knights Templar, who are valorized in western productions, are shown in a different light but without demonizing all Christians. For once, Muslims are not the 'other,'" he said.
Faraz added that Resurrection: Ertugrul was the story of a small group's struggle against internal and external enemies.
"Films like Braveheart and Patriot evoke similar feelings among oppressed people like Kashmiris, but Ertugrul appeals to Kashmiris at the cultural level," he said, adding that the actors' customs and mannerisms resembled those of Kashmiris.
Muhammad Irfan, who watched the series more than two years ago, said Kashmiris found it cathartic because it "ends in a victory," something he added the Muslim world had not seen since the Industrial Revolution.
Echoing Irfan, Wasim Ahmad, an orchardist, said the timing of his watching it was important.
"We had been annexed when I watched it. My father and I would watch it every day from morning to two [o'clock] in the afternoon. The series' recurring themes are struggle, tyranny, oppression, suffering, identity and justice. That makes it our story too," Wasim said.
Flash drives carrying Resurrection: Ertugrul soon began exchanging hands last year after New Delhi placed Kashmir under continuous lockdown having scrapped constitutional provisions providing a certain degree of autonomy and protecting the region's demographic character.
Ertugrul's influence has started manifesting in daily life. In moments of exaltation, friends greet each other with exaltations used by its characters, with some using its signature music as their ring tones. According to Irfan, those who had internet access searched the web to see the actors' appearance in real life. Nazir Ahmad, an education official, said he had gotten a cap custom-made with the symbol of the Kayi -- the tribe Ertugrul Gazi led -- emblazoned on.
A few people have even become known for being able to procure the latest episodes. Irfan Fazil, a PhD student at the University of Kashmir, is one. Noticing that most watchers were youngsters who could not afford laptops but had smartphones, he bought a 128-gigabyte cellphone-compatible flash drive and stuffed it with all five seasons.
"They watch it on their phone now. The demand is growing by the day. Many adults have requested the Urdu-dubbed version. It has become easier for me also. I no longer have to carry those bulky hard drives," Fazil said.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.