“Yeşilçam” continues admirably to educate viewers on the key social, historical, and political issues affecting Turkey in the 1960s, whose unresolved legacies still linger in the country today. What is more, it continues to stir the debate around taboo subjects that are only rarely discussed on Turkish television. Last but not least, “Yeşilçam” keeps on putting a big smile on our faces by alternating drama with very clever humor.
Episode 7 opens with a collage of the main protagonists’ misery perfectly underscored by the music and lyrics of Funda’s “Çaresizim” (I Am Desperate.)
Following his break-up with Mine, we find Semih sitting on a rumpled bed, where he just spent the night with a prostitute. Given Semih’s attractiveness and his mother’s former profession, this appears as a clear act of self-hatred. Mine pretends to sleep while Reha comes back to their illicit love nest, for fear that he might detect her distress. A heartbroken Tülin cries over Semih while consigning their photo to the pages of “Hep O Şarkı” (Always the Same Song) -- Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu's masterful 1956 novel about unfulfilled love and regret during the final days of the Ottoman Empire. And last, following Aysel’s mysterious death, Hakan indulges in guilt and self-pity.
Next, Reha informs Mine over breakfast that he is aware of her involvement with Semih. Confident of her manipulation skills, Mine attempts to dissimulate and the question appears closed. In reality, however, Reha is very angry and plotting revenge. He starts with meting out punishment to Semih. By instigating the censorship of the young producer’s movie, Reha is pushing Semih on the verge of bankruptcy. Now, pretending to help, he cruelly dangles before the younger man the money that could repay Semih’s debt with Izzet. Then, he proceeds to set his conditions: Reha will help Semih in exchange for Tülin’s contract and his commitment to work for him in Adana.
Reha then sets his sight on Mine. He first transfers Izzet’s “nationalistic” film to Vehbi and instructs the latter immediately to realize it with Tülin as the protagonist. In turn, he orders Vehbi to suspend work on Mine’s film. Realizing that Reha is intentionally boycotting her career, Mine tries to lure him back in, but she too faces humiliation when he fails to show up to their make-up dinner. Next, she decides to seek Izzet’s “protection.” Interestingly, the more desperate her situation gets, the more revealing her attires become.
Unfortunately, Reha is not the only one seeking to hurt Semih. Izzet, who is somehow connected with the sinister Rifki, instructs the latter to include Nebahat and her family on a secret list of ethnic Greeks, whom he seeks to purge from Yeşilçam. Sure enough, Nebahat and her family start to receive disturbing threats, which are eerily reminiscent of the build-up to the Greek pogrom of 1955 (click here to learn more.) Izzet also proceeds to humiliate Semih in person in the course of a tense meeting. Çağatay Ulusoy’s excellent acting in this scene renders full justice to Semih’s broken pride and mounting desperation.
Following Reha’s diktat, Semih informs Tülin that he is forced to transfer her contract. During a rather awkward meeting, the producer clumsily explains that they can no longer work together because his company is bankrupt. All the girl understands, however, is that Semih is using censorship as an excuse to replace her with Mine. Their failure to communicate is very disappointing, especially in light of their relationship so far.
Izzet, Tülin, and Reha meet in the latter’s office to discuss the politician’s “nationalistic” film. The young actress is hesitant to work with Vehbi on a movie that reeks of propaganda. When Reha becomes insufferably condescending towards Tülin, Izzet takes advantage of the situation. Taking Tülin’s side, he succeeds in looking remarkably open-minded in comparison to Reha.
The close sequence of shocking letdowns, which he just experienced, has taken a toll on Semih. When Hakan finds him alone in his office, Semih appears unrecognizable. The strong, charismatic, stubborn, and tenacious man, who was always able to get back up after falling down, seems gone. In his place, there is a self-loathing individual, who sees himself only as a screw-up, a loser, a con artist, and a thief. In vain, Hakan tries to cheer him up. Next, a very drunk Semih sits at Erol’s Bar, where the talented Ezgi Köker is appropriately singing “Harab Oldu” (Ruin Happened.) When Tülin enters, their eyes meet. Semih’s gaze shows shame and regret, while hers betrays disappointment but also a concern.
The next morning, Semih announces to his collaborators his decision to close Büyük Ateş. Surprised by this turn of events, Mümtaz and Hakan finally reveal Reha’s dirty tricks and his relationship with Mine. With blind rage replacing self-pity, Semih is shaken into action. He finds Reha at a restaurant, where he publicly denounces his treachery and illicit affair and promises him retribution.
Episode 8 opens with Semih dressed as Mandrake entering a small room. Costa, his boy self, and his young adult self are sitting behind a table, where eight empty Turkish coffee cups lie face-down. Costa invites Semih to sit and play a variation of the notorious “shell game.”
Under one of the cups, Costa places a handmade glass bead characterized by a blue glass field with a black dot superimposed on a white center. We are talking, of course, about the “Nazar Boncuk” (the Turkish “evil eye,”) -- an ancient Turkish amulet believed to repel evil spirits, and offer protection from jealousy and harm.
Costa then shuffles the cups and instructs Semih to pick the empty ones. Semih guesses 6 times correctly. When there are only two cups left, however, Costa tells Semih that he must now pick the cup containing the bead. Faced with a different game, Semih appears confused and meets the gaze of his younger selves for guidance. They, however, give him the wrong signals, and he picks the empty cup. When Costa declares: “You lost, Semih Ates,” the dream seems to realize his worst fear. It also suggests that Semih/Mandrake’s habitual tricks may not be enough to get him out of his current predicament. On the other hand, the dream may also indicate that Semih should stop making decisions based on the past, and shift his focus towards the future.
Reha’s wife pays him a visit. There is clearly no love lost between the two. She enquires about his relationship with Mine as if she were asking about the weather. He denies it with a straight face, faking contrition. Their marriage is a farce, and their conversation amounts to an empty ritual triggered more by her concern for malicious gossip than a broken heart. The scene qualifies Reha once and for all as a monumental prick. Indeed, he may be even worse than Izzet, who at least has the gall of being evil to someone’s face.
After being turned down by Izzet, Mine realizes that she can only count on herself. She then proceeds to threaten Reha with revealing their affair to his wife, unless he gets off her back. This time around, she is the one to humiliate him. Meanwhile, Semih has a brief bout of regret for throwing Mine into the gossip mill. He admits to Hakan that his outburst at Reha was probably unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. There is, however, no hesitation on Semih’s part in dismissing Mümtaz Bey, guilty of betraying him for the second time. Had he told the whole truth about Reha earlier, Semih might not have fallen into his trap.
While Tülin is still upset with Semih, he remains very much on her mind. Why else would she be reading “Grev” (Strike) by Orhan Kemal -- one of Turkey’s foremost realist 20th-century writers, who penned stories about injustice, unemployment, and the daily struggles of ordinary workers? She also learns from her gossip-loving mother the truth about Mine and Semih’s relationship.
Meanwhile, Semih sends to Vehbi (and Izzet) notice that Tülin is still under contract with Büyük Ateş. Therefore, she cannot participate in their “nationalistic” movie. In this way, Semih hopes to get enough compensation to start repaying his debt with Izzet. Tülin, however, feels very humiliated. The men are playing a trading game with her as if she were a piece of merchandise. She thus goes to Semih’s apartment and gives him a piece of her mind. After their exchange, Semih looks like he has been hit by a ton of bricks. He starts to realize the full impact of his actions on Tülin and, perhaps, also the true nature of the young woman’s feelings towards him.
Next, Tülin seeks comfort in the intelligent company of Kuvvet and Belkis. Belkis presses Tülin to reveal the identity of the man responsible for her heartache. Kuvvet, however, quickly changes the topic of conversation.
Semih makes a deal with Rifki: he will find the comrade, whom Turgut regularly meets with, in exchange for Nebahat’s and the screenwriter’s safety. Looking around in Turgut’s room, Semih finds a clue indicating that he is about to meet his comrade at Davut’s Winery. When Semih follows him, he finds out that he is a policeman and proceeds to share this information with Rifki.
Vehbi visits Semih to deliver Izzet’s proposal: Tülin’s contract in exchange for his debt. Surprised, Semih asks why Izzet values the young actress so much, Vehbi confesses that the politician is interested in the young woman for more than her acting. This induces Semih to reject the deal. Clearly, selling Tülin to evil Izzet marks a line in the sand that Semih is emotionally unable to cross.
Belkis is informed of Reha’s diabolical plan to ruin Semih and Mine. She then seeks her son to offer him financial assistance, which he again refuses. It is interesting to note that, while Semih appears open-minded and tolerant with all sorts of people, he cannot bring himself to show understanding for the mother, who abandoned him as a child.
Semih proudly informs Nebahat that he secured safety for her and her family. Thanking him profusely, she however announces that she is moving to Greece. She and her family in fact believe that, even if they were allowed to stay, the anti-Greek policies of the Turkish government are unlikely to cease. Their conversation brings Semih to several realizations. Perhaps, it is beyond his power to stop injustice. Perhaps, it was not his fault that Costa died. And, perhaps, success and material possessions lose importance when the price to pay is a lifetime of guilt, doubt, loneliness, and fear. At the end of episode 8, Semih returns home to find Rifki arresting Turgut.
ISSUES & REFERENCES
The 1964 Expulsion of Turkey’s Greek Community. As it turns out, Nebahat’s fears are fully justified. Indeed, in 1964, the Turkish government unilaterally renounced the 1930 Greco-Turkish Friendship Treaty; implemented a series of discriminatory policies that included forced economic dispossession; and ordered the immediate mass expulsion of the remaining Greek minority in Istanbul.
There is still debate among experts on whether these policies were part of an overall Turkish state-building strategy dating back to the 1920s or constituted a reaction to the 1963 crisis in Cyprus. Be it as it may, Prof. Kaliber from Altınbaş University estimates that between 1964 and 1965, the Greek population in Turkey declined from 80,000 to only about 30,000. ‘The 1964 expulsion marks the beginning of the end for Turkey’s Greek community, whose mass migration continued throughout the 1970s.’ Today, there remain less than 2,000 ethnic Greek in the country.
Sexual Capital. In episodes 7 & 8, “Yeşilçam” wades into the treacherous waters of contemporary debates on beauty, sex, and the workplace. More precisely, through the juxtaposition of Mine/Belkis and Tülin, the series questions whether it is justifiable for individuals (and especially for women) to use their “sexual (or erotic) capital” to get ahead in their profession and, more generally, in the world. Indicating a combination of pleasant appearance, sex appeal, social attractiveness, personal charm, fashion sense, liveliness, fitness, etc., the controversial term “sexual (or erotic) capital” first appeared in a 2010 book by sociologist Catherine Hakim. In it, she claimed that -- in addition to economic, cultural, and social capital -- each individual also possesses sexual (or erotic) capital, which he/she can (and should) use to advance in society. In the same book, Prof. Hakim also argued that, because sexual/erotic capital is independent of class origin and sex, it is ‘socially subversive.’ In other words, sexual/erotic capital has the potential of posing a threat to the prevailing male-dominated power structures.
While Hakim’s theory remains contested -- and certainly problematic in the “#MeToo” era -- both Mine and Belkis put forward similar arguments in “Yeşilçam.” In episode 7, for example, Mine chastises her brother for judging her relationship with Reha. Where was his concern for her morals while he was accepting her financial support? And why is a sexually liberated woman negatively labeled a whore, while a promiscuous man (like Hakan) is positively described as a womanizer? Selin Şekerci’s volcanic performance as a cornered Mine is very impressive. She manages to inspire sympathy, even while trying to manipulate her brother into silence. Mine may personally abhor the “casting couch.” However, she feels no remorse for excelling at a game, whose rules she had no role in creating. Within the unjust world of Yeşilçam, she is proud that she is not a victim.
On her part, in episode 8, Belkis reiterates to Tülin her firm belief that, in a world dominated by men, women can achieve change only by pretending to conform to their assigned roles. They need to keep their eye on the ball, regardless of how men treat them. Tülin looks confused as if it had never occurred to her before that she might need to compromise her values for her career. Tülin’s naiveté is exactly what renders her appetizing to a predator like Izzet. Stuck in a world where women are labeled as either virgins or whores, Tülin may yet reject this dichotomy altogether.
Turkish Porn. In another bold move, “Yeşilçam” explores the history of Turkey’s “erotik sinema” through Faik and Hakan’s attempts to earn money in this sector. Thus, in episode 8, Hakan decides to shoot a porn film to help Semih get out of debt. Thanks to Bora Hakkaş’ fabulous interpretation, this scene provides precious comic relief in the midst of high drama. Seeking to include a coherent narrative in the porn flick, Hakan directs his “performers” to act out a story where a “lady” hires a plumber to “unclog her pipes,” only to be interrupted by her husband’s arrival. When canary-obsessed Mükerrem – i.e., the female protagonist’s beefy pimp – shows up instead, hilarious chaos ensues.
In 1964, it was certainly possible for someone like Hakan to produce a Yeşilçam porno. Already in the 1950s, in fact, the Yeşilçam industry had started to produce movies, where sexy actresses engaged in suggestive scenes. These stars were then often featured in “adult” magazines, which were readily available on the newsstands of Turkey’s main cities. A fully-fledged porn film industry, however, began in earnest only in the 1970s, when the advent of television reduced the popularity of cinema. With films ranging from comedy to romance, adventure, western, murder, and mystery, Yeşilçam porno culminated in 1979 when 131 out of the 193 films produced in the country included erotic content. As in other X-rated movies from around the world, Turkish porn featured low budgets, cheesy music, awful photography, and nonsense stories. Films often trivialized gender-based violence, but sometimes also ridiculed male domination through assertive female characters. The sector was legally suppressed after the 1980 military coup and experience a revival only in the late 1990s by Turkish producers living in Germany.
“Yeşilçam” will go down in Turkish TV history as one of the most progressive dizis of our time. In just eight one-hour episodes, the series has covered more ground than it was possible to imagine, boldly exploring historical traumas, taboo subjects, and enduring controversies. It has also supplied a colorful selection of interesting characters, who – for the most part – are both multi-dimensional and constantly developing.
With two episodes left in season one, “Yeşilçam” is less likely to introduce new characters or additional issues. Instead, we can expect the series to focus on the evolution of Semih’s character. Now that his debt with Costa appears settled, and his relationship with Mine concluded, what is next for our favorite producer? What has he learned from his recent crises? How will he repay his debt to Izzet? Will he ever make a film again? How will he manage to get together with Tülin, given the current state of their relationship? Will Semih ever forgive Mine or Belkis? And what will he do about Turgut’s arrest?
While the remaining episodes may yet provide resolution to some of these questions, there is however no doubt that season one of “Yeşilçam” will close with a cliffhanger (or two, or three…) -- just to keep viewers’ interest alive until the much-awaited release of season two.
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For more information about Çağatay Ulusoy visit the Cagatay Ulusoy International website and its various social media platforms.