by Paola Cesarini
“Adını Feriha Koydum” (AFK) successfully aired to great domestic ratings for two consecutive seasons. It then spread like wildfire across Latin America, Eastern Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East. Ten years later, it remains one of the most successful Turkish TV exports of all times, with a considerable bloc of devoted fans worldwide, and a constant supply of new viewers each day. On the 10th anniversary of the series’ first broadcast, this article explores the reasons behind the extraordinarily enduring appeal of “Adını Feriha Koydum.” In so doing, it inevitably includes spoilers about the show, so please be warned!
For a very "soapy" and, at times, excruciatingly slow series based on an old-fashioned poor girl/rich boy cliché, shot mostly in the claustrophobic interior of a squalid basement apartment, and distinguished by an uneven script, two extremely young and (in the case of Çağatay Ulusoy) unexperienced protagonists, and a veritable array of despicable supporting characters, “Adını Feriha Koydum’s” resounding success is nothing short of a miracle. And yet the series is not only very good but also extremely addictive to the point of encouraging repeated viewings.
Several factors conspire to generate “Adını Feriha Koydum’s” counterintuitive popularity. The first is the story itself. In one fell swoop, the series sequentially employs at least three basic emotional arcs of storytelling that, according to academic researchers, form the building blocks of virtually every tale known to man. Following Kurt Vonnegut’s famous classification, AFK starts indeed with a Cinderella arc, continues with two sequential man-in-hole arcs, and concludes with an Icarus-type tragedy. In practice, this implies that over the course of its sixty-seven episodes, “Adını Feriha Koydum” engages viewers in a veritable rollercoaster of emotions, punctuated by a great deal of frustration towards the protagonists’ stubbornness, and the seemingly endless cruelty they suffer. Indeed, above and beyond the powerful romance, “Adını Feriha Koydum” offers an incredibly satisfying smorgasbord of human pathos, which includes heartbreak, betrayal, abuse, prejudice, discrimination, bullying, poverty, greed, jealousy, miscommunication and death. In so doing, it provides the same kind of guilty but irresistible pleasure that one might derive from witnessing a train wreck.
As the series begins, Feriha Yılmaz’ life appears so miserable that viewers can scarcely imagine it getting any worse. The good news comes in the guise of a scholarship to one of Istanbul’s most prestigious universities, which gives her the opportunity to escape the squalor of her family’s condition. College life, however, brings a very unexpected development in Feriha’s personal life when she draws the interest of Emir Sarrafoğlu, the school’s most privileged and handsome playboy. Their romance peaks at around a quarter of the way into the series, but their happiness is unfortunately short-lived. When, at the end of season one, Emir discovers that Feriha lied about her true identity, he breaks their relationship abruptly and sets out to exact revenge.
At the start of season two, the former lovers engage in seemingly endless confrontation. Along the way, however, they also make steady progress towards mutual understanding. When Emir and Feriha eventually reunite, their moving marriage ceremony in the snow provides a brief ray of hope in the series’ relentless drama. Complications, however, forcefully re-emerge, including their families’ virulent opposition to the relationship, financial difficulties, a dangerous mobster, and a fraudulent pregnancy in connection with one of the young man’s revenge-driven one-night stands. Just when our lovers finally overcome all challenges and viewers are fully warmed up for a happily ever after, the series delivers a wholly unnecessary tragic epilogue in the very last 90 seconds, which several foreign broadcasters have thankfully cut from the series.
“Adını Feriha Koydum’s” script is at its best when it narrates Emir & Feriha’s budding romance, relates the brutal consequence of her lies, and chronicles the couple’s attempts at rebuilding trust. The series, however, would have benefited from eliminating the last few iterations of Feriha’s deception, and several improbable characters (e.g. Halil, Bülent, Rüya, and Yavuz.) Most importantly, “Adını Feriha Koydum” should have ended at episode 52 with Emir and Feriha’s hard-earned honeymoon on the Island. By then, their beautiful romance had come to the natural (and happy) conclusion that both the protagonists and the viewers rightly deserved. Indeed, the last 15 episodes add very little to the main story. They also regrettably shift the series’ focus away from the relevant social and psychological issues, which AFK brilliantly explores up to that point.
This brings us to the second reason behind “Adını Feriha Koydum's" success -- namely its ability seriously to delve into important issues through meaningful interactions among its main characters. The first substantive theme, which “Adını Feriha Koydum” tackles is, of course, truth. Humiliated her whole life by the rich for being the doorman’s daughter regardless of her natural physical and intellectual talents, Feriha hopes that a university education will grant her the chance at a new life. To afford such an opportunity, however, she lamentably feels the need to camouflage her origins. She dresses in fashionable but borrowed clothes, pretends to travel by taxi, and reveals nothing of herself and her family. Following her encounter with Emir and his privileged entourage, however, her initially harmless omissions progressively turn into intentional fabrications. At the peak of her deception, Feriha portrays herself as the well-traveled daughter of a wealthy but extremely strict hotel-owner and his beautiful wife, who live in the building where her father works as a janitor.
Did Feriha really need to deceive in order to gain acceptance in her new environment and Emir’s affection? Or would he have fallen in love with her anyway? “Adını Feriha Koydum” cleverly avoids giving clear answers to these questions, leaving it up to the viewers to make up their own minds. In this author’s opinion, Feriha’s behavior stems from a combination of insecurity, self-preservation, and cowardice. As she begins to panic at the perspective of losing Emir, her white lies progressively morph into ever-increasing fabrications. Her cognitive dissonance turns into denial. And Feriha herself starts to believe her own falsehoods. At that point, her situation is ripe for disaster. At the heart of the matter, however, lies the fact that life has taught Feriha not to trust the likes of Emir when it comes to accepting her for who she really is. Blinded by her own prejudice towards the rich, she may have thus initially failed to give Emir the benefit of the doubt he probably deserved.
On the other hand, Emir is clearly a sensitive soul, who suffered considerably in the past and rejects many of his dysfunctional parents’ high-society values. He is stubborn and arrogant, but he is also smart, generous, and caring. Moreover, as the series progresses, he clearly experiences a great deal of “adulting.” His listening and communication skills improve and his emotional intelligence and ability to empathize increase. He becomes more open to making meaningful connections with others beyond his social circle, and he slowly but surely figures out better ways to solve conflicts than with his fists. In the end, truth liberates both from their respective prejudices. His love for Feriha compels Emir to recognize his privilege and, in turn, forgive her lies. Once she discards her fears, Feriha finally comes to trust Emir and their love.
The second issue discussed in “Adını Feriha Koydum” is social justice. The series does a good job illustrating the vicious cycle of hardship, discrimination, and desperation that traps Feriha’s family and so many others into poverty. Money is a constant focus of the series, be it for the Yılmaz’ lack thereof or for Hande and Cansu’s careless spending. The economic chasm that separates the young lovers is most effectively represented when Emir, in a fit of rage, throws Feriha’s engagement ring into the sea. A ring that, if sold, could have easily solved all of her family’s financial woes.
The greatest divide in “Adını Feriha Koydum” is, however, cultural. Hande, Cansu, Ahsun, Ünal, and the other members of Emir’s privileged circle are fully modernized members of Turkish society, whose outlook on morality and relationship among the sexes is virtually identical to that prevalent in western countries. The arrogance, entitlement, and sense of superiority, which they derive from their wealth, knows no boundaries. Feriha’s father Riza and her brother Mehmet, on the other hand, are faithful representations of the anachronistic Turkish patriarchy. Poor, ignorant, intransigent, and somewhat obtuse, they nevertheless lord over the female members of the family regardless of the fact that both Zehra and Feriha are their superiors in all respects. The power they derive by virtue of their masculinity only rarely leads them to question their judgment, with disastrous consequences for all.
While Emir and Feriha’s worlds could not be more different, “Adını Feriha Koydum” makes a valiant attempt to mediate between the two. Emir, Koray, and even Lara are far less hung-up on their high-class status than others, and hence more open to dialogue. Levent, in particular, honestly attempts to bring reciprocal appreciation and understanding between the opposing sides. What is more, in “Adını Feriha Koydum” both rich and poor families are distinguished by similar parental failures and misplaced understandings of honor. Thus, when Feriha and Emir experience rejection from their closest relatives, they are free to build their own alternative world, where the old barriers no longer apply.
The final key reasons for AFK’s success are the protagonists of the series: Çağatay Ulusoy and Hazal Kaya. “Adını Feriha Koydum” would have never achieved so much success without them. First, the camera simply loves these two young actors. As Emir, Çağatay had us at "Merhaba." Throughout the series, he is truly a pleasure to watch on account of his handsome looks and naturally elegant demeanor. The actor has declared that, among the various roles he interpreted, Emir is the closest to his own personality. Perhaps, for this reason, Emir results extremely convincing. As his acting grows progressively more confident, Çağatay himself appears to mature along with his character. No doubt it took a considerable amount of chutzpah for the young model to accept the lead role in a high-profile dizi as his first TV employment, with little or no previous acting experience. His boldness, however, handsomely paid off. “Adını Feriha Koydum” brought him domestic as well as international fame and launched Çağatay's acting career in ways that he could have never imagined, when he accepted the role.
Hazal Kaya as well is perfectly cast as Feriha. With virtually no make-up and a series of unflattering attires, she still manages to hypnotize audiences with her mesmerizing eyes, which are able to express love, contempt, fear, and determination with uncommon intensity. Her character experiences several complex transformations during the series. We meet her first as a bright-eyed little girl with an enormous chip on her shoulders. As she starts university, we watch her attempt to live the double life of a high-society debutante and subservient traditional female. Once the truth comes out, her suffering and regret are sincere and very impactful. So, however, is her resilience and determination to fight for her love.
An unlikely pair in many respects, Çağatay and Hazal’s on-screen chemistry is nevertheless pitch-perfect. Especially in the central part of the series, when Emir and Feriha’s longing for each other following their traumatic breakup literally pierces the TV screen. With their natural talent and dedication to their craft, they make Emir and Feriha’s romance entirely believable. Time and again, their struggles bring viewers back to one fundamental truth: Emir and Feriha’s love is as quintessential as it is inescapable. This is probably why, despite the shocking finale and the bungled "Emir'in Yolu" spin-off, “Adını Feriha Koydum” remains legendary. And why lots of devoted fans continue to hope that Çağatay and Hazal might work together again in the future.
Overall, the cast of “Adını Feriha Koydum” delivers a remarkably strong ensemble performance. In addition to Çağatay Ulusoy and Hazal Kaya, the series benefits from several other outstanding interpretations. Vahide Gördüm/Perçin delivers a subtle yet strong performance as Feriha's truly wonderful mother Zehra. In 2011, the series suffered an immense loss once she was compelled to abandon the set for medical reasons. While both the writing and casting for the other female roles leave somewhat to be desired, Metin Çekmez (Riza), Melih Selçuk (Mehmet), Yusuf Akgün (Koray,) and Barış Kılıç (Levent) display remarkable interpretations of flawed but complex male characters.
Ten years later, AFK reminds us of the power of classical storytelling. A Cinderella/Romeo & Juliet tale, the series plucks the strings of universal -- and universally enduring -- human emotions that transcend language, ethnicity, culture, and religion. It also shows that satisfactory entertainment needs first and foremost a good story and a talented cast. A successful series can bring a relatively unknown protagonist to stardom, but a bad one can easily undermine the career of even the most brilliant of actors. As fans still clamor for a reunion between Çağatay Ulusoy and Hazal Kaya in another project, the most amazing thing would be to bring them together to narrate a different conclusion for AFK. If “Dallas” could resuscitate Bobby Ewing, there is surely a way to portray “Adını Feriha Koydum’s” tragic epilogue as a nightmare and, in turn, give Feriha and Emir the happy ending they fully deserve.
@ Article Copyright by Dizilah and Paola Cesarini
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