Two odd months ago, Halime Sultan swooped into Pakistan, the Seljuk warrior princess turning a dominating eye towards our local audience and ensnaring it immediately.
She was the quintessential ‘Islamic’ heroine; beautiful in her traditional headgear and headdress, as brave and righteous as her hero, the infamous Ertugrul Ghazi. She was also an indication of what Pakistani audiences apparently want to see.
Pakistan has been smitten by the tale of Dirilis: Ertugrul ever since the Turkish drama began airing on national TV, dubbed in Urdu. It is the ideal pretend-Islamic story — though there is almost no historical evidence of it being true and even its scriptwriter has admitted it’s mostly made up.
It is laced with religious references and has lead characters that are absolutely holier-than-thou, valiantly vanquishing villains while never straying from the straight and narrow path of all that is blessed. It’s all a bit too good to be true, but when it comes to stories from history, it seems that’s how audiences like them.
Similarly, Pakistan has been smitten with Princess Halime. She presents a heady concoction: covetable but also meant to be respected, the perfect mother, daughter and sister but also the love interest of Ertugrul, traditional in appearance but quite capable of fighting for honour and fending off villains.
Local audiences have seen plenty of overtly made-up glamour girls. They already have their fill of long-suffering pious bahus and lovelorn, wronged leading ladies in local dramas. In contrast, Halime is unique. Moreover, she appeals to popular notions of how a ‘Muslim’ woman should be — nevermind that there is absolutely no historical evidence that she ever even existed. She quickly became a sensation.
So has Esra Bilgic, the Turkish actress who plays the character. Esra’s tryst in Dirilis: Ertugrul ended in 2018 but, for Pakistan — having only just become acquainted with the show — she is Halime.