Istanbullu Gelin, or The Bride of Istanbul, is a Turkish drama that is in some ways similar to two primetime American soap operas of the 1980s – Dynasty and Dallas – but without the smut. This TV series centers on the Boran family, a wealthy, powerful, and traditional Muslim family living in Bursa, a city located two hours away from Istanbul.
Faruk, the main character, is the oldest of four sons; following the death of their father, he becomes the head of the household and takes leadership of the family business, a bus line company with offices in Istanbul and Bursa. His mother Esma is a true matriarch: domineering and manipulating, yet fiercely protective of her family and invested in their wellbeing. Faruk falls in love with Süreyya, a poor violinist and singer who has been living with her aunt since the death of her parents. The characters all have their joys and troubles; as can be expected, secrets and lies are usually exposed, and the effects are far worse than they would have been if the truth had been told in the first place.
As with other dramas, there is plenty of human frailty, sin, and strength on display: backstabbing, revenge, adultery (even rape), and of course the fervent love of the two main characters. But what was intriguing to me was the role religion played in the life of this fictitious family. The traditional Middle Eastern custom (for both Christians and Muslims) of slaughtering a lamb to celebrate a joyous event, and sharing it with neighbors, was performed. The matriarch Esma’s instructions to the servants to share food with all of the poor in the city were executed with care and honor. Prayers were said at meals and at other times. And no matter the haute couture and sophistication of a particular character, he or she exhibited a sincere reverence toward religion that is rarely seen in Western dramas.
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