Erkenci Kus (2018-2019) is a romantic comedy from Turkey that took the world by storm. More than the erratic domestic ratings, which eventually led to a conclusion with 51 episodes, the international following for the show is unprecedented. Thousands of members still participate on various social media forums in various languages, and fans rejoice each time the show is syndicated in another new country. From products on Etsy and other online stores to fan fiction, frequent watch parties, discussion groups and hysterical fans who have taken Can Yaman to a whole new level of global recognition, the show’s wide-spread appeal remains an enigma. Last year, Yaman won E! News TV Scoop TV's Top Leading Man 2019, with 90% of the votes against American Jensen Ackles of Supernatural, who had won it four times in the past. Even producers find it difficult to fully articulate the show’s success in global markets, often just leaving it at ‘there is something magical about this show’.
While a prior post provides an overall review of the show, this is an attempt to understand the fan psyche for the show and its protagonists, that has led to a global fandom not limited by borders, language or culture. What cinematic elements make the love story between Can Divit and Sanem Aydin in Erkenci Kus so magical?
There is general consent among lovers and haters of the show that the first 11 episodes of Erkenci Kus are extraordinary. The plot moves quickly with appropriately placed comical interludes that help to establish all the different characters in who they are. Ayse Kutlu Oner is a master at weaving the mystical with the real, blending in references to Greek mythology, folk tales and a brilliant young girl’s unending imagination. Can Divit is given a personality that is larger than life, and machinations of his personality are allowed to flourish through his interactions and mannerisms. He is the man that women in upper society clamber over themselves to reach and yet he has his eyes only for Sanem, the lively girl from the mahalle. Though this rich boy-poor girl is an oft-used trope in romance stories across cultures, what Ayse created is a pair of spiritual equals uninhibited by socially prescribed notions of ‘proper’. Two people who are equally fascinated with nature, embody the souls of birds - he an albatross and she a fledgling - and focus on personal enlightenment, provide poetic archetypes we don’t typically see in diziland. And because the fans fell in love with the quirky characters of these earlier episodes - where fantasy and reality mixes beautifully, even though writers changed and the direction of their character growth went to unexpected places, the depth of their spiritual connection is felt till the end.
The lead characters are well-formed with excellent attention to detail. From styling to mannerisms, both Can and Sanem are distinctive.
Can Divit, with his rugged good looks, long hair, albatross tattoo, flamboyant clothing and jewelry, transcends borders from being just a Turkish character. His persona could fit just as well in any artistic circle in the East or the West, where there is an expectation of an individualistic and unapologetic approach to life. It fit perfectly with his identity as a nature photographer and a free spirit. In addition, he is convincing as someone who has a heart of gold and is comfortable in his own skin. Not out of vanity but out of knowing his worth as a person. In one package, he can be suave as needed and as down to earth as possible, guided by his rigid yet simple code of ethics. It doesn’t matter that Yaman with his natural good looks spends hours of preparation to bring his on-screen persona to life, the fact remains that Divit embodies all these characteristics of a worldly, intellectual, enlightened personality who seemed unaffected by his admirable physicality. All of these qualities fit well with the vision of the ‘perfect man’ anywhere – handsome, successful, debonair, sporty, enjoys a good laugh, soft at heart with a strong sense of ethics, and one who loves completely - allowing Can Divit to become a coveted personality, irrespective of language or culture.
The following compilation from the earlier episodes is spot on in capturing why Can Divit made such an impression on millions of hearts across the globe:
Sanem Aydin is youthful, smart, beautiful and naive. A pure soul, who always has the best of intentions but, like any normal human being, makes mistakes that are hard to recover from. The primary female audience can relate to Sanem as much as they can admire Demet Ozdemir's layered portrayal of Sanem. From comedy to grief, she brought it all. Having this sense of alignment with the lead female character and the actress playing her is rare. Often the male character is given a far more sympathetic bend, relegating the female into the background, prime for judging. And yet, because we see a lot of the Erkenci Kus world through Sanem’s perspectives and thought processes, it is easy to find empathy for her as she fumbles through her best decisions with what she knows. In addition, with her olive complexion, dark hair color and athletic physique, Demet has cross-cultural appeal with her striking, unconventional features, making it possible for her popularity to transcend the Turkish borders as well.
The following compilation of Demet as Sanem also captures why she is such an endearing character to other women; she is someone who is unafraid to be herself and willing to accept the burden of her mistakes.
What makes this kind of character creation most real is when the audience can say, “that is a classic Can/ Sanem thing to do”, and this happens in abundance in Erkenci Kus. Whether we love or hate the characters, both the actors do a great job of creating these consistent characteristics, as they weather the various storms of relationship growth and life in general. Coupled with a production environment that supports this standard of character creation, it has been so well done that wattpad and other self-publishing platforms are awash with fan fiction around Can and Sanem, with writers and readers spread across the world.
One of the charms of Turkish dizis is the slow burning love that is depicted through understated intimacy. The characters love each other for who they are as people, and the physicality becomes a natural progression. Erkenci Kus is the first Turkish show I have watched where both Can and Sanem respectfully express open admiration for each other’s bodies, even before they ever profess love for each other. This is a natural part of the song and dance of mating, and usually fits well with the Western development of a romantic narrative. What differs from the Western storytelling is the modesty with which it is done. There is obvious attraction between the two, both their thoughts get addled when the other is too close, but there is no crudeness in the overt and subtle ways they yearn for each other. As such, throughout the show, global fans can not only relate and cheer for their love winning against all obstacles, but they cheer their intimate moments just as loudly.
It is a bright, colorful and happy production. Even when we enter the second phase of the show, where Can and Sanem have to find some way to heal the chasm between them, the brightness of the show shifts from happy characters to happy surroundings. In urban Istanbul, Can and Sanem light up the congested world with their love. In the outskirts of the city, the open meadows, colorful gardens, glass paned open floor plans create the happy space where the unhappy characters must find themselves again.
Can Yaman had a well-documented physical transformation for his role as Can Divit – the photo below is self-explanatory. The transformation was critical in the character creation, and played a consistent part in Can Divit’s personality as he went through various stages of heartbreak and joy.
Though not as highly discussed or studied, Demet went through a transformation too. In the earlier episodes, her face seems more youthful, made more so with her bouncy hairstyle and simpler clothing but as she morphs as a character, she matures with the role. Her hairstyle and styling become more professional and angular, with less rounded lines. In the second half, her presence becomes more haunting, with the longer hair and slimming clothing. The non-verbal changes make it easier to grow with the characters, even though the story line became a little recursive after their first mini break up.
There is no one answer for why Erkenci Kus is so well loved. Some have made assertions about the off-screen rumors between Can and Demet helping to fuel the popularity of the show. I have spoken to many who have watched it after all of that transpired, and still loved the production for many of the same reasons highlighted above.
On a related note, Turkish dizi episodes getting released on YouTube is a stroke of genius. Many international fans whose search history show a bias for certain kind of shows get suggestions for similar shows. Entirely new markets have discovered Erkenci Kus and Turkish drama this way. Through several facebook groups for Erkenci Kus, I met a large number of fans from the Philippines who found the show similarly. Their engagement with the show, both during airing and after, leads to a classic chicken and egg question. Did they love the show for the group or the group for the show? It is probably a bit of both. Love for the show brought them to the social media platforms, and a shared love for the narrative and admiration for the actors keeps them there. New members discovering the show continue to join the forums, which helps to maintain the global popularity of the show long after its conclusion. These are just three of the many groups on Facebook I am a part of, where fan engagement remains rife nearly a year after the show concluded.
Cinematic value endures when the underlying elements of a production are solid to begin with. Erkenci Kus manages to touch a chord in the hearts looking for happy stories. The characters are so distinctive and relatable in so many ways, that they endure past the actors’ life changes. Can has since shed his locks for his military service, lost his tan and is already preparing for his next role in Bay Yanlis this summer, alongside Ozge Gurel (his co-star from Dolunay). Demet is performing as the somber Zeynep next to staid Mehdi (Ibrahim Celikkol) in Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir, as a character who could not be further away from the comical Sanem. As recognition grows for the actors’ strength as actors, appreciation also grows for what they create together in Erkenci Kus. A timeless, happy story of love.
© North America TEN and mh. [@entrespire, twitter]
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