Türkan Şoray, ‘The Sultan of Turkish cinema,’ makes her comeback
Emrah Güler - ANKARAThis week’s new release of “Uzaklarda Arama” (Not Far Away) will serve as a notch in the history of Turkish cinema, despite opening to mostly poor reviews and disappointment for many in the audience. The film, first of all, marks the return of “The Sultan” of Turkish cinema, Türkan Şoray, to the director’s chair after more than three decades. It takes on contemporary themes, laced with melodrama reminiscent of the “Yeşilçam” movies of Turkish cinema’s golden age.
As for the fans of some of Şoray’s older classics, as an actress at the height of her career, there are the inevitable comparisons and nods. “Uzaklarda Arama” takes on the themes of gentrification and relocation into its background, and a group of single ladies as its leading characters. In the film an infamous tavern in the big city is forced to relocate to a small, conservative town, along with its patrons of singers and escorts, the women of the night.
“Uzaklarda Arama” revolves around the clash of cultures between the women and the local townsfolk, and how that clash transforms as both get to know each other. This tale of resistance, acceptance and tolerance with a dash of romance occasionally takes on the role of a coming-of-age story with its nine-year-old protagonist, Yusuf. On a side note, Şoray’s daughter, Yağmur Ünal, takes one of the leading roles, reprising a character her mother had played in different forms, in different films.
The gold-hearted fallen woman and the ensuing melodrama that unfolds around her was one of the definitive screen personas of Şoray in the 1960s and 1970s, a character that helped make some of her films classics. For a long period of time, from the 1930s to 1960s, stretching into 1970s as well, women were confined to either of the two opposing sides of the moral spectrum. Some of these one-dimensional, unanimously exaggerated characters included the untouched virgin, the femme fatale, the sacrificing mother and the home-wrecker.
These women were either “good” or “bad.” The “bad” ones would be ruthless, cold, controlled and hysterical at once, and most definitely blonde. The “good” ones, often the heroine, would always be the victim and enjoyed being the victim, despite the melodrama following her for her mere existence. She was loyal and self-sacrificing. The “good” ones would cry, the “bad” ones would laugh out loud.
Then there was ‘The Sultan’
Like the rigid contours of female characters, female actresses stuck to the roles they were deemed suitable for. There was the blonde femme fatale, the doomed heroine, the bourgeoisie sweetheart, the tough street girl, the wretched home-wrecker and the naïve romantic. Then, there was Şoray.
With her slightly parted lips, big, beautiful eyes and beguiling screen presence, Şoray soon became the woman everyone wanted to fall in love with. Unlike many female actors of her generation, Şoray took control of her career and earned the name “The Sultan.” Producers had to sign a document binding them to the famous “Şoray Rules.” The rules gave her control over the script, the leading actor, the working hours and the filming location, among other things, such as a no kissing rule.
Şoray honed her craft in diverse, risky roles while maintaining her dignity. She was the last of the stars in an age of stardom in Turkish cinema. She opened the way for the next generation of female actors to take on diverse roles, roles that brought together the split halves of women. On screen, she could be an honest thief, a naïve seductress, or a chaste prostitute, like many of the characters in her latest film.
One of the most famous of Şoray’s characters that broke moral boundaries was in director Ömer Lütfi Akad’s “Vesikalı Yarim” (My Prostitute Love) in 1968. The melodrama tells the love story between a singer/escort and a grocer. In one memorable scene, when the grocer Halil (played by İzzet Günay) stays the night for the first time in Sabiha’s (Şoray) house, he ruptures the stereotypes for himself, and the audience.
Just before going to bed, Halil sees a different Sabiha and can’t hide his surprise, uttering, “You have taken off your make-up,” and “your earrings,” and that he can’t “smell her perfume.” Both Halil and the audience see a full-fledged woman, different sides coming together for a female character maybe not complicated, but at least not one-dimensional. Off screen, Şoray also showed another side, directing four films between 1972 and 1981. So, for the Turkish audience Şoray’s comeback signifies something altogether different.