Helen Keller story inspires Turkish film

Helen Keller story inspires Turkish film

Emrah GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Helen Keller story inspires Turkish film

‘Benim Dünyam’ is set in 1950s Istanbul. Renowned actress Beren Saat plays the older Ela (below), while director Uğur Yücel (L) also acts as a teacher.

The story of Helen Keller is the kind storytellers only dream of. As a deaf and blind American born in the late 19th century, we can only imagine how life would be a nonstarter for little Helen. Then comes into her life Anne Sullivan, the teacher who devotes her life to this little girl with no skills, experience or motive to communicate. Sullivan helps Keller blossom into a figure that would eventually make history.

Helen Keller becomes the first dead and blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree. Living into her late 70s, she becomes a renowned author, and activist, fighting for women’s suffrage and labor rights, among other causes. She writes her first autobiography at the age of 22 (she would go on to write three more autobiographies).

The first autobiography in 1903, “The Story of My Life,” would become one of the ultimate sources of inspiration for the coming century and the next. “The Story of My Life” turns into “The Miracle Worker,” a teleplay written by William Gibson in 1957 in which Patricia McCormack stars as Keller. Two years later, it is adapted for a Broadway production with Anne Bancroft as Sullivan.

With the title coined by Mark Twain, as he had called Sullivan a “miracle worker,” the story is adapted to screen through different decades, the final one being a made-for-TV film in 2000, and a 50th-anniversary production hitting Broadway in 2010. Many younger movie buffs, however, will see Keller’s story as familiar from an Indian drama from 2005.

Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Black” is the story of a blind and deaf woman, recounted by herself, and her relationship with her teacher who later develops Alzheimer’s disease. Bhansali was heavily inspired by Keller and her autobiography, and before filming visited the Helen Keller Institute; his observations of the students, teachers and parents created the backbone of his 2005 film.

Controversies over remake

Now, the Helen Keller story, or more specifically Bhansali’s film “Black,” has inspired a Turkish film. This week’s release, “Benim Dünyam” (My World), is a remake of “Black,” the same storyline, but set in 1950s’ Istanbul. The film is directed by Uğur Yücel, a renowned actor of the late 1980s and 1990s that turned to direction after 2000, with mainstream hits like “Yazı Tura” (Toss-Up) and “Ejder Kapanı” (The Dragon Cage).

The familiar story stays intact with the deaf and blind girl recounting the story of her life, more specifically, how she transformed from someone almost feral to a success story, thanks to her teacher. Popular actress Beren Saat plays the older Ela, while Yücel himself acts as the teacher. The film plays more for the sensibilities of the 1950s, probably for a greater effect, given the harsher realities, hence the obstacles of the period.

Last summer, many not aware of the fact that “Benim Dünyam” was a remake of the 2005 film attacked the filmmakers for plagiarizing. When it was settled that the film was a remake, then came the odd web articles about the Turkish production company going ahead without any contract or knowledge of the production company and the director of the original movie. In mid-September, TMC Film, the Turkish production company released a statement, explaining the concept of remakes in film, and that they were, of course, paying for all the copyrights.

“Benim Dünyam,” in fact, is a remake in the truest sense of the word, with many of the scenes from “Black” exact replicates. Despite the differences in time and location, local and cultural differences play to minimum effect. The story begins with the problematic relationship of Ela with a weak mother and an indifferent father, ready to have her daughter committed to a mental institution.

Then enters Yücel’s Mahir Hoca, who feels for Ela having lost his sister who was also deaf and blind. When the two start interacting, the relationship they form takes two extremes, love and hate, with Mahir Hoca pushing Ela further and further into what he believes is the right thing to do. If you have watched “Black,” you’ll know how the story continues. If not, it’s not hard to guess. God bless Helen Keller, for a story that transcends centuries and continents.