“What is Love? Is it to be the light to a candle? Or to touch a fire?”
Opening Verse, Episode 9, Hercai
A previous blog on this forum gave a great summary of one of the biggest hits in diziland this year – Hercai, which is about to premiere Season 2 on ATV in September. Based on a bestselling book by a young university student, Sumeyye Koc, who got a start in her writing career on wattpad in Turkey, Season 1 Hercai burst onto the screens in March of 2019, and quickly shot to the top show for Friday evenings. Set in the town of Midyat in the gorgeous Mardin region, which is at the heart of ancient Mesopotamia, the story weaves an intricate tale of love, betrayal and revenge, against the backdrop of unresolved family feuds.
Ever since the Stone Ages, waves of tribal and other invasions have left their mark on present day Mardin. Although a diverse group of religious and ethnic identities co-exist in Mardin today, perhaps their cultural identity remains the strongest binding factor, a slice of which is portrayed artistically through the pained love story of Miran (the very handsome and intense Akin Akinozou) and Reyyan (the exotic Ebru Sahin). The visual onslaught of the majestic hilly terrain, coupled with the golden architecture rich in masonic details, the cinematography not only provides a glimpse into the geographic diversity of Turkey, it also captures the unique social rules of that area. Perhaps remnant of tribal systems of justice, judgement is often served and complied with outside of the formal court system.
In Hercai, we come to see an unfolding tapestry of family allegiances trumping morality, revenge reigning justice, old-fashioned patriarchal orders dominating more liberal philosophies, a love trying to thrive under the darkness of vengeance and so much more.
What does “Hercai” mean in Turkish? Folklore suggests that once upon a time, two wildflowers fell in love. One of them loved the other so much that when they bloomed in the spring, she was jealous of the other flowers around them. The flower, not able to withstand this jealousy, dreams of being with her beloved alone by blooming in the freezing cold of winter instead of spring. “Let’s not bloom this spring like other flowers. Let’s bloom in the middle of winter on snowy days so that all nature belongs to us and we live together, only you and me” The other flower agrees to the plan of blooming in the freezing cold when no one else dared to bloom. One of the lovers waited for the winter and the snow; the other couldn’t resist and bloomed that summer. The flower that waited with longing bloomed in winter and looked for the other lover. The one that bloomed waited and waited to prove the greatness of love but the other flower did not bloom. After a while the flower lost hope in the freezing cold, bowed and died. Since that day, the flower that kept to the promise has been called “Kardelen” (Snowdriller), and the flower that was not faithful to love and abandoned the other lover halfway through their journey has been called “Hercai” (source: used with permission from facebook page Turkish Learning KivancED).
In the show, Miran is shown to be the Hercai, who puts into motion a meticulously hatched plan of a fake marriage with Reyyan, driven by the sole purpose of avenging his mother’s cruel death, whom he believes died at the hands of Reyyan’s (adoptive) father, Hazar Sadoglu. Reyyan doesn’t know she is adopted by Hazar and hence has never understood the cold and abusive treatment she has received from Nasuh Sadoglu, the patriarch of the Sadoglu empire. Much like the abused Cinderella who was the pure flower amongst the thorns in the household, Reyyan is the feisty, loyal, steadfast daughter of the house, who values her family’s honor and accepts her mistreatment in pained silence, fervently hoping for someone to come save her. When Miran appears as a prince in Reyyan’s world, seemingly deep in love with her and openly choosing her over her spoilt cousin and family favorite, Yaren, Reyyan is swept off her feet and entrusts her life to Miran.
“What if I fall?” says Reyyan. “I will jump in right after you.” promises Miran
Miran has been raised by Azize Aslanbey (epic turn by the gorgeous Ayda Aksel), whom he believes to be his paternal grandmother. His upbringing has been devoid of any genuine and loving human contact since his mother’s death, as Azize solely focused on training his heart and mind for revenge against the Sadoglu’s. Unbeknownst to Miran, Azize is aware that Dilsha (Miran’s mother) was in love with Hazar and that Miran is Hazar’s biological son. With the yet to be revealed family history that has bred such pure hatred for the Sadoglus in her heart, Azize doesn’t let Miran understand how she has been manipulating him and why. To keep him unnaturally tethered to the Aslanbeys, she even had him married on paper to her granddaughter Gonul (played by the beautiful Oya Unustasi), a girl so twisted by self-love and self-pity that even though their marriage is yet to be consummated, with no desire from Miran to change the status quo, Gonul repeatedly tries to guilt him into submission, with increasingly cunning and self-serving methods.
With so much darkness surrounding him and steeped in misguided vengeance in his heart, Miran is a tool in Azize’s hands. He has been convinced that to avenge the honor of the Aslanbey family, he has to leave Reyyan the day after the wedding, thereby disgracing her and the Sadoglu family name in front of the town square. This will ensure the downfall of Hazar Sadoglu and his family, with Reyyan as collateral damage. But, in this elaborate and intricate plan, Miran and his family failed to anticipate one small detail
– Miran falling intensely in love with Reyyan.
Season 1 Trailer
During their pre-nuptial period, Miran and Reyyan form a deep bond with each other and Miran finds himself inexplicably drawn to Reyyan’s sweet and trusting purity. Every time he is near her, he is reminded of an aura long forgotten, a time of innocence when he found love, trust and comfort in his mother’s arms. Carried away with such feelings, against their plan Miran consummates his relationship with Reyyan. In the morning he forces himself to remember his mother’s honor and leaves Reyyan alone in a remote hut where they had taken refuge for the night. Shocked by his sudden betrayal, Reyyan vows never to forgive him and puts a curse on any possible reunion. Anticipating the social ostracization and physical abuse from her grandfather and others, Reyyan tries to kill herself by setting the hut on fire but the merciless Azize has her yanked out of the fumes and deposited in the town center of Midyat, where the disgraced Reyyan knows that her death warrant has been served.
In the meanwhile, Reyyan’s anguished cries seemed to have torn Miran from his hypnosis, and he feels destroyed by what he has done to the innocent Reyyan. He rushes back to the hut, but thanks to Azize’s cunning machinations, he is already too late. From here on, the story is a complex narrative on how Miran is unable to keep away from Reyyan, in trying to protect her from herself and his struggles to be with her. In the process he is trying desperately to redeem himself, even willing to accept death by her hands to assuage his guilt. In spite of his most earnest efforts, and in face of difficult decisions, Reyyan cannot bring herself to forgive him after his betrayal and cannot trust him with her heart any longer. Season 1 ends with Miran rebuilding the hut where they had shared their one night of love, and asking her to marry him again. His deepest desire is to build a life with her, for all the right reasons.
There have been many discussions around the depiction of violence and abuse against women in the show, and the patriarchal order that is accepted in certain parts of Turkey. Without condoning or condemning such practices, there is the possibility to understand the culture of the region as it stands, with customs and a social order formed over the millennia. Perhaps in modern times, secular Turkey will prosecute such reported culprits, but Hercai tells an old-fashioned tale loosely set in the backdrop of modern times. We see a mixture of modern tools and vehicles blended with the simple clothing and fashions of the yester- years. The sense of honor and respect for elders is old-fashioned, and perhaps still true for families who have been able to preserve the ancient ways. Amidst the misogynistic tropes that are shown in exaggerated ways, we are also given an antagonist like Azize Aslanbey who is a formidable opponent capable of staring down a brute like Nasuh Sadoglu.
We are not given enough clues about all the prices she has paid to become this ferocious, but it is refreshing to see a wicked woman who knows how to manipulate a plot without resorting to the lowly cunning ways displayed by Yaren, Gonul or the other conniving women in the show. Azize is in a class of her own and Ayda Aksel has simply outdone herself in portraying her. Zehra Sadoglu as Reyyan’s mother and Gul Sadoglu as her angelic baby sister, shine with the brightness of pure hearts, examples of people who choose love over hatred.
Just as we are shown the rough fisted men such as Nasuh Sadoglu, and the scheming or dubious ones such as his younger son Cihan Sadoglu or Miran’s frenemy Firat, we are also shown men of honor such as Hazar and Azat Sadoglu, who are not shy about standing up for what is right and being protective of their women. Azat has had a puppy-dog kind of love for Reyyan since childhood and sees her moment of distress as his time to shine by offering marriage in order to save her. He knows in his heart that Reyyan loves Miran but he is so desperate for her presence in his life, he is willing to commit to a life of celibacy as her husband, keeping her from being killed by his grandfather. In his blind love, we are also shown Azat’s moments of weakness and his struggles to come out of those as his scheming mother and sister create obstacles for him and/or Reyyan.
Hazar Sadoglu Nasuh, Cihan, Azat Firat
Much like the critically acclaimed Ask-i-Memnu, Hercai is also a story that has been brought to the screens based on a book written by a Turkish author. Whereas Ask-i-Memnu is a classic work of Turkish literature written in the 1800s by Halit Ziya Usakligil, who was greatly influenced by European authors of his era, Hercai is the product of imagination of a young, Muslim, practicing girl who observes the hijab. The popularity of the show in Turkey could be nestled within the fact that it is a pure Turkish production, based in regional customs as captured by a local author. Due to the explosive popularity, there have already been a number of changes in the screenwriters as the responsibility to deliver on a strong product grows for the production team. Just as much as there is responsibility in the producers to keep the story moving at a fast and engaging pace, there is also a need to remain true to beloved characters in a bestselling book. Not having read the book, we hope that the local audience will be pleased enough to keep supporting the high ratings from season 1.
In most traditional fairytales, we usually witness the transformative journey of the girl – with her heart, body and soul awakening by the touch of love, while the handsome prince provides the steady hand needed to save the damsel in distress. In Hercai, much like the classic Beauty and the Beast, we instead see Miran as the one awakening. While Sahin’s Reyyan remains the same steadfast girl, with fire in her eyes and always on the run from the prevalent patriarchy in her universe, the transformation in Miran is brought to life by Akinozu with finesse and skill.
In episode 1, we see Miran as he has been trained – a colorless, stoic, unemotional man on a mission. When he starts to play his game with Reyyan, he is unprepared for how intensely he would be affected by her. With her touch, his feelings are finally stirred, and he begins to experience life in ways that make him feel that he is reborn. Instead of cold and gray, he begins to see an explosion of color. Even in her simple clothing, Reyyan is the most vibrant woman in his life, an authenticity and innocence about her that is completely missing in the sinister world he has known. She embodies the heartbeat he had forgotten he had, awakening all that is good within him. She’s the steadfast beacon of light that he can keep coming to knowing that even when she rejects him out of anger, their hearts and souls are entwined in ways that human intervention cannot defy. Which is why, in Episode 9 he says “Reyyan yoksa, Miran yok” i.e. “If there’s no Reyyan, there’s no Miran”. He knows that if she dies, so does the part of him he can live with.
In the unfolding tale of love in Hercai, there is a deep strain of spirituality, as captured by the Sufi verses shared at the beginning of each episode. Except for the verse for Episode 2, all others are verses by Mevlana Rumi or Sems-e-Tebrezi, who are both credited with being founding fathers of the Sufi Order. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islamic belief and practice, which seeks to find the truth of divinity and knowledge through direct personal experience of the divine within. The verse by the Mevlana for Episode 7, as an example, beautifully captures the crux of the drama in Season 1 – “Are you upset with that hand for not holding the hand you reached out or are you upset with yourself because you reached out a hand to someone who did not hold it?”
Within the lies, half-truths and the hidden truths of the two powerful families, reside the absolute truth that Miran and Reyyan were made for each other. Miran sees the real Reyyan under the layers of her protective shields and he knows that her heart cannot belong to any other. As she sees more of him, Reyyan begins to see the innocent boy hidden underneath the tortured soul and comes to understand that she had fallen in love with that boy from the very beginning. Stripped off his lies, Miran only wants to love and be loved by Reyyan. He is willing to take a stand against his family to be with her but does Reyyan want to defy her family’s honor to be true to her love? Can she, after all that has happened? Season 2 promises another spiritual journey along which we hope to find the answers.
Hercai Season 2 airs September 13th on ATV.
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