If ever an industry has been defined by space, place and people, it is the film and television industry. It is not just about real space as the location scouts would know, it’s as much about the metaphoric space of the screen and the industry itself. It’s about the space of real life and the space of reel life.
Here are two worlds that collide in our hearts and this beautiful head on collision takes us to the heart of Menajerimi Ara, the latest showreel from Ay Yapim. With Menajerimi Ara, this juggernaut Turkish television production house enters the space of its own self, its actors, its directors, its fans, and its viewers as never before. The show promises a season of anticipation, as we anxiously watch this space for our upcoming favourite actors, directors and dramas.
Based on the French series, Dix Pour Cent (or Call My Agent (2015 -)), we meet in the-not-so-subtle-y named EGO film agency, with a cast from Central Casting, in a place where screen culture, organizational culture and Turkish culture blend into one landscape. Here are office lines that may not be crossed, borders between actors, ‘glass curtains’ (a line from the show) between actors’ real lives and their fans, fences between their families, their agents and their directors. Here we are introduced to blurred boundaries of the self and fans, no-go zones – in short a spirited space of fame and fortune and the never too distant land of failure.
In the nascent storyline (only three episodes have aired thus far), Turkish actor, Baris Falay as Kirac, is not particularly likeable as the devious agent in the EGO Agency. His role as the generous, ethical father/lawyer in Medcezir suited his acting style more so than the ruthless, heartless character he is portrayed as in Menajerimi Ara. Canan Erguder as Feris is outstanding as the edgy, spirited agent, and her familiarity with Fatih Artman with whom she shared a long partnership in Behzat C: Bir Ankara Polisiyesi is palpable. As with Baris Falay, she played a much nicer person in Behzat C, whereas Fatih played the juvenile and very annoying detective Harun. Thankfully he has upgraded to a likeable co-agent, Cinar. The fourth agent in the EGO casting agency is Aysenil Samlioglu, who stars as Peride. She appears to ‘look after’ older actors and although she hasn’t been featured substantially yet, she may do so in future episodes. Suffice to say at this point that her pet dog is a great match to her zany hairdo. She will no doubt prove to be a character in her own right.
Ahsen Eroglu as Dicle, who portrayed Kumru in Kuzgun with Baris Arduc and who also starred in a very small role as Yaz in Istanbullu Gelin with Ozcan Deniz, Asli Enver and Ipek Bilgin, is holding the show together at this stage. She is, as an actress, one extremely talented young woman, and in the role of Feris’ assistant, her naivete and guilelessness are convincing and heart breaking at the same time. She is the screen life daughter of Kirac, who has heartlessly abandoned her earlier in life, and Kirac plays with her aspirations on several levels, including seeking to move her out of the EGO Agency space to Antalaya, whence she came. Deniz Can Aktas as Baris, who says he is starring in ‘Fairy Tales’ is the newbie actor making all the mistakes of mixing up his real identity with his screen identity.
In addition to these staple characters, the show has snared some big names who enter the drama ostensibly as themselves but cleverly as actors in the drama. These include actors (and directors) such as Tuba Buyukustun, Nebahat Cehre, Cagatay Ulusoy, Riza Kocaoglu (yet to appear), Ercan Kesal, Derya Alabora and Ali Bilgin (who is actually the director of Menajerimi Ara), each dealing with a typical issue in the industry.
Tuba’s episode very cleverly raises the pressures faced by ageing female actors, where her agent suggests face work to help make her look younger.
Cagatay Ulusoy, back on Turkish television after three years, only appears for a short cameo. He reflects, I suspect, as his real self, about the need to move far from the madding crowd as an actor, to have a reclusive retreat, a quiet space where the self can be found and listened to. In his skit, Cagatay is looking at the script of his new film, Mucadele Cikmazi, which in reality finished filming days before the episode. The real life movie producers timed the announcement of its upcoming release on Netflix with Cagatay’s appearance on Menajerimi Ara. This is an ingenious use of all the ways the various spaces collide on this show.
These and other themes of not wanting to act or live on sets with family members, getting away from stifling fans, fighting off ageism, competing with other actors, and the need to be more than ‘a pretty face’ with real acting straps, reveal how difficult it is to survive in the industry. One episode treats the very gendered solutions to acting dilemmas – Baris joins a street fight so that his pretty face can be beaten up – all this to show that he can be selected for his acting rather than his looks, whereas female leads are invited to get botox to become the pretty face. Episodes thus far also address the difficulty of maintaining a sense of ‘self’ amidst the noise of fame, missed appointments, exploitation, competition (‘close the door, the walls have ears’ says one of the assistants to the other), superficiality and the cult of beauty. Drawing on real actors, real scenarios, smokes and mirrors, reality and fantasy (otherwise known as lies), the simultaneous Utopian and dystopian aspects of screen culture make for compelling viewing.
Menajerimi Ara delivers a delicious insider (and outsider) look at everything the industry has to offer. Real Turkish actors play the agents, the agency assistants, the real actors themselves, directors play themselves. In this circularity, reminiscent of the words of the song ‘Windmills of my mind’, viewers are moved ‘[a]round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel’, [n]ever ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel’.
And the reel is what it is all about. How to get into the reel, onto the reel, how to cross the line from a real life into the dream life of a screen existence. This is not a binary of one thing or another; this is a blurred line where the agency is family; where family has a say in the agency, where the piranha fans will love you one minute and eat you alive the next; these are the fractals of fandom, worshipped by all.
The stakes are high because this is a human endeavour like no other and the postmodern take on Menajerimi Ara leaves us in no doubt as to how screen life intersects with our lives and the lives of those in, and connected with, the industry. The homage to older actors, famous actors, e.g. Marlon Brando, modern stars, Billie Eilish, the parody of actors playing actors, playing themselves, playing their own content, are cleverly and compellingly executed.
Word graffiti and some lines give away a lot in the show. There is mention of Baris’ role in ‘Fairy Tales’ telling us something about the dizi world. The name of the EGO Agency suggests what we frequently hear about the ‘performances’ of prima donnas. One line, ‘I am an actor not a liar’ gets us thinking about what acting actually is – is it a lie? Is it an artifice? Is it a genuine performative truth? The words ‘Dare Always Dare’ written on the walls of a meeting room remind us of the bravery and courage that is required to be an actor. As Feris’ assistant, Dicle, quotes a line to Ercan Kesal at the opening of his film, Nasipse Adayiz, ‘The zone in which a person cannot recognise himself is a blind zone; in the last days I am in a place where I can’t recognise myself’ draws our attention to the anomie of actors and acting in diziland. These gems illustrate undertones to this world, a world we crave at great cost to others.
This is a dizi within a dizi where livelihoods are driven by connections, by ratings, by power relationships that are murky and mutable – is it the screenwriter, the director, the actor, the agent, the producer who has the final say? I would wager that this is precisely the industry’s attraction – it’s a social dreamscape where creativity can flourish, where generosity in all its forms wins the day as actors give their time and their talent, but only with the support of the producers, the directors, the agents, the crews and the writers. If one stops to look closely at the industry, which Menajerimi Ara is doing, it is easy to see how relationships, place and space, make this such an exciting show to watch.
For those of you who are yet to explore the show, here is a preview for Episode 1:
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 The lyrics of Windmills of My Mind, song by Noel Harrison