“We owe it to each other to tell stories.”
― Neil Gaiman
In her book, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy makes an excellent point about why we never get tired of listening to the same stories, or “great stories” as she calls them. Today I want to explore how we like similar plots and even cliched scenes and characters, while discussing my favorite summer show of 2021, Baht Oyunu.
If you have watched a few Turkish TV shows by now (or 20), you’ll know that there’s nothing groundbreaking about the plots. But let’s be honest, the shows that are being made outside of Turkey, we all know those stories too. Every once in a while something a bit different is made. They are highly acclaimed, adored but quickly forgotten. The ones we enjoy the most are the comforting ones. The ones that you have seen a dozen times, yet you still want to watch and maybe even rewatch them.
This is because they’re relatable, no matter which country they belong to. It doesn’t matter what language they are in. You kind of know where the story will take you, but still, just like a kid who loves hearing the same story from her mom each night, you still want to hear or watch it. Maybe this time it will have a few small surprises for you along the way and because you already know the story, your brain will be able to relax and focus on the acting, the scenery, the music and the feelings that the story reveals inside you. What a treat right?
“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic.”
― Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
What is Baht Oyunu All About?
I must admit that I didn’t even think of giving BO a chance. Another office romance, and another mean boss falling for his employee didn’t look that tempting and especially that first promo with the wedding made me think, oh god here we go, another show about a girl obsessed with getting married.
But I kept seeing posts about it on my Twitter timeline and reading that people were enjoying it. Everyone repeated it was a comforting watch, a story told in a way that doesn’t try to look smart. I had to give it a chance. Especially because my choice of summer dizi which was Cam Tavanlar was far from being funny or comforting, although it still is a good show. I checked the BO credits and saw that the screenplay was written by an experienced trio and one of them was also the producer. The director looked very promising too.
Let’s talk about the previous works of the writers of the show first. Erkan Birgören is mostly known for dramas such as Sen Anlat Karadeniz, Siyah Beyaz Aşk and Karagül however his first credit Kavak Yelleri counts as a good reference for romantic comedy as well.
Tuna Görgün is mostly known for Güneşin Kızları, Tatlı İntikam and Kiraz Mevsimi which are all very well known by international viewers. Fatih Enes Ömeroğlu is also the producer of the show. As a screen writer he doesn’t have many credits but he is credited as the producer of Afili Aşk.
The director Serdar Gözelekli is mostly known for Bizim Hikaye (fans of Burak Deniz and Hazal Kaya might remember this gem of a show) and Afili Aşk (a well made romcom from 2019–2020) . He last directed the drama Sol Yanım which was a good show but ended prematurely due to low ratings.
The casting of Baht Oyunu ends up being its strength although I wasn’t able to see it first. Cemre Baysel was the villain of Sol Yanım but she is a revelation as Baht Oyunu’s protagonist Ada. Aytaç Şaşmaz was great in Hekimoğlu (Turkey’s remake of House MD) and here he does a great job of transforming into Bora Bey. I like the fact that they went for actors who have never played the lead. It’s refreshing to see new talents get a chance to carry a show.
I have absolutely no idea how the show will progress and if it will be able to keep up the great storytelling it has up until now, however I have really been enjoying the first 3 episodes and I’m eagerly waiting for the 4th. Let’s take a look at the story, which as I mentioned earlier is full of cliches but somehow they manage to keep it interesting.
The show starts with a teary eyed Ada, while she is in her retro VW beetle, and she witnesses a kiss between two people. We get that she’s betrayed by the man she loves and then we’re teleported to 6 hours ago to see what brought her to this moment. Basically, Ada is married to Rüzgar for 3 years. Rüzgar is from Albania and the only way he can stay in Turkey was to get married and Ada offered to help him.
This is the day he will either be granted citizenship or he will be denied. We understand slowly that Ada has been making many sacrifices for Rüzgar in the last 3 years. She dropped out of college to support Rüzgar’s education and worked many jobs while he kept changing his major and in the end he decided to study photography. He’s working at an online social content platform called bizdeböyle.net.
Ada and the women in her family have a strange superstition. They believe that if they don’t get married with the first man they fell in love with, their lives will be ruined. In the first episode we see a sad-funny collage of the things their grandmothers and aunts have gone through. Ada has also grown up as an orphan because of it and she was raised by her 2 aunts.
Her older aunt has found the solution in marrying a man she wasn’t in love with but she seems to like her husband a lot nevertheless. Her young aunt who is probably one of the funniest people on the show is still hopeful but so far has been unlucky in love. So when Ada sees Rüzgar kissing someone else and when Rüzgar says he sees Ada as a friend and that he is in love with the girl he has been seen kissing, she freaks out because she believes she can never be happy now. She decides to get a job at the company Rüzgar works to win him back only to find out that the CEO of the company is the man she insulted twice the day before.
There Is No Such Thing As An Original Story
There’s a book called “The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations” by a French writer called Georges Polti. It was first published in 1895. In this descriptive list he categorizes each dramatic situation that might happen in a story. To this day, writers everywhere know and benefit from this list.
To write this book Polti studied classical Greek texts, and the contemporary writers of his time. An English translation of this book was published in 1916.
It is said that there are also 12 character archetypes which makes creating characters easier. If you check these key ingredients to great storytelling, you will crack the code for most of the stories you have seen or read so far. It is not a bad thing. Unless what you care about in a story is the surprise element. I’m beyond that most of the time, especially for television series.
What I care more about is the journey and not the destination. Even when I’m watching a whodunnit my main concern is the quality of the storytelling. One of the main aspects of great storytelling is characters and Baht Oyunu allows you to get to know and also enjoy getting to know its characters.
As you know every romantic comedy has a meet cute. It’s the scene where the girl and the boy meet. Baht Oyunu’s meet cute is a bit similar to Kiralık Aşk but a little less creepy (he doesn’t kiss her without her consent) and they don’t even kiss in the first episode. Yes, the only couple that kiss in the first episode are the side characters.
In the meet cute our leading man Bora seems to be a misogynistic jerk who is also trying to impose his patriarchal views on his date. His date is shown to be a woman who is only interested in getting married and who is even ready to eat raw meat even though she is a vegetarian to get on Bora’s good books. Of course Ada is disgusted by Bora seeing this, unaware that he is acting his part because he’s doing a social research about marriage for an article he wants to write. Ada feels surprised how Bora’s date can put up with his terrible behavior, forgetting that she herself is also in a marriage that only benefits her husband.
So, of course none of these are things we haven’t seen in a meet cute before and we already know that as their prejudice for each other starts to diminish they will slowly fall in love. Maybe the only unexpected thing is that Ada is only interested in getting Rüzgar back so for a change it will be the guy who has feelings first and feels they are not being reciprocated, at least not in the beginning.
Everything about Baht Oyunu seems and feels like they have been taken out of how to write a dizi 101 class. Ada is an orphan (Kiralık Aşk, Sen Çal Kapım and many more), Bora has lost his sister and as an uncle he is the only real parent his niece has (very similar to Dolunay). Ada has been raised by her aunts. Bora is not on good terms with his father (almost all romcom leading male character) because his father wants him to help run their own company. Ada is poor, Bora is rich and the list goes on.
As I said, we’re not looking for originality here. So what makes Baht Oyunu a good watch? I think it’s the relatable characters, the slow burn romance and the comedy. Baht Oyunu is the only show that succeeded in making me laugh out loud in a long time and I have missed that. The show’s biggest star to me is Ada (Cemre Baysel) who makes a street smart and funny character that we root for. We do see Ada’s mistakes and she does seem to get herself in trouble a lot but she also is smart enough to get herself out of those situations. Overall a likeable character and not just a pretty face.
Cemre Baysel in her sad and comedic scenes has made me believe that Ada is the funniest female lead I have seen in dizis in a long while. She does get annoying at times but I find even that funny, especially when she drives Bora crazy.
Aytaç Şaşmaz as Bora is the perfect male lead because he and Ada balance each other out perfectly since they are more similar than they think. At work Bora is the typical dizi CEO, serious, cold, distant and demanding. At home with his niece he is loving and kind. We get to see both sides of him with Ada and she does too. Ada doesn’t see Bora Bey the way a normal woman would see him. She is so focused on Rüzgar that she doesn’t notice how good looking and attractive he actually is. That’s kind of nice because I personally am tired of women swooning over man in dizis so openly.
Bora and Ada’s families are stereotypes but not so much that it feels tasteless. Ada is from Bursa, which is a city close to Istanbul. Her family is not too conservative, and they seem to be middle class. She is everything for her aunts and they really love her and care about her. For once, in a dizi she lives in a house that a person like her could afford. When they go to the citizenship and immigration bureau everything the officer there says about Rüzgar turns out to be true as we also suspected. But Ada doesn’t give up on him yet because she’s obsessed with making it right for her fate to go the way it should.
I guess Baht Oyunu is the story of two people who need to stop trying to control life and their future. Ada is a hopeless romantic whereas Bora doesn’t believe in love or maybe doesn’t believe in love anymore. Baht as a word is also used as “a good future” in Turkish. We tell people “bahtın açık olsun” which means may your fortune be bright. Ada’s childish plans about getting hold of her fortune will probably get her somewhere she doesn’t expect, which hopefully we will all see.
A good story is one that eases you with its familiarity but it doesn’t bore you. It’s like an anecdote that your friends like hearing over and over, it’s like a childhood memory you never get tired of listening from your parents. It’s like a movie you watch who knows how many times but each time you appreciate it for a different reason.
Baht Oyunu doesn’t claim to be original in any way but its story is sincere, familiar, warm. Ada is someone you would enjoy being friends with. Bora is someone you respect and would like to get to know better. None of the characters for me are pure evil, even Tuğçe and Rüzgar, they are not villains, they are just people whose moral compass is not in the right direction.
The story not being original doesn’t take away from the joy you feel while you’re watching it. Ada is not weak, is not helpless, is not stupid. She is funny, witty, smart but a bit crazy! You see her mistakes but you feel okay with them because we all make mistakes and who doesn’t like a chaotic person like her to be around sometimes. I know I do!
Good storytelling is giving messages with subtlety and sometimes just letting the viewer feel them instead. That is what BO does and I think that’s why many of us describe the show as an easy watch. Keep in mind, just because something feels easy and light, it doesn’t mean it was easy to make. I commend the writing and production behind the show for making it look effortless. Between all the highly promoted summer shows, BO has a rightful popularity and I hope it will keep increasing its ratings and views. Right now, we need stories that lift us up more than anything.
I love the opening song for the show and I’ve translated the lyrics for you. I think they have done a great job with the song. What do you think? I’m leaving you the video of the song with a cute BTS clip.
Love chooses by itself, you can’t know
It will fix you up, you can’t beat your fortune
You can’t get ahead of the water when it’s on its way
The roads that lead to love are long
What if these fairy tales were true
Even if you put a halo on your head
Go on flirt with your fate
The roads that lead to love are long
What if these fairy tales were true
Even if you put a halo on your head
Go on flirt with your fate
Dear reader, thanks for reading so far. I hope you enjoyed this. Are you watching the show? If not, have I been able to convince you to take a shot? Let me know your thoughts about the show in general or your favorite characters. Isn’t every scene Ada in, worth a dozen memes? :) Find me as @edsavaseri on Twitter and please let me know your thoughts about this piece. I hope you have a great day wherever you are in the world right now. I’m sending you love and light from a hot Muğla afternoon.