Who is Sancar Efe? by Navid Shahzad

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Who is Sancar Efe?  by Navid Shahzad

Episode 34 ends on a dispiriting note as Sancar steps back a pace silently studying his beloved’s face, then pulling out two wedding rings from his pocket adds his own band to them and places all three rings gently on Narê’s palm; withdraws his own hands from her clasp and lets them hang emptily by his side. He then thanks the Ambassador’s daughter; steps back a pace and turning his back on her, walks into a darkening forest. The scene is shot in semi darkness to the track of ‘Ederlezi’, a Romany song first heard in Episode 3 set in Montenegro. As shadows lengthen to envelop the two human figures silhouetted against a backdrop of gnarled gray-green olive trees, we are made to realize that Sancar and Narê have travelled back in time to a point where they were incomplete without each other. The old gypsy woman had pointedly told Sancar that he needed to take care of the wounded bird in his heart so it could fly again; this time however, it is Sancar whose heart is the wounded bird that must leave in order to heal itself- if ever.

The delay in the airing of Episode 35 due to a change of writers gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves important questions about the man who leaves the Ambassador’s daughter on her knees, face awash with tears with no comfort in sight. Who is this man called Sancar Efe?

A mere ‘wood-cutter’s son’ as a sneeringly officious Ambassador Çelebi refers to him? A lowly ‘share-cropper’s’ eldest child as his own former friend refers to him in a rage? Halise’s first born and the child who never spoke of his sorrows? Zehra’s beloved Abbi whom she can depend on every time? Elvan’s protector and the elder brother she never had? Aunt Feride’s rascally nephew whom she publicly berates but loves nevertheless? Kavruk’s childhood friend and presently his Efe? Melek’s ‘best and dearest Baba in the world’?

The answer to all these questions is an unequivocal YES and much MORE!

Sancar Efe plays a distinct role in the life of each person who is either family, beloved, friend or foe; a role that ripples outward in ever growing circles as it moves from being a respectful, loving son, doting brother, caring protector, friend and the most devoted father any child could ever have asked for. In his own person, he is also an immensely clever, intelligent, generous man whose work ethic and morality is beyond reproach as he dispenses affection as disarmingly as he administers stern justice. His largesse knows no bounds extending itself to everyone, from the guard at the door to the pregnant worker at his office with a respectful secrecy. Loathe having anyone ‘serve’ him, whether it be a boy holding his car door or his wife laying out his clothes, Sancar is a man as respectful of others as he prides himself on being his own man. For him, the measure of a man is neither his social standing nor wealth but his inherent goodness and loyalty which is what he treasures Kavruk for and therefore supports him in his love of his sister Zehra. A man who does not suffer fools gladly even if it is his own brother; it is his personal honor that he holds sacred with an admirable rare dignity. A man of his word, Sancar Efe can easily be trusted with one’s life since he never acts dishonorably, while if asked to choose two words to describe him – we would not have to look beyond impeccable ‘honor and loyalty’.

This is not to say that he is perfect, for he is not. His foremost weakness is his unbridled anger which has cost him ten precious years of what could have been a joyous life. Compensating for its fall out effects, he gains in stature as he readily accepts his fault and immediately starts to atone for his distrust of the woman he loves. Putting Job to shame for his patience in trying to rebuild a relationship he was responsible for marring while inadvertently causing great harm to his beloved, Sancar Efe steadily won the admiration and sympathy of viewers during the 34 episodes already aired and commented on. As quick to forgive as he is to anger with those whom he loves, he can be a scourge for evil men like Akin and a nemesis for bullies and blackmailers like Kahraman; just as much as he can sorrow over a long friendship now lost to the selfish avariciousness of the man he had once called brother. Let us not forget how painfully he worked his way back to Gediz after the latter’s revelation about his feelings for Narê. One had expected that the return to a semi-normal relationship teetering on the brink of survival after a terrible betrayal would serve as adequate warning against any further misadventures by Gediz but sadly, that does not happen. From a decidedly clever, charming, generous friend, the Isikli heir starts his slippery descent towards a major tumble. Consumed by envy, frustrated by Narê’s lack of response, sidelined by his own puny efforts to appear as strong and powerful as the man he partnered happily for eight years, unresponsive to anyone’s pain except his own specially in his sister’s case; Gediz is a man who is hollowed out by his obsession with himself and failing to prove that he is a better man than Sancar. Evolving to a point where he becomes a shadow of his former self, he falls headlong into the bottomless pit that he has dug for Sancar. Privy to Menekeşe’s lies and Sahra’s identity just as much as he is to Dudu’s reporting; the fact that he even co-operates with the man who raped Narê; leaves Gediz a pitiful replica of the man he once was. As he sits lost and alone after having shot Sahra, Narê’s spontaneous ‘mothering’ instinct springs into action. Perhaps because we have no information about her own mother whose life is limited only to the report of her death in one line that she instinctively becomes the caretaker.

This is a character trait that has brought Narê as much joy as grief, for she started out trusting Akin and Sahra only to be terribly betrayed by both, while Elvan, Müge and Zehra become her sibling allies. But for all her ‘wards’, it is the disappointment in Gediz that has once again raised the spectra of trusting only herself. Narê knows very well that it was Gediz who had reported Sancar’s whereabouts to the police without a thought about his life-threatening condition. Admittedly she is grateful to him for saving Sancar’s life but to forget his previous efforts to ruin Sancar and put him behind bars cannot be forgotten simply in the face of his present act. Never one to mince words, Sancar is as clear in his approach as he thanks Gediz but makes it clear that uniting against a common enemy to save the company is his only motivation for the present moment.

Somewhere along the way, the narrative that began with the tragic story of two young people who loved each other body and soul began resembling an overladen caravan plodding in the desert, stopping at water holes and then moving off towards a different horizon each time. A mix of topical issues such as women empowerment, tradition vs. modernity, patriarchy and feminism, misogyny and misanthropy seeped into ridiculous plot tangents such as a long lasting false pregnancy, a potentially swapped baby, a mysterious deadly half -sister, poisonings and kidnappings, murders and hidden corpses reinforcing an impression that a deadly writers’ fatigue was setting in to drastically deviate from the main plot. When the screenplay paid attention to the thematic content, the series sparkled like star dust before plunging into various black holes that left viewers deeply disappointed.

However, to give credit where it is due, even the writers’ own efforts at betraying the essence of the series i.e. a legendary love story, could not brush away the charisma of the man they presented as Sancar Efe. For that, we must be grateful for the enormous skill of the actor Engin Akyürek who created a character so dynamic, so believable and so life like that it remains carved like a primeval totem in one’s emotional memory. Neslihan Atagül’s Narê started-off looking like a precious china doll but after 34 episodes of seeing her look exactly the same, wearing boots to the beach, going to bed in her day clothes, spitting fire like an angry cat and crying foul every time Sancar made a mistake has by now become wearisome. Atagül can be as magnificent as Akyürek has been consistently when given the chance, as in her soul wrenching speech about fathers and daughters; but for the repetitive rhythm of her character which appears to forever take one step forward only to take two steps back. Little Melek on the other hand, has grown a little in height, lost her chubby cheeks but gained tremendous control over a performance that could so easily have slipped into a maudlin caricature of a child torn between two warring parents.

And so to return to the enigmatic Sancar Efe – given all that we know about him, there remains something childishly vulnerable about this tall dark man with the most amazing sunshine smile; for example, it takes such a small gesture from Narê to delight him as their picnic antics prove, or her midnight padding into the loft to sleep next to him on his last night of freedom. Sancar’s eyes crinkle with laughter as a long slow smile spreads across his face at the sight of Narê slipping in like a cat to feel the warmth of the kitten asleep beside her father. A miniscule cuddle from Melek makes him feel like he could be the master of the universe with his ‘beloved girls’ by his side. His heart leaps to the sound of a childish ‘Baba’, breaks at the sight of a tear in his child’s eye; vaults over the moon when Narê shows signs of jealousy or appears to fight for him. Longing to hear her call his name, he tries everything within his power to make her break her vow, which includes threatening to carry her over his shoulder in full view of everyone at the office while at the sight of her bursting into his room at night to complain of Menekeşe’s clandestine visit, he jubilantly urges her to tell the world who he belongs to. In an attempt to rebuild a family, he courts Narê’s approval as a child would, even while privately grieving over having missed Melek’s growing up years. Willing to die for her, he even apes western culture to please Narê as he goes to the extent of courting her like a ‘civilized’ man, surprising her with a proposal on bended knee at the beach; sends for a design team from Istanbul to prepare a trousseau for her and tops it all with a plan to entrust the family mansion to her as a secret wedding gift! That the outcome of all his efforts is nothing but more disappointment forces a reassessment, not only of Narê but the relationship itself.

Even a cursory view tells us there is something radically wrong with a relationship in which the only truly physical contact happened nine years ago and barring a few kisses has never been repeated again. What appears as over-zealous attention to censorship laws which have become stricter in recent years, the writers would have us believe that the ardent lovers are content to kiss each other only twice or thrice during the duration of 34 episodes. This goes against the very grain of the intense passionate relationship that the characters are supposed to be resurrecting and is almost an offence to the viewer’s intelligence. The screen play emphasizes Melek’s legitimacy throughout, as Sancar and Narê were married according to Islamic injunctions and there has been no divorce; but there is no legal acceptance of the union either since the nikah was never registered.

The entire story of Sefirin Kizi hinges upon this tiny technical detail. Far away from Narê’s civilized world, tradition and modernity face each other across a seemingly incompatible divided framework of rules and regulations, as the child is accepted as legitimate heir by the Efe family once paternity is proven, but the marriage is not! Under Islamic law, Sancar cannot remarry until he has the first wife’s permission or has divorced her- neither of which has happened so if anything; it is the second marriage that is ‘illegal’ according to religion! The problem is compounded by the fact that Sancar is shown as a God fearing man and one who observes the rites of ‘salaat’ i.e. prayer; in fact, we first meet him after Jumma Prayers and his heart broken plea at the mosque for Melek’s life is further evidence of his belief in Allah’s Mercy.

That Sancar has spent the last nine years as a complete celibate evidences the tremendous discipline he is capable of imposing upon himself as well as the nature of his attachment to the girl he wed in a little hut at the foothills of the mountains. That Narê is just as true to him raises two problems which need further investigation: one, given the rape incident it is unacceptable that Narê should tolerate the perpetrator’s presence in her father’s house especially with her child growing up there without being traumatized; especially after the second attempt which is prompted by Akin’s revelation that Sancar is finally getting married. We need to appreciate that something snaps in Narê at the news, possibly providing the impetus required for the physical wounding of her attacker. Jogging our memory a bit, we realize that the first rape happened as a consequence of Narê revealing her plans to elope with Sancar to Akin; while the second attempt is made by him to seal any further adventurism by Narê incensed at the thought of Sancar’s marriage. In the heat of the moment, Narê tells her father that she plans on taking Melek to her father where she will be ‘in her father’s home in her own homeland’ while the Çelebi ‘father and daughter will reside in hell.’ It is the second time Narê makes the same mistake i.e reveals her future plans with disastrous consequences. Had she left quietly, it is doubtful that Çelebi would have been able to track her down as easily as he does, and Melek would have had a better chance of settling down with her father.

It is precisely this tendency to act first and think later that causes Narê a great deal of harm back in Muğla as she struggles with trauma, anger and her submerged feelings for Sancar. A sub issue would certainly concern itself with Narê’s silence while watching Sancar marry another woman raising the question: why does she not stop Sancar from marrying Menekeşe in time? A dramatic ploy, masochism or yet another reason to vent her anger on Sancar – it is difficult to say.

The other problem concerns itself with the fact that Narê has no experience of living in a large family in which every person has a particular place and say for she has never experienced the give and take, the spite and laughter, the bon homier or the camaraderie of people her own age. When she comes to Muğla and the Efe household in particular; she comes with preconceived notions about what ‘family’ is. Her own subconscious desire accepts only a family of three i.e. Sancar, Melek and herself; therefore, her understanding of how responsible Sancar feels for the welfare of his mother- as garrulous and domineering as she may be and siblings, is absolutely negligible which is very surprising considering her tendency to ‘adopt’ every unhappy woman who crosses her path, be it Elvan, Müge, Zehra, Ceylan or the dangerous Sahra without a second thought. Trusting to a fault with others as in the case of Gediz, it appears that she only distrusts Sancar’s judgment leading to dire consequences as evidenced by several instances. The downward spiral of the company rollercoaster that handed the management of the company to a foursome of inexperienced women which led to near bankruptcy was Narê’s brainchild, just as much as her near fatal freeing of Akin leads to Sancar’s bone breaking fall.

Just as music and song are used to add meaning and create necessary tension between various principles of a visual narrative to enhance dramatic effect; the recitation of the Surah Yaseen is not without significance. Rather than dismiss it as a propaganda attempt to promote Islam, the choice of this particular surah which is said to be the heart of the Quran, carries immense importance; as one of the beneficial effects of a daily recital is the protection it grants against enemies and one’s own fears. For the surah to be recited at the particular juncture that it is therefore, is to act as a kind of protective shield for the mansion and its inmates since it is under threat from very powerful, ruthless quarters. As to the problem of entrusting the mansion to Narê, it must be remembered that the Islamic law of inheritance is very precise in its allocation of property or wealth, which is shared among all survivors in precise percentages laid down by sharia; such as a full share for boys and a half share for female children. Sancar is farsighted enough to know that neither Yahya nor his mother are capable of ensuring Melek’s inheritance or dealing equitably with the rest of the family including Narê herself, since his brother is influenced by the mercenary Dudu and his mother is in poor health. He therefore entrusts someone he loves and trusts implicitly to look after his child, his family, his home and his family name. Unfortunately, Narê is consumed with her own desire to save Sancar at any cost even if it means losing the mansion. Her argument that four stone walls cannot be valued more than his life is valid on an emotional and personal level whereas, the mansion represents far more than stone and wood. It is the Efe legacy, name, honour and dignity that is at stake and not just rooms and spaces for it is Melek’s home where generations of Efes live and it is her father’s home which she will leave when she becomes a bride.

It is not therefore, just three wedding rings that Sancar places in Narê’s palm, it is a sign that Narê has evicted him from his home just as he had done to Narê many moons ago. Stripped of all material things, Sancar renounces his vows of love, trust and his very being as he exiles himself and walks away without a backward glance carrying only his name and dignity which he will continue to fight for with his last breath. Once broken, some things can never be put together for example, the human heart. Unlike the shattering of glass there is no sound and no visible shards but that is precisely why it hurts far more than a physical cut which heals with time. The scars left by wounds like Narê’s or Sancar’s after their respective falls from the cliff top fade in time, but the slow death of a heart wounded beyond remedy can only be helped by a divine miracle.

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