Mr & Mrs. Karaca
One of the most talked about pairs in diziland is that of Ibrahim Celikkol and Demet Ozdemir as Mehdi and Zeynep Karaca in Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir (DEK), which just had its season finale on Wednesday, July 1. Helmed by two incredibly talented actors, their star power fades into the background when their characters come on screen, leaving audiences hungry for more each week.
The way Mehdi and Zeynep evolve as a couple while they navigate perceptions, expectations, fears, desires, obstacles, dreams, hopes and more, show two well-meaning, good human beings trying to find refuge in each other as the world happens around them. They fall in love because they are attracted to the other’s inner beauty. Even though both have roots in the same middle-class neighborhood, Zeynep’s upbringing in her upper class foster family sets her apart from the other mahalle girls. Similarly, Mehdi is an atypically cultured, enlightened and mild-mannered gentleman in the rubble of a neighborhood where a layer of desperation hides underneath a fragile patina of acceptance.
Within the competing tensions of the world, and against all apparent odds, Mehdi and Zeynep find reliance in each other as both are capable people who have a clear sense of fairness and justice, and both have the gift of a kind heart that desire the happiness of those around them. What DEK shows masterfully are the minutiae of life that begin to uncover the depth of love between two people who had not been touched by true love before. Within this delicate love story, Eylem Canpolat and her team of writers bring forth subtle social messages that are not lost on the audience.
Does our destiny get set in stone by where we are born? Zeynep’s journey from a decrepit home dominated by an alcoholic, abusive father who has no notion of respect for women or education, to being raised in a loving, opulent foster home where the heiress mother deeply values female empowerment, exposes her to a wide spectrum of experiences that give her the tools to define her destiny. And yet, due to her sense of contradictory sense of belonging, she remains unclear about the path that makes her happy.
When she meets Mehdi, she finds something that has eluded her for much of her life – a sense of unfiltered protection and acceptance that she last felt from her older brother Remzi, who had loved her unconditionally until his premature and untimely death. Over time, Mehdi’s equal affection for his childhood best friend and his gentle mannerisms touch Zeynep in ways she hasn’t been before, leading to her decision to marry him. When Mehdi loses control of his anger and fist fights break out on her wedding night, Zeynep fears that she has squandered her golden chance in life and regressed back to the abusive life her mother lived. Through time, circumstances and patience, she is able to change her mind as she realizes how enlightened Mehdi really is and how much he loves her just the way she is.
Even though fate brought her back to where she had started, her home is no longer defined by the walls within which she resides, but the heart that loves her.
Mehdi at his workshop
Mehdi’s character is understated but one of the best male characters I have seen in dizis. He is pious, educated, edified, hard-working, fair-minded, kind, courageous, protective and sensitive to women. Raised by a houseful of women, he is not threatened by them nor feels the need to put them in boxes. In fact, it is Zeynep’s history of hard work towards a worthy career that he finds attractive, her quiet persistence to make something of her life against all odds that makes him feel he has found a kindred spirit.
Within the heart of the traditions of his mahalle, Mehdi walks an atypical path. Turning away from the collective ambition to leave the confines of the neighborhood, Mehdi becomes ingrained in the inner sanctum of the neighborhood, earning an honest living as an auto mechanic, and spreading the social good by offering shelter and protection to those in need. Unlike the stereotypical man, he is not a slave to his ego, a quality he finds within Zeynep as well. Despite her luxurious lifestyle, Zeynep hasn’t lost touch with her roots, and her authenticity and desire to live a righteous life appeals to his chosen path to embrace God’s guidance.
“Welcome to my life”
His mild mannerisms are accentuated by his meditative habit of always having the tesbih beads in his hand. The tesbih is used for repetitive prayers or other ritualistic recitations, and all of Mehdi’s idle moments are consumed with such prayers. In many shows, such piousness is equated to a dogmatic interpretation of the religion but in Mehdi we see a man who espouses the spiritual interpretations of the religion where men are counseled to treat women with care and respect, to give the wife the status of an equal partner, to prioritize the fairness of humane behavior. Sensitively blended into the female centric narrative of DEK, Mehdi is a man who stands tall while being respectful to religion and traditional gender roles. His acceptance of and love for Zeynep as she is, has been done without emasculating him, which is a rare treat in dizis.
Kudos to Ibrahim for portraying the layers of the character through limited dialogue but with a physical embodiment of a humble, intense, quiet and introspective man. Mehdi is quite unlike the ruthless and gun wielding Ferhat Aslan he brought to life in Siyah Beyaz Ask, illustrating how Ibrahim is a master at his craft.
DEK touches upon a number of sensitive gender topics that are prevalent in many conservative cultures. Virginity before marriage is a virtue to be respected and the script started off in that vein. Zeynep tells Mehdi that she knows how the culture in the mahalle allows men to have many relationships but the expectation is that a wife will be pure. For several episodes, it was insinuated that Zeynep never consummated her relationship with Farouk, until it was revealed that she did. Weighed against a husband she chooses to support despite a pregnant ex-girlfriend, the message that both men and women ought to be afforded a level playing ground when it comes to prior relationships is refreshingly different.
Who am I to judge a woman? Judge you?
Most shows allow men tremendous latitude in their sexual exploits but women are judged far more harshly on the same metric. Perhaps to remain sensitive to that notion, Zeynep is shown to have consummated her relationship with a man she was planning to marry whereas Mehdi’s relationship with Benal lacked such a commitment. As a divorcee who lacks the purity of the virgin bride, Benal’s promiscuous behavior is almost justified, and Mehdi’s dalliance with her is also accepted with the notion that ‘men will be men’. By having Zeynep lose her virginity to her fiancé, and by showing Mehdi turn to his spirituality to ask who is he to judge a woman when he learns the truth, it feels as though a glass ceiling has been shattered in creating acceptance of a strong woman as she is, without her chastity defining her character.
Not only Zeynep and Benal, we are also shown Emine and Cemille who consummate their relationships without marriage even though they are products of a conservative neighborhood. Maybe it hints at the desperation of youth in constrained circumstances who turn towards sexual liberation as a way to express themselves. Whatever the reason may be, the theme portrays a part of life that is not discussed enough and the intelligent ways the script blends in the controversial topic is art at its best.
Also in the last episode, Mehdi telling Zeynep that she can wear what she wants without justification was a subtle but beautiful message. Mehdi is not threatened by her choices, he is confident in her love for him, and he trusts her to make good choices. Mehdi’s choice to not exercise the social rights of dominance afforded to him by the virtue of his manhood is a recurring and welcome theme.
Men in Our Lives
Losing her brother at a young age deeply affected Zeynep. He became a beacon for her to steer towards when she felt lost. Her childhood promise to Remzi to become a lawyer guides her relentless pursuit of her academic career, and she is able to fulfill her commitment with Nermin’s help. Her graduation speech brought many to tears as Demet does an outstanding job of essaying Zeynep’s conflicted journey to get to where she is, and how her life found its purpose as she fell in love with Mehdi.
Proud husband and partner
Unthreatened by Zeynep’s academic prowess or her career potential, Mehdi is fully supportive of Zeynep, illustrating how a man can empower the women in their lives to be stronger, better, more fulfilled, and the outcome does not threaten his male existence. While Mehdi and Remzi represent the potential of what a male stereotype could be, we are also shown men like Ekram and Bayram who objectify women, trying to trivialize their existence. Real life is such that women will face a mix of such men as we navigate our lives. While some men will be like mountains behind our backs, others will be the swamp that drown us. We have a responsibility to ourselves to recognize the good from the bad and have the courage to find a different path when threatened, or else we have stories like Benal and her abusive ex-husband, or Sakine and her miserable life with Bayram.
Zeynep, as she finds more of herself
Season 1 is all about Zeynep’s path to finding herself and her home. Zeynep is an extremely intelligent, academically successful girl but who has a confused sense of self. She neither fits fully into Nermin’s world nor does she fully fit into Sakine’s. This is made worse by the power struggle between the two mothers, leaving Zeynep as collateral damage in a war where she has no way to please both. Emotional independence is a journey for both the parent and child as the child flounders on her own while the parents despair over losing control. Yet, it is a necessary part of the journey for healthy adulthood. For Zeynep, until her heart is touched by true love, she never felt compelled enough to take on the battle but as she begins to find her sense of home with Mehdi, and understands that it is worth fighting for, with Mehdi’s help she begins to learn that asserting herself does not take away from the love her mothers feel for her. It establishes her boundaries and ultimately both the mothers are happy if they know Zeynep is happy.
With mulitple socially conscious themes in the series, DEK is a work of art that is meant to be savored. From script to music to direction to acting, it is an outstanding production. It shows human flaws and choices that change the course of our lives, and how we can reach within ourselves to find gracious ways of navigating that course. Anchored by Mehdi’s stable character, and explored through Zeynep’s meandering journey, the show is a beautiful example of why the world loves Turkish Drama. The second season will bring many new twists and turns, but the fans will only hope that the characters of Mehdi and Zeynep continue to grow as individuals and as a couple such that they remain as relatable and beloved as they have been.
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