ARTICLE: BIRCAN USALLI SILAN
Fatma Girik, Türkan Şoray, Filiz Akın and Hülya Koçyiğit are the never ageing, legendary names and faces of ninety years of Turkish cinema.
We have always loved them. For they have written their names not on the wind but on time and in our hearts.
They were four young women, each more elegant and beautiful than the last. They had to be photogenic, fashionably dressed and extremely well-kempt. But what was important at the beginning was simply to be beautiful, to exude beauty. And this they did very well.
All of them have been at times outspoken, straight-talking, self-sacrificing, spirited fighters—strong ‘manly’ women, as we Turks are fond of saying. As a rule they played downtrodden, abandoned—and abandoning—women, victims of misunderstanding who, we believed then, had few counterparts in real life. Later, as we grew up, we came to realize that there really were such women in the world.
The plots of their films always revolved around such beautiful women. For we didn’t have famous directors back in those days, only stars, and what broke box office records was not a director or a screenplay but a beloved actor or actress.
We are talking about Fatma Girik, Türkan Şoray, Filiz Akın and Hülya Koçyiğit. Four famous, and as important as they are famous, women who have left their mark on the last 40-45 years of Turkish cinema. Four ever-lauded, never ageing, forever young famous women.
THE STORY OF A BOOK
The fact is that they were never free or happy in the true sense of the word. Nor were they particularly rich. Theirs was a series of ‘if only’s. Joys they could not share, hidden pain, longings and desires, pluses and minuses, the rising and falling tides. But they were loved more than anyone ever was, and this is no small thing. How fortunate for me as well that they allowed me to be one of the people who was closest to them, both during my years as a journalist and since. It was Hülya Koçyiğit who had the idea of writing a book about the four leading women of Turkish cinema. To a proposal that I write her life story, she replied, “First write all four of us. Then write me.” And so it happened. The title of the book, ‘Four-leaf Clover’, originated with Filiz Akın. My purpose in writing the book, published by Epsilon Publications, actually stemmed from my conviction that each of their biographies was a lesson in life. Let the stories of these women, I said, who achieved their highest ambition in life, be a lesson to us all. And the subtitle of the book in which I try to describe these four women is “What was their magic?’ Yes, I actually tried to analyze it, my intention being to explain how it was that they succeeded in striking such a deep chord in us. They viewed the cinema not as a business but as a way of life. Believing in the characters they played on screen, they actually emulated them in their lives. And when these characters, each one a type worthy of adoration, were transformed into reality, it was our fate to love them for real.
They had their fanatical followers, just like the great soccer clubs. So much so that they were even divided into camps. The Hülya fans generally took a dim view of the Türkan supporters, as did the Filiz followers of the Hülya devotees. ‘Unrivalled Queen’ was one title that could not be shared.
Don’t ask me to sum each of them up in a single sentence. What could I choose to say about them? They are so multi-faceted that it’s difficult even to describe each one on her own. Let us not even try. Their qualities cannot be squeezed into books. They have been described countless times and will doubtless continue to be. For they are the never ageing face of Turkish cinema. Icons that combine the past, present and future of modernizing Turkey in their images. Always envied yet always loved, these four unforgettable women form an essential link in the history of Turkish cinema.
TÜRKAN ŞORAY: PORTRAIT OF A TURKISH WOMAN
Türkan Şoray to my mind is the quintessential portrait of the Turkish woman. A ‘real woman’ with dusky brows and dark eyes, broad hips and generous lips. A sad, crushed woman who has suffered injustice, a woman who appears to be beaten down but who will continue to fight quietly until she gains redress.
But at the same time the type of woman who, with her slightly parted lips and languid glance, can arouse desire at any age. One of five women whose names have for years have been synonymous with beauty in Turkey. The ‘sultan’, who despite 40 years in the acting profession is never satisfied unless she is studying and learning something new, who applauds and supports every good actor.
HÜLYA KOÇYİĞİT: AWARDS QUEEN
Hülya Koçyiğit meanwhile is Turkey’s awards queen, devoted heart and soul to the cinema. Despite being Turkey’s most lauded artist with countless accolades to her name, she still reviews every take, is all smiles when the director demands yet another. Koçyiğit’s job is hard, for she is Atatürk’s type of the secular, democratic teacher who cannot afford to make a false move. The innocent, intelligent Turkish woman seeking her rights. The woman who regards her beauty as a small detail, giving primary importance to the words she speaks.
FİLİZ AKIN: CHIC AND ELEGANT TO A FAULT
Filiz Akın is the ‘cool’, elegant, fashionable woman, the woman who looks to Europe, the woman who shattered the notion that ‘all blondes are sluts’ in the Turkish cinema. With her tiny face, the hair down to the waist, the eyes accentuated with thick liner and the trademark wide-brimmed hats, she was one of the four aces. A beautiful woman who, in her modest way, marshalling all her many talents, struggled ceaselessly on the sidelines to promote Turkey. Naive and fragile but at the same time an indomitable fighter. A pale angel who did not conceal her illness but shared it with the Turkish people, and who attributed her recovery to the prayers people prayed for her and was ready to share those prayers with anybody who needed them.
FATMA GİRİK: SYMBOL OF THE STRONG WOMAN
Now a young woman from the slums, now a broken-hearted mother, now a spurned singer in pursuit of revenge, blowing smoke from a black cigarette holder held between her lips. We loved her too as the earthiest of the four, the actress who portrayed most faithfully the plight of Turkey’s peasant women. With bead-bright eyes, Fatma Girik was actually a symbol of how strong a woman can be, unabashedly stripping, kissing, fighting and standing up to life without fear. A woman who, when she became mayor of one of Istanbul’s major districts, did not hesitate to don jeans and pull on boots, who braved rain, snow and mud to get out and solve problems. A woman who enjoyed undying love in her lifelong liaison with Memduh Ün.
These prominent, beautiful and very special women have been part of our lives for forty years. For exactly four generations we have been completely enamored of them, and will no doubt continue to be. For these women are ageless. They have been part of our lives since fifteen. Then twenty, forty, fifty... and I am sure they will still be there in a hundred years, bright stars forever in the firmament.
We would like to thank Epsilon Publications and TÜRVAK Cinema Museum for providing the visuals.