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Uzbek State TV Is Primed For Homegrown Soap Operas

Gathering round the TV set in eastern Uzbekistan
Gathering round the TV set in eastern Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan's state-run television channels are honing their flair for the melodramatic for the release this year of several new "soap operas" aimed at replacing hugely popular foreign serials with ones that better reflect Uzbek life.

South Korean, Mexican, and Turkish variants of the seldom realistic, often sultry, and always emotional television-serial genre currently hold a dominant position on the airwaves. But Uzbek studios hope to alter the prime-time landscape.

"We want to create television series that reflect our Uzbek culture and traditions, our own Uzbek identity," Feruza Turakhojaeva, a film director at Uzbekistan's state-run film studio Uzbektelefilm, tells RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "How long should we learn about Korean and Turkish values? We have to promote our own culture."

Turakhojaeva highlights the wholesome fare of one of the new series, "Unmarried Matchmaker," saying that it is "dedicated to our traditions and values regarding weddings, marriage, and good-neighborliness."

National Effort

At least six domestically produced Uzbek soaps are currently being prepared for release on the country's two major state television channels, "Uzbekistan" and "Yoshlar."

Preparations have been accompanied by televised promotions and national appeals for "fresh faces" and capable screenwriters to join the effort.

Like Turakhojaeva, officials at Uzbektelefilm insist the intention is to promote Uzbek culture and values. They argue that the foreign television soaps that have dominated the scene since the early 1990s can be difficult for Uzbek audiences to digest.

But critics counter that the idea is to distract people from politics and everyday problems like poverty and unemployment.

There is also concern that the programs will simply exploit the state's stranglehold on the media by replacing the seemingly benign plotlines of foreign soaps with programming that strives merely to present Uzbek officialdom in a better light.

Aside from "Unmarried Matchmaker," the six new programs include "Woman's Language" and "Dreaming of Being a Champion."

Each series consists of 25-30 episodes and should air beginning this fall.

Ignoring Realities?

Some prominent Uzbeks have expressed reservations, saying Uzbektelefilm productions tend to paint a rosy picture of Uzbek life that ignores social and economic reality.

Olimk Otakhon, a prominent Uzbek writer and former film director, tells RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that it is misguided to expect the new soap operas to give a truly accurate portrayal of life in Uzbekistan, considering the existing censorship and a lack of freedom of speech.

"There are only three possible topics to make television series in Uzbekistan: nonexistent issues, life in outer space, and fantasy. You cannot touch any other topics," said Otakhon.

Sharof Ubaidulloev, a Tashkent-based veteran journalist, welcomes the Uzbektelefilm initiative, saying the introduction of the soaps will make Uzbeks "feel good about themselves and their traditions."

But Ubaidulloev is quick to add that, in order to attract Uzbek audiences, the new programs would be wise to focus on everyday issues like joblessness, corruption, and, especially, the hardships faced by millions of Uzbek migrant laborers and their families.

"If Uzbektelefilm claims their products are based on Uzbek people's lives, they should be realistic and show the full picture," said the journalist. "Otherwise, these films won't last long."

RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah contributed to this report