The currently running Turkish remake of the K-Drama Cunning Single Lady has quickly risen to the top of the busy field of Turkish romcoms airing this summer. It is the story of Esra and Ozan, who are estranged after a sudden divorce initiated by Esra, who could no longer tolerate the emotional and physical burden of being the sole breadwinner while Ozan chased his entrepreneurial dream. They meet years later, when Ozan has become a successful businessman and Esra has remained within her small neighborhood roots, despite an assertive and positive outlook on life and opportunities.
If you are looking for a succinct, spoiler-free review of the series, characters and plot, please read here. The rest of my article will delve into my perception of this wounded love that tries to heal as the individuals find themselves in a different time and place in their lives. What brings them here, what drives them now, what makes them complete – these are the questions I muse upon without the benefit of having watched the original.
Our Past Shapes Us
Growing up in a family where her mother Menekse had to become the primary provider while her loving but clueless father Yalcin chased one ill-judged product idea after another, Esra is advised by her mother to look for stability in her partner as marrying for love leads to a life of obstacles.
Ozan, a brilliant but awkward young man in her neighborhood who had a good job post-graduation, had always been in love with Esra. After a particularly catastrophic failure of another of Esra’s father’s experiments, Esra proposes to Ozan, who is ecstatic to be the one chosen from the long line of men who aspired to Esra.
Ozan and his younger sister have been raised by a single mother abandoned by her husband. A woman of little means but with a deep desire for material comforts, Zumrut commands a special devotion from Ozan, being the primary female role model in his young life. Zumrut is possessive of Ozan but once he marries Esra, he is unable to comprehend, let alone mediate, the depth of tensions between his mother and wife. Soon after, he leaves his stable job with the hope that he will be able to get a bigger payoff on his talents if he can make his app successful. He does this so that he can give the life to Esra he wants to afford for her, and also to be a good provider for his mother and sister who are now his responsibility. Immersed in his coding for the app that he thinks will be revolutionary, he begins to lose sight of Esra and her struggles.
A youthful, loving marriage gets marred by Ozan’s oblivious and seemingly self-absorbed approach to life. As Esra holds down multiple jobs to the exclusion of pursuing her own dreams of a comfortable home and stable life, she begins to feel that she is repeating her mother’s misfortunes. She finally reaches a tipping point and, feeling neglected by Ozan, closes the door on him, following through with a divorce. Her last words to him at the end of the divorce are, “I have never been in love with you, Ozan. Don’t make money an excuse to see each other; Leave my life quietly and go” – which crushes Ozan and keeps him from seeking her out again.
The Muscle Memory of Love
The beauty of this love story lies in the re-awakening of both their emotions for each other as their worlds collide once more. Neither has forgotten the other, and the cinematic choice is to show Ozan’s despair overtly, while Esra is unveiled in layers. They respond to each other from the muscle memory of their love for each other.
Ozan’s love for Esra was known by everyone while Esra never expressed the words to anyone, not even her closest confidantes. From her mother’s experience, she is so fearful about being vulnerable to love, that she does not even admit to herself how much she loved Ozan, and how much she wished to be loved back – in her love language.
At first blush, we only see the arrogance of Esra and how she knows Ozan could not have forgotten her, how she threw him out after getting fed up with his isolating behavior, how she feels he owes her an acknowledgement for supporting him during his early days of trial and error. Over time, we begin to appreciate the hidden clues of her despair and how difficult it was for her to walk away. Esra is a woman of action who is not effusive with her words of love.
Even though she enters the company with the purpose of making him regret what he lost in her, it is not her overt efforts to get his notice, but her hidden ones that speak loudest of her love. Subtly embedded within the visible gestures she shows in her care for Ozan, these are some that stood out to me, from their past and the present:
The Night She Spurns Ozan
The night she turns away Ozan and leaves him out in the rain, her apartment is devoid of furniture and fixtures with the curtains drawn, suggesting that she may have had to pay off debts to keep a roof over her head. She doesn’t allow Ozan to come in and see the havoc. He will only remember her cruelty but not her magnanimity in sparing him from feeling less of a man for not being a provider for his family.
This Is All I Could Buy For You
When Esra gives Ozan the snow globe as her first gift to him, he doesn’t immediately catch her indulgent, loving expression. With all the jobs she was maintaining, and the little disposable income she had, she didn’t forget to buy something for him. Until now, there is no mention of Ozan buying something for her except for the promises he made. His interfering mother hogged his attention and made him feel indebted to her for having raised him on her own. Instead of buying a wedding trinket for Esra, he spends the money to buy a bracelet for his demanding mother.
Just So You Will Eat Something
After Ozan witnesses Cinar holding Esra’s hand and goes into hiding at his second home, Esra comes there and is gregarious about getting him out of the house. In her parting words, one can see how pained she is by Ozan’s words, and yet she says that she had been climbing out of her skin just so he would eat something, because she knows how he goes into a shell when he is confused or hurt.
I Am Here
Despite all the mean things Ozan keeps saying to her, working under the impression that Esra is a sycophant back in his sphere because he now has money, Esra stays by his bedside all night after his accident. In her monologue, and through other scenes, it becomes obvious that she is hiding something painful from Ozan. Regardless of all her negative experiences with Ozan, she cannot stay away when he is hurting.
Here, Have Your Vitamin C
When Ozan is ill, he rightfully wants to stock up on vitamin C and boost his immune system naturally. While his eyes remain glued to his screen, Esra, against her better judgement, feeds him a piece of orange over medication, and he again under appreciates the look of love and affection on her face.
You Were Holding Hands
Ozan is a brilliant man and he is beginning to comprehend her better. In the last scene of Episode 7, when he keeps asking her why she didn’t tell him anything about being at the hospital, she finally says “you were holding hands!”
Her choice to not say anything was not out of spite or jealousy. She was trying to make room for the possibility that Ozan was moving on with Cagla. She is hurt and upset without fully understanding why, and yet she doesn’t try to compete and indulge in shenanigans to make Ozan choose her. She just doesn’t want to encourage and enable it further. She didn’t want them bonding over her mother’s food, the glue that holds her family together.
But hope is eternal and she follows Ozan out of town for confirmation that he and Cagla are a couple. Her words say it is to understand the double standards in the office of Ozan/Cagla having a different set of rules than the rest of the employees, but her actions suggest otherwise. Her shattered heart, the one she has been nursing ever since they parted, needs proof that Ozan has really moved on.
Ever since first grade, Ozan doesn’t have anyone other than Esra in his heart. Without a good male role model, he doesn’t have a strong concept about how to build a romantic relationship, but he loves her with all that he is. When Esra divorces him and tells him that she never loved him, he lacks confidence to challenge it. Is it that unreasonable that the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood got tired of him, the nerd with a good heart but not much else to his credit?
He walks away to lick his wounds and then climbs the ladders of success, reinventing himself along the way, becoming a far cry from the gauche, bespectacled, innocent young man whose greatest joy was his love for Esra. He now struts with the confidence of a man who knows his capabilities and strengths, and tries to remember Esra as the woman who dropped him because he had nothing.
As she re-enters his sphere, it does not take much for her to stoke the feelings he keeps hidden within himself. He reacts to her out of the muscle memory of his love for her and he begins to remember her fiery resilience and how he had admired it in all its glory. He knows within himself that for all the pain of the rejection he felt from Esra, she still remains his one sense of home, the only one who can soothe his burning soul. And, as such, he finds himself in a quandary. He desperately wants to believe that he hadn’t been wrong in thinking Esra had loved him, but her biting words and insistence that she doesn’t love him confuses him.
A Wounded Love That Heals
Esra appears hardened, unbeatable and strong, but she also cradles a wounded soul who has internalized immeasurable pain when she chose to part with Ozan. Conditioned to adapt to any situation, she willingly takes on the emotional and physical burden of a relationship, hoping that her acts of service will convey the love she feels.
Perhaps, she had fallen in love with Ozan during their marriage, or perhaps she had always loved him as he had loved her. She always saw the good man in him and even though she loved him with all that she was, she could no longer live with him. She makes herself believe love is an overrated concept and says the words – I have never loved you, Ozan - that she knows will make Ozan retreat from her for good.
Regardless of the roots of her love, it is evident she still deeply cares about Ozan and never gave up loving him. Accepting the truth about her love for him is her biggest fear and weakness because she doesn’t like being vulnerable to the pain and disappointment that comes with love. But, if she had no doubts about Ozan’s desire for her and his ability to prioritize her; if she felt secure in her immediate world with him, all her inhibitions will melt away.
A more mature Ozan and Esra learning to come together, while they carry the muscle memory of a great love, where their hearts only call each other's names during their quietest moments, allows for an emotionally intelligent love story such that each partner accepts their own flaws and follows a meaningful journey to accept the other as they are. As Ozan says, we do not choose who we fall in love with and once we do, we do not leave their side through the ups and downs.
Theirs is an innocent love story that broke apart under the pressure of circumstances, but it is an all-consuming, possessive love. They know the other can never belong to anyone else.
To be able to portray this yearning, within angst and comedy, is no mean feat but Ask Mantik Intikam is brilliant so far through well sketched out characters and well scripted plot choices for the lead pair. Drawing inspiration from the original, the Turkish twists and intensity add layers to the story with rich family dynamics, cultural nuances and an aesthetically pleasing cinematic experience. I laugh and cry with both Ozan and Esra in equal measures. Their cumulative pain and their love are both palpable; kudos to Ilhan Sen and Burcu Ozberk in how they have given life to these characters.
I look forward to a tight story that never lets us lose faith in this love and makes us support their growth while we garner hope for our own love stories. For now, I leave you with a fan video that beautifully captures the yin and yang of a love that cannot be suppressed despite the hardships faced.
VC: @AndreeaCraciunx | YouTube
DISCLAIMER: I stopped watching the show after Episode 10. The dizi writers take too much creative license in a remake and shape characters such that I can no longer root for the couple. Please watch at your own peril.
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