Esra Bilgic
Esra Bilgic Image Credit: Supplied

If there’s one star in Pakistan whose popularity currently rivals that of Mahira Khan, it has to be Esra Bilgic, better known by her screen name Halime Sultan from the Turkish TV series ‘Dirili: Ertuğrul’ (released on Netflix as ‘Resurrection: Ertugrul’), which began airing its dubbed Urdu episodes on PTV in April this year. The show has been minting exceptional ratings since, which explains why the 27-year-old Ankara-born model and actress was chosen by a leading cellular company of Pakistan to be their new face. The company’s earlier brand ambassadors have included the likes of Kareena Kapoor-Khan, Katrina Kaif and our very own Mahira Khan.

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The mobile company is known to spend a fortune on their ad campaigns. And this is more than obvious in the Bilgic commercial which was released recently, on Eid Al Adha. Shot early last month at the famous Çırağan Palace, a 19th-century Ottoman palace which has now been turned into a five-star Kempinski hotel in Istanbul, the ad is directed by award-winning Turkish filmmaker Umut Aral, whose credits include the Netflix Original The Protector.

It features Bilgiç in what may be called an extension of her character in ‘Dirili: Ertuğrul’, except that here she plays herself and is shown filming a sword-fight sequence in the role of a raging princess.

Quite expectedly, the ad has become the talk of the town.

On YouTube, it has earned half a million views already. The comment list is long too, and ranges from people fawning over Bilgiç to those ranking her above any local artist. Consider this comment, for instance: “Pakistani actors ko dekh dekh kr tng agye hain [we’re tired of seeing the same Pakistani actors over and over]… A big step in this regard. I am going to buy this phone… A great love for Halima Sultan!”

But as they say, the haters are gonna hate, unfavourable voices are also being heard — interestingly, from within the showbiz industry itself. Earlier, actor Yasir Hussain tweeted about how “a Pakistani brand should have a Pakistani ambassador, Not Indian or Turkish.”

A couple of others toed the line of nationalism.

Esra Bilgic in a TV commercial for Pakistan-1597043494908

But this wasn’t the first time that Bilgic had lost favour with the conservative lot among her newfound fan base in Pakistan. Soon after ‘Diriliş: Ertuğrul’ became a huge hit, those unfairly identifying her with the pious Muslim princess she played on screen, were shocked to see her glamorous posts on Instagram.

Clearly, however, Bilgic’s popularity didn’t take a hit, all prudes and prigs notwithstanding. Today, she’s due out in another major ad campaign in Pakistan. According to sources, the entire campaign was recently shot over a period of just three days, in Johannesburg, South Africa.