Türkan Şoray, Turkey’s own Sophia Loren, was born on the 28th of June 1945 in Eyüp, Istanbul, to parents, Halit, a railway-officer and mother Meliha, a housewife. Along with her younger sister Nazan, Türkan had a normal upbringing until she went to a film set with her friend and neighbour Emel Yildiz (now a champion for animal rights known as Panther Emel). Once there, Inanoglu, a screenwriter, film director and producer who became famous after working at Turkey’s Yeşilçam Studios, recognised Türkan’s star quality and cast her in the lead role in place of Emel.
Aged just fifteen, Türkan’s portrayal of Ayşe in Köyde Bir Kiz Sevdim (I Loved a Girl in the Village) lead to more films and by the late 1960s she was the most desired women in Turkish films due to her beauty and talent. She was frequently cast as the innocent village beauty forced to move to the city in search of work, where she was exploited by unscrupulous bosses and pursued by men of ill intent. Her character never succumbed to either and was extremely popular with the large numbers of Turkish villagers migrating to the cities at the time, where their traditional ways and the patriarchal family model were being challenged in exactly the same ways as Türkan portrayed in her films. Any movie she starred in was bound to be talked about, but due to many of her films having similar plots, some of her movies were made at a loss.
Nonetheless her popularity remained high and such was her fame, Türkan Şoray was able to create her own set of expectations, known as the Şoray Rules, which meant she remained free of the usual typecasting of attractive women in stereotypical roles of the time. These rules consisted of constraints about where she would be expected to film, non-nudity clauses in her contracts, reasonable working hours, set penalties for violation of her rules and so on. Producers wishing to work with her and guarantee box office success had to agree to her conditions or find themselves another star.
Over the course of her career she has received many national and international nominations and awards, and was chosen to be an “Artist of the State” by the Ministry of Culture of Turkey Republic. In the 1980s she began portraying women with problems of female identity in films such as On Kadın (Ten Women) and Hayallerim, Aşkım ve Sen (My Dreams, My Love and You) for which she won her third Best Actress Award from the Antalya Film Festival in 1987. In it she portrays three different women, each of whom is a facet of Türkan Şoray herself.
In the 1990s, Türkan moved into television, starring in the sentimental series Ikinci Bahar (Second Spring) and Tatli Hayat (Sweet Life). In addition she filmed a biographical program for cinema called Sinema Benim Askim (Cinema is My Love) with the NTV channel, which also resulted in the release of her autobiography called Sinemam ve Ben (My Cinema and Me) in 2012.
For more on the history of Turkish cinema I highly recommend “Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging”, available here.