Thing is, people do watch these oh-so-fashionably derided programs. In Nur Kasih's case, it would be hard to not find someone who hasn't seen the show if the ratings prove accurate (59% of viewers for the finale - apparently that's more viewers than TV3's Buletin Utama). Even the shows creators didn't expect the show to be this big a hit.
So what is it about this drama that gives it such a wide appeal? Nur Kasih is not the first sentimental Malay program to grace the airwaves, and its hardly groundbreaking for being an 'islamic drama'. Surely there must be an explanation for this mania.
Turns out that I am not alone in my curiosity. Manja Ismail of Berita Harian too wondered about the attractriveness of Nur Kasih. She theorised that the success of Nur Kasih owes a lot to the time-tested recipes of the Bollywood school of story-telling. To quote Ms Ismail,
"...[R]esipi sama dalam kebanyakan filem Bollywood menjadi rencah utama dalam Nur Kasih. Bahawa Khabir [Batia (director)], yang kebetulan berasal dari India, cenderung memainkan perasaan penonton ala filem Hindi ini terbukti melalui beberapa filemnya sebelum ini."
She goes on to speculate that Nur Kasih may be as much a form of escapism for the Malay[sian?] masses as Bollywood is for Indian cinemagoers. The difference being Bollywood offering relief from the hardships of poverty, while Nur Kasih supposedly "berupa escapism masyarakat Melayu/Islam di negara ini yang sudah bosan dengan keruntuhan moral dalam setiap bidang kehidupan mereka sekarang."
We might be getting ahead of ourselves here. None of the ardent show viewers I spoke to made Nur Kasih out to be an oasis (pun intended) of any kind. Nur, who's recently returned from a Raya Haji back home in Kelantan, reports that Nur Kasih is a family affair. The moment it comes on, everyone gathers round the TV to watch the latest installment of Nur (the title character) crying. And it seems, Nur (ibid.) does a lot of crying in the series which ticks Nur off.
Ahmad, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be as bothered by the waterworks. A sentimental person himself, the tragedies of the script involves him greatly. But even Ahmad is annoyed by the numerous cliffhangers and twists of Mira Mustafa's script. "Terrorist kidnappings, glass accidents, it's as if they're trying to top themself with every twist." Erratic plot twists aside, Nur Kasih maintained its allure all through its 26 episodes. There are even examples of early Nur Kasih fanfiction shooting out from among the cracks.
On the subject of cinematography, however, there seems to be a consensus. Nur Kasih is the work of Kabhir Batia, the man behind Sepi, Cinta, and Setem. These films are reknowned for their visual splendor. From the clips I've seen, Nur Kasih is beautifully shot with a lot of play with colours. It's certainly a visually satisfying series to watch, but as Nightphaser commented on twitter, it's '[g]ood cinematography wasted on smarmy story.'
Whatever reasons for it, Nur Kasih's success is ultimately a good thing. It has been a long time since a local show has captured the imaginations of Malaysian viewers. In a television ecosystem dominated by American and foreign productions, it offers a ray of hope for lovers of real Malaysian programs.