Explaining Nur Kasih

If I were to ask you readers whether or not you watch Nur Kasih? Chances are half of you would have never heard of it before this, and the other half would feign ignorance. Such is the stigma associated with watching Malay dramas that no one in their right mind would admit to it in polite company.

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.


  1. Ooooh. I fully agree with Nightphaser.

    When I heard that many of my female friends were sobbing throughout the series, I was appalled and slightly intrigued. They gushed about its 'Islamic values' and its storyline (they were QUOTING, for crying out loud).

    So I gave it a shot. Six episodes, I lasted. There were times curiousity got the better of me and I fastforwarded a few minutes ahead, and it seemed as though the titular character, Nur Amina was still crying, or whining, or dispensing advise in a whining voice.

    The many long-zooms and nice cinematography was annoying and merely distracted the audience from its lack of plot progression.

    Another thing that ticked me off was the stereotypes. Oh my God, all that colour deserves better characters than the prodigal son, the vagabond child who 'lost his way' while studying overseas, the scheming sibling, and the meek protagonist who indignantly cries her way through all of life's challenges.

    Also, marriage seemed to be a life goal to this people. It was tossed around like some magical remedy, a counter-curse to bad behaviour and irresponsibility. It merely reinforces the fantasy, so ingrained in this generation, that bad boys merely need saving by good girls, and that love will conquer all.

    Not to mention that towards the end, the family tree was nearly convoluted by the parents suggesting Nur Amina marry her late husband's brother... so she has a protector!

    Really? The girl is a professional architect and needs 'saving' by a man?

    P. Ramlee wrote better female characters, and he made films in the 50's. In fact, in comparison, other Malay dramas have much better stories than Nur Kasih.

    Big fat FAIL.

    (And it's Noor, mlh, though I know you had fun with the pun.)

  2. To play the devil's advocate, Nur's saving may be a personal rather than a financial issue.

    This is a drama, thus it revolves emotions. Given the Nur character that as you pointed out cries incessantly while having to face ever worsening episodes of drama, her fragility may be well-placed. Even if the focus character was a man instead of a woman, the idea of being 'saved' by a marriage would not be unheard of - though personally I would prefer to think of it of a process of stabilising. That is, to have someone to even out the scale, and returning balance to a troubled life.