In Ramadan, Saudi Families Break Bread And Watch TV Dramas Across the Arab world, Ramadan is prime time for soap operas. This year a Saudi program takes a look at young people and the tensions and issues they face in the kingdom.
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In Ramadan, Saudi Families Break Bread And Watch TV Dramas

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In Ramadan, Saudi Families Break Bread And Watch TV Dramas

In Ramadan, Saudi Families Break Bread And Watch TV Dramas

In Ramadan, Saudi Families Break Bread And Watch TV Dramas

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/415973913/415973914" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Across the Arab world, Ramadan is prime time for soap operas. This year a Saudi program takes a look at young people and the tensions and issues they face in the kingdom.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The holy month of Ramadan is prime time for television dramas and soap operas across the Arab world. TV shows get the highest ratings of the year as families gather to break their fast at sunset. In Saudi Arabia, a drama that was a YouTube hit has crossed over to the mainstream broadcast TV for Ramadan viewing. And this show reflects the youth culture in the kingdom, as NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Riyadh.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: In Saudi Arabia, more than half the country is under the age of 25. And for the first time, they can see a drama about their lives on prime-time TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TAKKI")

AMOS: The show is called "Takki," chill in English. When it played on the Internet in 2012, it was an instant hit with more than 3 million views per episode. This year, a private television channel has backed production of a second season. Mohammed Makki is the 26-year-old writer and director. He explains the first season was about a group of friends trying to make a film in the city of Jeddah and their entanglement with women. Makki says he aimed the series for Saudis under the age of 25.

MOHAMMED MAKKI: These are the age where we are most looking for who we are and we have the most dramatic phase of our lives - where we fall in love, where we get our hearts broken - all these dramatic moments in our lives.

AMOS: We meet at a trendy Jeddah cafe called Cast & Crew, a coffee bar dictated to cinema. But Saudi Arabia doesn't have a single movie theater, banned in the 1980s to appease conservative clerics, so young filmmakers turn to the Internet to find an audience for their work. Makki knew he had a hit when his actors were recognized on the streets.

MAKKI: People are taking pictures with them all the time.

AMOS: So they're kind of stars?

MAKKI: Yes, they are. What made it really famous, it was on YouTube.

AMOS: YouTube is hugely popular in Saudi Arabia, with millions of views per day. It's a place where young, creative Saudis can break the boundaries of this ultraconservative society.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking foreign language).

AMOS: This YouTube production was made by a Saudi company that makes popular comedy videos. It's a takeoff on the hit song "Happy."

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) It might seem crazy what I'm about to say...

AMOS: With their signature alligator puppet and balloons, this frenetic song seems harmless, but it pushes against religious objections to secular music. The same company made a music video spoofing Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers called "No Woman No Drive." Now Mohammed Makki is pushing another boundary with a YouTube hit "Takki" going primetime on broadcast TV. A self-taught filmmaker, he's a business school graduate. His parents frowned on film school.

MAKKI: I studied film from books. I read a lot. I watch a lot.

AMOS: He watched Japanese animation and learned from American TV dramas like "Breaking Bad."

What does "Breaking Bad" teach you about how to do good drama?

MAKKI: Character is everything. In TV, writer is the king and character is the one who drives the story. You take so much time and you see - you grow with the character.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TAKKI")

AMOS: In Makki's drama, his young character's struggle against parental authority, physical abuse at home and arranged marriages.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TAKKI")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) (Speaking Arabic).

MAKKI: "Takki's" about love story. It's about boy meets girl, but she happened to be engaged to his best friend.

AMOS: Conservative clerics have already complained about the music and the mixing - Saudi men and women actors in the same scenes. But Makki says his drama reflects a generation.

MAKKI: They feel like "Takki" is talking about their lives, about their normal, basic problems. It's not political. It's not - it's not - it's just that simple conflict between you and your friend, between you and the girl you like.

AMOS: And in this rigidly controlled country, this Ramadan TV special is a small rebellion for a young audience. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Jeddah.

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