Issue 73 (2021)

Aibek Daiyrbekov: Before Dawn (Tan aldynda, Kyrgyzstan, TV, 2020)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2021

The fight between light and dark in the Kyrgyz television series Before Dawn

tan aldyndaThe series Before Dawn was made at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Kyrgyzstan, with shooting starting on 15 July 2020. The authors incorporated the actual situation and contemporary circumstances in the plot: the dedicated work of volunteers during the pandemic; the kidnapping of a girl; family violence; “dirty” and “pure” methods in the pre-election campaign; and the elections themselves. The series premiered on OTRK TV channel (Public Television Broadcasting Corporation of the Kyrgyz Republic) on 27 August 2020, and has been repeated already several times, including on the Day of Silence before the parliamentary elections.

The makers of Before Dawn emphasize that the main conceptual component of their series is expressed through the superiority of Light over Dark, two forces that permanently combat for the sake of the triumph of justice. The powers of Darkness engage in illegal affairs at night, and disappear before dawn. At the center of the opposition between Light and Dark powers stand two childhood friends, Maksat and Damir. After studying in Singapore, Maksat stayed abroad and became a successful businessman. When he learns about the illness of his mother, who caught a Coronavirus infection, Maksat returns home. Damir never went anywhere and lived the seemingly ordinary life of an ordinary citizen. In the shining image of a self-sacrificing student nurse, the volunteer Akniyet presents the generalized character of all volunteers providing medical care to Covid patients.

The national evil is embodied in the collective character of the shadow leader of the powers of Darkness, Marat (some high-ranking official). His counterbalance is the parliamentary deputy Taalay Ryspekovich, who stands again for election and gathers around him the progressive youth, headed by Maksat. The transformation of all heroes happens during the dramatic story based on real events.

Kidnapping of the Girl
In the first series, a group of guys from the neighboring village kidnaps Maksat’s younger sister, Aynazik. The girl had serious plans for the future, she was getting ready to apply for a place at a prestigious higher education institution abroad. Maksat asks Damir for help. Damir comes to the place of the drama with a gun and intimidates the kidnappers. Obviously, Damir has changed during Maksat’s absence from the country. He begins to understand that his former schoolfriend does not lead the life of an ordinary citizen, and has a habit of solving serious problems with a gun in his hands.

tan aldyndaThe director of the series, Aybek Daiyrbekov, admitted in an interview to the film critic Nurbek Imanov on Radio Sputnik (19 September 2020) that the authors intentionally included in the plot the story with the girl’s kidnapping. He reckons that the so-called custom “kyz ala kachu” (literally: “Snatch the girl and run”) has today transformed into a criminal action. In his youth, Daiyrbekov witnessed a fight between the brother of a stolen bride and the thieves. The brother selflessly fought for the release of his sister, but he lost. The director was strongly impressed with this scene: “It’s violence over a personality.”

In the episode of Aynazik’s kidnapping, most of all surprises the image of the ordinary guy for whom the girl is stolen. In the interview, the director emphasized that this ordinary, simple Belek apparently does not understand that there is an offense in the act of kidnapping.

Pandemic peak: darkness and light fight for Clexane
At the peak of the pandemic Maksat organizes a group of volunteers to help the sick. Maksat learns that his friend Damir resells medical humanitarian aid, including the medicine Clexane which is needed by all patients. Between the friends there is a friction which, eventually, leads to total dissonance in the relations. 

The warehouse is later discovered by police officers and the medication distributed free of charge. The volunteer Akniyet asks her brother, the policeman: “So you stole the drugs?” Answer: “To take away stolen goods from thieves is not considered theft.” The Kyrgyz people remember how at the peak of the pandemic the prices for Clexane and other much-needed medicines flared up. People ran to the pharmacies in search of much-needed medications: either they were not on sale, or they were sold at transcendental prices.

COVID-19 affected the plot of the series on other occasions as well. Maksat loses his father, and one of the series closes with the inscription: “The film is devoted to the memory of all our compatriots whom we have lost in 2020 because of the pandemic.”

Electoral campaign
The powers of light and darkness are shown through stark visual images. Damir has accepted the offer to join a dirty race for a place of deputy in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Maksat is invited to become an adviser to Taalay Ryspekovich, who will also stand in the elections again.

tan aldyndaMaksat and Damir sort out their relationship. Everyone understands: they no longer have the same path. In this scene, Maksat wears a white shirt, Damir a dark one. The costume designer Anipa Dulatova noted the purposeful decision: “I rendered the image of Damir and his dark side through the dark accents of his outfits, while Maksat is always dressed in light tones. It’s the fight between good and evil.” Damir admits that he stands in the elections and asks Maksat to support him. Maksat answers: “If a person who sells humanitarian aid comes to power, that’s the end for a state.” The opposition continues. Marat raises money to bribe the voters. Damir sells the house and brings him half of the needed sum.

Taalay Ryspekovich leads a civilized campaign: “One of the reasons why I stand for elections is the development of our state… My program is different from deputies in the past. We don’t say that we will construct roads and repair schools. We need to aspire to science and knowledge. Support the young generation! In my team, there are only young people! Among them is my assistant Maksat, who studied in Singapore, and works in a big company…”

Both candidates stand for the elections in the same constituency. By the way, the makers of the series said that during casting they selected only non-party actors, and they took no money from any parties.

As the producer Nurlan Mirzamatov notes, for the first time in Kyrgyzstan a series was aired while the group continued to work on the following parts. The 7th series was shot during the real pre-election race. The vote at the place of registration made it into the series; this voting practice represents a novelty and allowed the collection of votes for candidates, as voters were bribed and taken to voting stations.

tan aldyndaBefore Dawn
The final, eighth series. Election day. Despite numerous violations of the rules of the election campaign, Taalay Ryspekovich wins. Damir takes second place. Both candidates are about to become members of parliament. But Marat sets out a condition: Damir, now a deputy, has to adopt laws which will harm Kyrgyzstan. Damir does not agree. Only now he understands the meaning of the criminal game. 

The series comes to an end with the soul-lifting anthem “Before Dawn.” The supporters of Maksat and Taalay Ryspekovich are hopeful: darkness will recede, and dawn will come. Kyrgyzstan, having inhaled fresh air, will heal through a happy life.

Unfortunately, the scenario of the series did not coincide with the real events of the beginning of October 2020 in Kyrgyzstan. On 3 October, the Day of Silence, OTRK showed a repeat of the series. On 4 October the parliamentary elections took place, with massive violations across the country. On 5 October protest meetings were held in Bishkek against the election results. Many well-known politicians called the elections “the dirtiest” ever.

Unexpected Turn after the Series
In one of the series, Damir’s wife suffers domestic violence and attends a special session for women. In the role of the coach for the session is one of the producers of the series, Babur Tolbaev, at the time of the shooting a known Kyrgyz businessman and patron. In 2021 he took part in the presidential race. The co-producer of the series, Nurlan Mirzamatov, told the author of this article that during the work on the series, Tolbaev had no ambitions in the elections: “Probably the ‘dirty’ elections on 4 October and the protest events on 5 October 2020 affected his decision to run first for presidency (he got third place), and then for Bishkek’s Kenesh.”

Life and the Series
The events in real life after the elections have gone according to another script. But the only Kyrgyz television series of this kind continues to attract audiences. On various YouTube channels the series has gathered already over one million viewings. The group of young cinematographers and idealists continues to believe that sooner or later there will come a time of political maturity of the nation. Then voters will vote according to their convictions and not as a result of bribery.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Gulbara Tolomushova

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Before Dawn, Kyrgyzstan 2020, 8 series (television)
Production: Lights creative group
Producers: Babur Tolbaev and Nurlan Mirzamatov
Scriptwriters: Azimkhan Rakhatov and Aybek Daiyrbekov
Director: Aybek Daiyrbekov
Second director: Almaz Zhangaziev
Director of Photography: Mirlan Satkymbayev
Production Designer: Baiysh Ismanov
Sound: Mars Tugelov
Composer: Azat Zhumabekov
Executive producer: Tolkun Daiyrbekova
Cast: Renat Toromambetov (Maksat), Askar Kachkynbaev (Damir), Nazira Aytbekova (Nazira, Damir’s wife), Aysanat Edigeeva (Akniyet/Akubai)

Aibek Daiyrbekov: Before Dawn (Tan aldynda, Kyrgyzstan, TV, 2020)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2021

Updated: 2021