In this day and age, you probably have one friend who is absolutely hooked onto K-dramas and has consistently tried to convince you to give it a shot too. In the past few years, K-pop, Korean shows, and subsequently, Korean culture has become a prominent area of interest among India's Gen Z and Millenials. Pop culture specialists call this recent wave of Korean culture swaying over the world - Hallyu.
While Korean beauty was fairly popular among Indias, K-pop and Korean TV shows had their biggest breakthrough moment in India during the pandemic. People had substantial free time in their hands and thus, were inclined to explore different genres and kinds of content. In addition, many viewers claim that they found comfort in Korean TV shows as it felt like the perfect mental escape from the anxiety of the virus and the loneliness of the lockdown.
Although K-dramas have similar themes of family values as the Indian drama we have, embracing Korean content takes a while due to the language barrier. However, due to the pandemic-induced lockdown, people felt it was possible to get acquainted with the Korean language or at least be patient enough to attentively read the subtitles.
Is Kpop Popular in India?
Hallyu or the Korean wave started with Korean beauty that normalized men using skin-care and beauty products and has now moved to Korean music with bands such as BTS gaining immense traction all over the world. The interest in Korean music has peaked in the last three months as India climbed a few ranks to be among the top five or six countries contributing to YouTube music-video views of K-pop bands like BTS and BLACKPINK.
On JioSaavn, an Indian music-streaming platform, BTS was ranked 68th in January 2020 with almost 780,000 streams amongst audiences that listen to English music. Since then, the band has moved up to the 8th spot in October 2020 with over 2.3 million streams. This is significant as JioSaavn was predominantly a local platform consisting of Indian-language music but with a surge in popularity of Korean music, it has begun to ramp up their K-pop library.
Watching K-dramas has made Indians keen on learning the Korean language - Duolingo, a language-learning app saw a 256 per cent rise in the number of Indians opting to learn Korean since March 2020. South Korea's culture has captivated Indian audiences in every way and the pandemic only helped them learn more about the same. But what is it that draws Indian audiences to watch K-dramas?
Why do Indians enjoy watching Korean TV drama?
Alisha Gonsalves, a 24-year-old lawyer from Pune, tells the Economic Times that her favourite characteristic of Korean shows is their writing and that they have an inherent positive undertone to them. She adds, "This is something the whole world is seeking at the moment."
This pleasant after-feeling and good-naturedness of a lot of Korean shows have even brought families closer. A 38-year-old Vidya Gopal tells EC how she and her mother, Kalyani, 68, bonded over K-dramas during the lockdown. Since Gopal was sharing space with her extended family during the first phase of the lockdown, these dramas were the perfect viewing for a family lunch or a nighttime watch as they resonated with the whole family. Gopal adds, “Sitting in our pyjamas, watching these good-looking and well-dressed people on-screen served as a good distraction amidst these distressing times."
Streaming platforms have been quick to notice Indian viewers' growing appetite for Korean content as Netflix has been aggressively marketing its original Korean series in India. This has lifted K-dramas perception as a niche to a mainstream phenomenon in the country. For instance, a K-drama like Itaewon Class or Record of Youth is now almost as well-known as FRIENDS or Game of Thrones - a huge milestone for Korean shows. In addition, the K-drama, "It’s Okay To Not Be Okay", that released in June was among India's Top 10 for weeks, reaching as high as no. 3.
It must be noted, however, that states such as Tamil Nadu and Mizoram were already poring over K-dramas that were dubbed, or had subtitles, in regional languages before streaming platforms took over and made them mainstream.
K-dramas have helped people understand Korean culture
Embracing Korean content has had another positive effect - breaking away from the stereotypes associated with the Far-East. This is especially true for people not acquainted with Korean culture who later learned about it through Korean movies and TV shows. In an interview with EC, Preksha Jain, a yoga instructor, describes how before hopping on the K-drama bandwagon, she believed that she won’t like how the Korean men look.
“They all look similar,” she thought. “Now, I’m crushing hard on Hyun Bin,” she reveals, referring to the lead actor of the drama Crash Landing on You (CLOY) about the love story of a South Korean female tycoon and a North Korean army officer. Now, Jain spends her time watching all of Hyun Bin’s interviews online, searching for subtitled videos or translations. “We are finally starting to explore the other side of the world now,” she says.
In the same interview, Scherezade Shroff, a popular Indian YouTuber, says, “Indian women drooling over Korean men was unheard of." She explains that before the lockdown, she was more or less disinterested in Korean dramas even though her friends were obsessed with them. However, when she had run out of everything else to watch during the pandemic, she began her journey down "the rabbit hole" of K-dramas and started drooling over Korean men. She even has a K-Drama CLub on Facebook with more than 3,000 members and does K-drama review videos with fellow club members now. “These days, everyone jokingly calls me half-Korean,” she adds.
Why are K-dramas so addictive?
Historically, interest in Korean entertainment has been in India since the late 2000s, but viewers struggled to access the new content and get movies of high quality. Indian viewers loved watching Korean movies for the intense emotions they aroused and felt the shows had a perfect blend of feel-good and drama in them. Romance movies such as The Classic, A Moment to Remember, Millionaire’s First Love, or the K-drama Autumn in my Heart, became audience favourites. They were tear-jerkers but the good kind of melancholic movies.
Koreans' understanding of love resonated with India as Indian love stories also revolve around the triumph of love over other evils, and when one adds beautiful scenery to the K-drama (as they do in Bollywood), people feel even more compelled to watch it.
However, fans argue that it would be wrong to generalize K-drama shows as just romance and comedy. The shows also venture into other genres such as thrillers, politics, crime, sci-fi, family dynamics, and period dramas. In an interview with the Indian Express, a K-drama fan, Dhananjay Sat Pal Singh adds, “They also have so many sub-genres like historical fantasy, time travel, and folklore. Their thrillers are at a whole different level. Recently, I watched a fantastic series called Strangers. Let’s not forget Kingdom, it’s a superb drama. It’s all about content."
Singh believes that it is great to learn about global cultures through movies and TV shows. “Subtitles don’t matter once you get used to them. In fact, you tend to learn the language. We need to accept that the world is full of languages, and I think, it will do us a lot more good,” he says. As we enter 2021, it seems the demand for Korean entertainment in India is only going to rise with storylines getting more engaging and streaming platforms such as Netflix promoting their original K-dramas.