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Published on: 08/9/15 6:24 AM

Feature: Straight from Seoul: the uber-popular Kdramas

Straight from Seoul


Glossy production values and crisp stories keep fans glued to Korean dramas. Seen here is a still from Korean serial IRIS, aired on Tamil channel ‘Puthuyugam’

In a new cultural takeover, Korean dramas are slowly invading Indian hearts, minds and TV sets.

For a while now, just under a decade to be specific, South Korean television dramas have been building up a steady, extremely loyal clientele in India. People in the north-east, in Delhi, Jaipur, Uttarakhand, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar and virtually across all southern metros are happily succumbing to the wave.

These are serious fans. They copy the style of dress and even some extreme hairstyles with fervour. They meet in Korean eateries, sign up for Korean language classes and master enough of the language to watch the serials without their eyes straying to the subtitles. Soon, they croon the soundtrack tunes, too. A handful has joined Korean companies, happy to have some connect with Seoul. Yet others head to South Korea for a closer look at what has become familiar to them via their screens.

Earlier this year, a bunch of South Korean TV celebs visited Mumbai to film a reality show about the hallyu wave here called Fluttering India. Hallyu refers to the worldwide sweep of Korean entertainment and popular culture via pop music, TV dramas and movies.

It’s a whole parallel universe out there. They live, eat, drink, breathe, absorb these K-dramas through every pore. They go through the motions of day-to-day life perfunctorily, just waiting to head home, turn on their laptops and enter that universe. They also live for that magical moment of ineffable joy of meeting someone hooked to K-dramas as much as they are.

Lee Seung Ki, Lee Min Ho, Ji Chang Wook, Kim Soo Hyun. Kim Sun Ah, Park Min Young, Kim Hee Sun, Park Shin Hye are all household names now in India, as are serials with names such as Healer, Misaeng, Fool’s Love, Boys over Flowers.

Quite a few of these K-dramas are copied from popular Taiwanese/ Japanese dramas, while some are of manga or webtoon origin, and most of them are accessible on the Internet. People mostly stream or download them.

K-drama fan Jagriti Garg tells me that Korean channels Arirang and KBS World are aired in the north-east; another fan, Shrrudhi,tells me that the Tamil network Puthuyugam translates K-dramas into Tamil and telecasts them.

The acolytes are introduced to K-dramas by their siblings, their significant others, college-mates, even by people in their weekend Tai Chi classes. Some reach K-dramas via Japanese dramas and animes or Taiwanese dramas.

Almost all of them eat copious amounts of ramen. “Ever since I started watching K-dramas, I switched to chopsticks and also use cute accessories,” says Yashashree Jadhav earnestly.

It’s more than food and accessories. Listen to Manasa Ashokkumar. “My friends — chingus in Korean — and I have adopted certain Korean habits. When we greet a person, we bow our head a bit; ‘hello’ is anneyong, ‘thank you’ is kamsahamnida, ‘sorry’ becomes mianhaeyo. It’s all about a cuteness called aegyo!”

What keeps them glued to these romcoms, action dramas, even a reality game show called Running Man? Their glossy production values and brevity. The fact that the plot moves swiftly. That the characters are all, without fail, so easy on the eye. And their acting skills; Kesang Kansakar says some of them ‘could make a dead man cry or laugh’.

Sanjay Ramjhi calls it a guilty pleasure. He says, “People either love it or hate it. And if you are one of the former, you are automatically absorbed into that world! When you see someone eating a particular type of Korean food, you go around your city looking for a restaurant that serves that dish!”

Hohoi Vaiphei says, “I like that they keep the episodes short and realistic, and don’t stretch them out with inconceivable situations, as in Hindi serials.”

Jenny Sarto deconstructs the K-drama for us, and it sounds familiar. The main male lead is a bit of an idiot in the beginning. There is a sweeter, gentler second male lead, who is in love with the female lead. The second female lead is pure evil. The first kiss happens only in the eighth episode. As in any good romcom, they meet, fight, face obstacles and end up together.

Karan Kapoor puts it succinctly when he says: “There’s something in whichever genre you prefer — melo/ makjangs, usually involving tears, forbidden romance, manipulative family and birth secrets, saeguk or period dramas, romance, police procedurals, comedy, reality shows. A lot of us follow blogs that recap episodes because they explain certain aspects that we might have missed, not being Korean; what was written on a notice or letter, what a particular phrase implied (some subbers tend to be very literal!), certain customs, certain references, etc.”

High-schooler Ramya Krishna loves the respect characters show each other. “They don’t show anything negative because children my age or younger will be watching them.”

Inevitably, Internet groups have sprung up, and so have memes and videos that gently send up the besotted K-drama fans. There are more than 13,000 people in one such online group alone, from all over India, Bhutan, Nepal, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Romania, Estonia, across Europe, the US, Canada and all of Asia. Chennai’s fans meet often and the Korean consulate there underwrites these meetings. New Delhi fans have the Korean Culture Centre and meet during Korean festivals.

Says Kesang, “I visited South Korea, happily stood outside in sub-zero weather waiting to get a glimpse of my favourites.” And Jenny talks of how on an official visit to Korea she found a lot of places and aspects of the culture “very familiar.”

Sanjay Ramjhi is in South Korea now, on a project to link Korean art with Indian artists. He declares, “I stayed in Seoul for seven months, to do my advanced Korean language studies — the best months of my life!”

So, suddenly, you now have a large number of Indians who have become South Korean culture specialists. Now that’s quite something. In fact, it’s quite a hallyu something.

This ran in THE HINDU of 8 Aug 2015.

Related Links:

Feature: Still in Seoul

Feature: Hallyu Bol! The Korean Wave


Featurehallyu waveK-dramasKdramasKorean cultural economyKorean dramasKorean soft powerSouth Korea

Sheila Kumar • August 9, 2015

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