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South Korea Sways India’s Millennials With Rice, Rhythm and Entertainment

A scene from a Korean television show 'Crash Landing On You' which has mesmerised the Indian audience with its story line and acting

It is not unusual for films or television shows to spearhead their country's soft-power. A similar trend is visible in India, prominently among the millennials, who seem to have been blown away by the Korean Wave!

Be it television shows and serials, or movies, or cuisine or music – all Ks seem to sway our Millennials and Gen Z!

When and how did this K-wave sweep the country, at least its metros. Sraddha Anand, a consultant in a celebrity management agency, speaking to India Narrative revealed that it was the lockdowns during the two waves of Coronavirus that triggered her interest in Korean movies and shows. “The over-the-top platforms had deluged their respective streaming sites with Korean films and serials. Youngsters sitting at home, started watching them, after having enough of Hollywood and Bollywood offerings, which were either thrillers or horrors or repetitive. K stuff was refreshing, riveting and relatable.”

Sharing her sentiments, Scherezade Shroff told dw.com that after having had her fill of binge-watching her favourite films and shows, she clicked on “Crash Landing On You” on Netflix to enter a different world.

A popular beauty and lifestyle Youtuber, Shroff said: "I had almost run out of things to watch when my best friend pushed me to give this show a shot. This was my initiation into the K-drama world.” The show is about a South Korean heiress who lands up in North Korea due a paragliding mishap and there an Army Officer helps her.

Anand, a fan of this show, observed: “The series has a ‘feel good’ factor and as the central theme involves a North and South Korean, Indians are able to connect as they too enjoy movies and shows with a plot involving an Indian and Pakistani.” No wonder it made it to Netflix’s top 10 in India.

Shroff feels that Korean shows have the knack of making you go far deeper into the culture and ethos of the region. “I have watched a number of regional shows in the past, but the difference here is that you can't just watch one Korean show and stop there. It takes you in: the culture, the lifestyle, the similarities it bears to our values in India, and finally, the dreaminess of it all.”

On this aspect, Anand points out that there is a great degree of affinity between the Korean and Indian cultures. “In their shows one perceives strong family bonds and value systems of that society. Elders, be it a brother, uncle or grandparent, are respected and addressed with great reverence. Also, the ethics and principles of honesty, integrity and hard work in their shows, are all common points for the Indian audience to connect with.”

A still from 'Descendants Of The Sun'

But there is more to Korean shows than just entertainment and engagement. “Yes, they have different shows to cater to varied tastes. There is ‘Itaewon Class’ which is about self-awareness; ‘It’s okay not to be okay’ which tackles issues related to mental health; and ‘Descendants Of The Sun’ is about Korea’s army. Moreover, their period plays and shows all have an authentic touch, and have had many of my friends and me, drawn to their history.”

Interestingly, according to a report in The Korean Herald, the South Korea's national broadcaster, KBS’s “Descendants…”, “has created a huge economic impact by contributing to exports, luring more foreign tourists and creating new jobs”.

Anand also feels since the shows are restricted to limited episodes, say 16, they do not become boring and dragging unlike some of Indian saas-bahu shows. “Korean shows are clean fun, light hearted and good for family viewing, unlike those which are beamed over Indian channels.”

A Facebook group Sherry’s K-Drama Club shares information, recommendations and details about Korean film and series. Members of this group vary from ardent followers who have been viewing K shows for more than 10 years to first time viewers.

When films and TV can hold such sway, can K Pop be far away. Absolute not. BTS is a standing example of this music genre ruling the hearts of Indian youngsters. On September 1 India witnessed for the first time the birthday celebration of Jungkook, the youngest member of popular Korean pop band BTS. Fans rented billboards in Mumbai to show their appreciation while abandoned dogs were sponsored by them to celebrate the event. So popular this band world over, that on September 14, South Korean President Moon Jae-In awarded all the seven members Diplomatic Passports and a fountain pen.

BTS group with their Diplomatic Passports

The soft power of films and TV shows has spawned a tremendous interest in Korean food and language. Elaborating on this aspect Shroff remarked: "It is packaged as a deep dive into the culture as a whole. The recall value is strong because there are recurring elements across dramas — the ramyun (Korean spicy noodles), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), mandu (dumplings) and soju (alcohol)."

Unlike the past, Korean food is accessible at least in the top metros. In Gurugram, there is an East Asian speciality food store which sells Korean noodles. Subhash Kukreja, its proprietor averred: “We have seen a sharp increase in the number of Indian customers over the past year.”

Anand, a vegetarian, recommends kimchi, which is fermented vegetables; bibimbap which is mixed rice; ramyun and tteokbokki. “These appeal to the Indian palate as they are spicy and tangy. Korean cuisine offers a variety of street food and the younger working generation relates to their pot meal immediately.”

Tangy and spicy Kimchi (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@RamanFrey) 

Learning Korean too has received a huge fillip. The response to the multitude of courses run by the Korean Cultural Center India in New Delhi is heartening.  It is a recommended foreign language in India’s New Education Policy of 2020.

KCCI’s Director Hwang Il-yong said: “We are in discussion with the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) for the best ways to expand Korean language education in Indian schools in 2021."

Also read: After 'k' pop and 'k' drama , Korea's soft power surges with 'kimchi'

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