Gong Yoo, Kim Go-eun and Lee Dong-wook in Guardian: The Lonely and Great God
Gong Yoo, Kim Go-eun and Lee Dong-wook in Guardian: The Lonely and Great God

It was 2012, when India first got a true taste of K-pop in the form of Psy’s Gangnam Style. The song, with it’s catchy hook line and step, became a talk of the town with several youngsters dancing away, trying to match Psy’s steps. While Psy might have faded into oblivion, but it did give a peek into Korea’s pop culture. Psy though isn’t the only K-pop star, and K-pop isn’t new either, but he did in a way become the catalyst for opening up doors to Korea. And, now, we have popular K-pop bands like BTS and Blackpink ruling the international pop scene in 2020.

But, what truly got people interested in Korea (or South Korea, more like), is drama (K-drama, as it is referred to by fans world over). At times cheesy and over-the-top, yet heart-warming, Korean dramas became the ‘it’ word during the lockdown. While, again, K-dramas aren’t new either, they exploded on the international scene in the past year or so thanks to OTT platforms like Netlfix and Viki Rakuten (both available in India).

K-pop band BTS is the first South Korean music group to win a Grammy nomination
K-pop band BTS is the first South Korean music group to win a Grammy nomination

And, just like that, people discovered South Korean actors like Gong Yoo (some might know him from the popular zombie movie, Train to Busan), Park Seo-joon, Ji Chang-wook, Lee Dong-wook, Park Min-young, Bae Suzy, Kim Go-eun, and many others. And, now with the popular Spanish series, Money Heist, getting a Korean remake from Netflix, shows how the country has become a potential source of entertainment!

Speaking about the increasing popularity of Korean dramas, especially in India, a Netflix spokesperson said, “It is exciting to see the growing love and fandom for Korean content in India. Entertainment fans in India have diverse tastes and love to watch stories from all around the world. With subtitles and dubs, the language barrier is lowering and more audiences are discovering great stories made by the world. Netflix has always been a strong believer in Korean storytellers. Our first Korean original film Okja, directed by Bong Joon-ho, released in 2016. We have been significantly investing in Korean content and are thrilled that the Korean slate available on Netflix has the variety and diversity to appeal to Indians who love great stories. Netflix is already doubling investment in Korean content — and we hope to amaze our members with more incredible Korean stories across genres and formats.”

Lee Min-ho in The 
King: Eternal Monarch
Lee Min-ho in The King: Eternal Monarch

From beating boredom, to providing mental escape to another world, there are reasons galore that got fans hooked on to Korean dramas during the lockdown. Speaking about her tryst with Korean dramas, Tejashrri Tripati, ground staff at Indigo Airlines, says, “During the lockdown I started watching Korean dramas...before that I wasn’t actually aware about them. One day, I randomly saw a trailer of What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim and found the plot unique, so I watched it, liked it, and then watched some more dramas... I found their concepts way better than our Indian dramas. They have dramas from all genres (romance, action, historical, etc.). One reason I feel Korean dramas have a larger audience is because they have limited episodes (mostly 16-20). They don’t drag their shows just for the sake of it.”

Echoing similar sentiments, culinary expert and chef consultant, Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji, says, “I started watching web series in 2017 when we subscribed to Netflix. That time, it was mostly English dramas. But one day, while scrolling through the streaming platform’s home page, I came across the Korean drama section, and started watching them with English subtitles. I found them so interesting and addictive that till date I am a big fan of K-dramas. The length of the dramas is not so big, so that positively captivates me. I will not deny that during the coronavirus-induced lockdown, these K-dramas helped me beat boredom. I can connect with many K-dramas on an emotional level. One more thing I like about them is their food that is shown in many shows. As a chef, I find their traditional fare quite interesting.”

Ji Chang-wook and Park Min-young in Healer
Ji Chang-wook and Park Min-young in Healer

For Zobar Rizvi, a Grade 1 & 2 teacher, it is the fantasy factor, which she says, “makes you believe that such things happen in reality as well” apart from the fact they are finite, with good-looking male leads (she laughingly adds).

For London-based visa consultant, Pratibha Masand, too, the tryst with Korean drama began from March. “I was looking for something from Hong Kong on Netflix. Crash Landing On You was amongst the first options. A few friends had been gushing over it so I thought I’ll give it a go. There was no turning back thereafter. I love the fact that they are so real. The Indian soaps over the years have become horrible. Even the melodrama from Korea are so down to earth, so humble...no loud background, no loud makeup. And the actors are so good — it doesn’t hurt that the Koreans are naturally beautiful as well!” she says.

Song Hye-kyo and Song Joong-ki in The Descendants of the Sun
Song Hye-kyo and Song Joong-ki in The Descendants of the Sun

Cultural resonance is another reason why many Indians have become addicted to K-dramas. “Respect for elders, pride in one’s cultural background, male chauvinism, stress on formal education, and showcase of wealth—I think these are some similarities between Indian and Korean culture,” says Zobar. Gender bias, parents’ over-involvement in their child’s life, arranged marriages are other factors Pratibha adds to the list.

Beginner’s guide to K-drama

1. Healer

2. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (also called Goblin in some parts)

3. Crash Landing On You

4. What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim

5. Descendants of the Sun

6. Doctors

7. Lawless Lawyer

8. Graceful Family

9. Legend of the Blue Sea

10. While You Were Sleeping

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