For Indian Women, Kimchi is the New Soul Food
How a beautiful blend of fairytale romances and realistic stories have captivated an untapped audience in India
Have you ever wondered why that quirky friend of yours has recently been obsessing over foreign romance shows you’ve never heard of? Why has she suddenly started responding to your texts with ‘Annyeong-haseo’ instead of ‘Hi’? Why on earth does she lift up her hand and make a finger-heart every time you take a selfie together?
It may all seem peculiar to you — and you’re not alone. Many are intrigued by the sudden rise of South Korean media’s popularity in India. Long before BTS swooped in with the K-pop fever, and Parasite bagged Best Picture at the Oscars, Korean dramas or ‘K-dramas’ have been stealing our hearts with their captivating storylines and stunningly beautiful cast.
So what’s the deal here? Why are we so obsessed?
The viewers we never cared about
The truth is, these dramas appeal to a target group that has been ignored for decades. K-dramas struck gold in a country where the majority of its urban, female viewers have been starved for content.
Even today, our so-called young, trendy Indian directors have not been able to cater to or understand the needs of this untapped audience: the young, urban Indian woman.
This woman is usually in her late 20s to mid-30s. She doesn’t fall into a trope or a stereotype. She doesn’t exist merely to be an accessory to men. The liberal, cultivated, independent, cynical yet romantic city girl — who is refreshingly selfish, has hopes, fears and dreams of her own — and who is fighting a lonely battle with the world everyday.
Korean dramas appeal to this audience vigorously.
K-dramas are, for the most part, women-centric — even though South Korean society itself is essentially patriarchal.
Yet, the lead characters of many popular dramas are women with stories of their own, that are told from a female point-of-view.
These women experience the same problems we do — parents pressuring them to find a man and get married, coping with their mediocre jobs and cranky bosses, living alone in tiny apartments, struggling to make rent, sighing over crushing on a boy who may not like them back — and basically dealing with day-to-day life, in general.
It’s not just the women, though. The characters in these dramas are modeled after all of us — ordinary men and women — just trying to stay afloat and make our way through life — dealing with loss, heartbreak and butterflies.
K-dramas have managed to fill a gaping hole in women’s television. It is a wonder that the needs of an entire section of our audience has been overlooked for this long.
The evolution of women-centric content on TV
Serials that littered the screens of domestic households, on channels like Star Plus and Sony, have always found a huge following among homemakers and housewives. Judging by the popularity of Indian dramas and soaps, its clear that we are obsessed with the theatrics of daily life. The legendary Kyunki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi became a household phrase at one point, and everyone was hooked on what Tulsi was going to do next.
However, my generation found this uninspring. We couldn’t relate to the gaudily-clad women in heavy make-up and jewellery. Things were changing, and we craved more from our television shows than just dressing up and scheming at home all day. We wanted to break away from tradition and sanskaar, the very formula these serials held on to so firmly.
In the late 90s, F.R.I.E.N.D.S and a whole world of American television opened up its door to us. While our mothers and grandmothers immersed themselves into Kasauti Zindagi Ki, we sustained ourselves on Seinfeld. Yet, even as we enjoyed the newfound concept of sexual liberation, they never did delve deep into the nuances of the female psyche.
As time went by, both India and the world have been making attempts at creating women-centric TV shows, one of which was the acclaimed Sex and the City. Closer to home, we got Four More Shots Please!, starring four larger-than-life ladies who were far from relatable, and reduced to tropes as seen from a male point of view. In both cases, these women are ridiculously rich, beautiful and wildly promiscuous — not to mention, they’re always dressed like they’re at a fabulous party.
When Netflix was born, it brought with it a wide variety of choice from all over the world.
And yet, in this ocean of content, K-dramas stood out for portraying stories of people like you and me. Real people.
The Hallyu wave brought us real stories. The underdog stories — ‘David vs Goliath’ like tales of the down-trodden youth rising to success (Itaewon Class). A divorced mother in late 30s struggling with unemployment and homelessness, and eventually establishing herself in a new domain (Romance is a Bonus Book). The fairytale romances — love against all odds, and across one of the deadliest borders in the world (Crash Landing on You).
An endless ocean of toxicity — and the life raft
Those who love K-dramas will agree that they give us hope in a cruel, humdrum world.
Indian women are perpetually floating in a sea of prospects who are either too ‘traditionally Indian’ or too ‘pretentiously Westernised’. It’s no wonder that our oppas offer us a pleasant relief — the hope of an ideal romance.
The ideal K-drama oppa is someone who has the perfect balance of masculine and feminine.
He will run out and bring you and umbrella when its raining, so you don’t get wet. He will carry you home on his back when you’re passed out drunk. His heart will flutter with excitement when he sees you.
Korean dramas seem to have cracked the code. With all that’s going on in the world, sometimes the simplest stories give us comfort. They allow our bruised, cynical brains to heal from all the toxic masculinity we endured in real life. They offer us a pipe dream under a magical sky full of cherry blossoms.
K-dramas remind us that sometimes even holding hands can make your heart beat a thousand times faster.