Scooch over West, new icons are here!

Scooch over West, new icons are here!

Korean pop bands and Turkish dizis are proving to be 'legit' competition to 'Western' stars in the popularity game.


In its heyday, western influences infiltrated the relatively conservative ‘Third World’, introducing its people to an alternative universe ruled by the rich and the famous, with brazen overtones of sexual and material decadence. If the incursion of (largely)American television, fashion, fast food and music during the Nineties alleviated our ‘colonial hangover’, what’s the trending antidote for a population drunk on ‘Western’ popular culture (for want of a better nomenclature)?

The so-called ‘Eastern’ culture, of course, the phrase being quite the misnomer of the decade! There is an ever-expanding fanbase for Turkish dizis (soap operas), Korean dramas, K-Pop music and the like. With the centre of gravity in the entertainment world slowly shifting from the West to the East, countries and cultures with lesser-known entertainment industries are coming into the spotlight.

Despite repeated attempts to corroborate facts and figures with Netflix and Amazon Prime, the networks have stated that such details will not be divulged. Fair enough, but anecdotal evidence, social media buzz and the number of Korean, Turkish, Indian and Pakistani shows that are regularly added to their library, speak volumes about the demand for diverse global content.

In fact, the buzz about the new icons is so high that journalist and grand-daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Fatima Bhutto, has written an entire tome on it. Aptly titled ‘New Kings of the World’, it delves deep into the significant impact of cultural entertainment from India, Turkey and South Korea in the 21st century – the how, when and why of new popular cultures that now strike a deep chord with millions around the world.

Understanding the craze

This burgeoning social phenomenon is thanks, in great measure, to the effortless access to global content, courtesy, streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zindagi Digital, Hotstar, and the like. Not to mention the ripple-effect of social media networks and influencers who are known to make or break trends.

Gone are the days when foreign language enthusiasts in India frequented Alliance Française centres, Max Mueller Bhavans and Fine Arts Societies, to catch documentaries and short films. All this and more is available right in the comfort of our living rooms, at the click of a button. So, the fact that viewers are exploring different entertainment options, and the subsequent addiction, should come as no surprise!

In 2014, the TV channel Zee Zindagi, branded as Zindagi Digital in 2017, gave the Indian audience a reprieve from the saas-bahu sagas and staple American TV shows, when it started airing popular Pakistani TV dramas. Encouraged by the rising viewership, Zindagi Digital started streaming international shows from Turkey, South Korea, Spain, Colombia, Ukraine, Pakistan, Brazil, etc, although, after the Uri attacks, the channel dropped the Pakistani dramas.

With Netflix, Prime and Hotstar (bought over by Disney) entering the fray, the urban population in India are being treated to a complete makeover in TV-watching! People have tasted the thrill of binge-watching shows, sans advertisements. Once broadband internet providers upped the quality and consistency of the service, many homes made the transition from cable TV to streaming platforms. Viewers were suddenly spoilt for choice, and were only too happy to have 24/7 access to all their favourite shows and movies.

What’s been driving the trend?

This new fad has received legitimacy in the West, with K-Pop stars BTS headlining the Grammies, creating a buzz on Saturday Night Live, and Mattel fashioning BTS dolls and marketing them worldwide — quite the ultimate stamp of recognition. Though Indians have always relied on a ‘thumbs up’ from the West, this new-found addiction to global content is not just about trying to keep up with the ‘global Joneses’, but also because we have reached that point of saturation, which triggers the need for diverse content to break the monotony in entertainment.

Moreover, with the passion for globe-trotting and migration on the rise, a good segment of our population can be categorised as ‘global citizens’. This group of people, who have enjoyed or aspire to enjoy, ‘immersive cultural experiences’ in different countries, tend to extend their eclectic tastes to everyday entertainment as well. Understanding the importance of keeping viewers engaged, producers across the globe are now motivated to pump in investments and try to churn out more regional content.

Turkish Dizis much loved in India

The world doesn’t need more drama… but clearly the entertainment industry does. ‘Drama’ is one of the most popular genres across cable and digital networks, as well as premium streaming services. “The Turks are dramatic storytellers,” says Priya, who heads a welfare organisation in Goa. “The big draw for me is the narrative of historical drama/romances that gives me a glimpse into a different culture. It depicts life more realistically; not rosy, but interspersed with shades of grey.”

It was the historical drama ‘Magnificent Century’ in 2014 that changed the way the world viewed Turkish television dramas. What do these Turkish shows offer that the others don’t? In Bhutto’s words: “They achieve the perfect balance between secular modernity and middle-class conservatism.” So what if each episode is close to two hours long? What’s not to love about a cast that is bestowed with exotic good looks, scenery that boasts beautiful countrysides, exquisite costumes and jewellery, lavish period sets, strong male and female leads, and a storyline that keeps you on tenterhooks!

Riding the Korean Wave 

If the Mexican Wave gets a stadium going, the Hallyu a.k.a. the Korean Wave, has got the entertainment world going. With the 'virality' of PSY’s Gangnam Style in 2012, K-Pop set the stage for Korea to showcase its music to the world. K-Drama and K-Beauty slowly followed suit, creating the K-Wave, which has hit Indian shores too!

If Korean actors have stolen your hearts, get in line! They are a whole new breed of ‘eye candy’ that have sent youthful hearts aflutter. “As endearingly cheesy as K-Dramas can be, the clean, fresh, feel-good sentiment they inspire, is a refreshing change from the violent and flamboyantly sexual American shows,” says Ashima, a young artist from Jaipur. Annu from Cochin has a different perspective: “Korean shows use entertainment as a means of promoting tourism; I feel it’s high time Indian soaps take their cues from that and do the same,” she says.

So, is it the saturation of western content, or an entertainment industry initiative to create new markets/audiences, or a combination of both?

Whatever it is, the resultant trend has led to the discovery of not-so-prominent cultures. The Korean Wave, which has branched into beauty, fashion and food, is a mere harbinger of an entirely new global culture knocking on our doors.


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