I realized the power of the ‘Hallyu’ wave for the first time when I went to live in a hostel. Instead of the chatter of F.R.I.E.N.D.S the nights were abuzz with talks of Lee Min Ho and K-dramas. In the world of 16-year-old girls, where I assumed I knew every pop reference worth knowing, this was puzzling. Now, in the world of 20-year-olds, I see the same excitement with the growing popularity of K-pop music. Just, now it is Lee Min Ho and BTS. Koreans have managed to do what till now only the Americans had achieved – penetrate the international markets till the very base level and become a part of our surroundings. This kind of soft power of South Korea, driven by its media has come to be known as the Hallyu wave. Though, this wave was slow in arriving to India, it has been spreading faster than ever, even securing air time on national television on channels like VH1 and Zindagi. On the local scale, this wave has been gaining steam among the youth of the country – many college film societies and student wing organisations and fan clubs have come up in the last five years only. It is no dormant wave either, in 2017 Immortals Army, a seven-member group from Mizoram received the prize for the best performance at the K-pop World Festival in an intense competition against 12 teams from all over the world. Bollywood too, is no stranger to it. Bharat, the Salman Khan starrer set to release on Eid next year is an official adaptation of the Korean movie, Ode to My Father. Give a listen to Taeyang’s ‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ and you’d probably be reminded of a particular SRK song (*cough* Zaalima *cough*). It is not a phenomenon to be brushed aside on the argument of lack of importance, as anyone who attended Changwon K-pop festival in Delhi earlier this year would argue otherwise seeing the numbers present in the Siri Fort Hall and the presence of the First Lady of South Korea, Kim-Jong Sook at the grand finale. The phenomenon has already successfully merged itself with our local and national ethos and is growing continuously.
The success of the Hallyu wave is not accidental but a result of a series of right decisions taken towards it for over two decades now. One of the main reasons for this is the focus of the industry on promotion in the Asian markets before aiming into more European and American markets where the cultural difference is more evident and there are greater logistical problems foremost being greater promotional costs involved. The major consumption of Korean music and films is not in the West, but is rather closer to home— Japan, China, Taiwan, Philippines and Thailand. The Korean media industry itself has made great efforts to branch out. The recently conducted Seoul International Drama Awards saw awards given out not only to Korean dramas but from all over the world like Germany, New Zealand, France, Israel etc. This not only appreciates the art community worldwide but also helps bolster connections to said community, thus, bringing attention to home media industries. The Koreans have put Internet to its best use in making these connections by spreading over to various social media platforms while creating their own innovative outlets (like Vlive and webtoons). The numbers that K-pop boy band has been attracting on Twitter and Youtube this season are sufficient indicators alone – taking the cake away with setting the record of the most watched Music Video or MV in 24 hours on the latter platform this August. The rise of social media has been a driving force behind the phenomenon and the correct usage of it has prevented the wave from being centered to only one field or artist rather diffusing it to the whole Korean industry.
What is impressive is that they’ve managed to retain their language and culture in the process. The success of the Hallyu wave is not riding on crossovers with Western media or on the English language. In fact, it is helping in popularizing the Korean language and their indigenous culture. This perhaps has only been achieved by the Latin American phenomenon and furthermore, no one country could lay exclusive claim to it. The only time India saw this kind of influence was perhaps back in the time of Raj Kapoor in Russia and the short-lived ‘Kolaveri-di’ craze few years back. In Korea itself, Indian influence stays limited to a song that came out two decades ago, Daler Mehndi’s ‘Tunak Tunak Tun’. Bollywood, though is a big industry, most of the turnover is seen from the domestic audience or the Indian population oversees. India’s big population serves as an advantage here but it also limits us to Indians and the Indian diaspora. It does not help us establish the kind of soft power Korea currently enjoys.
The takeaway for the Indian media industries from the Hallyu wave would perhaps then be to branch out. Taking advantage of social media platforms in promotions that is not only limited to Facebook and Instagram, the Indian industry (Bollywood as well as the regional industries) could go far. Experimenting in the Asian market is necessary. While sometimes these experiments might fail as in the Chinese film ‘Kungfu Yoga’, sometimes, it might reap surprisingly good results as in the case of ‘Dangal’ that saw a huge success in China. It opened up the Chinese market to Indian movies as was seen in the subsequent success of ‘Secret Superstar’ the following year. The ‘Baahubali’ duology proved that this success need not be true only for Bollywood movies and helped bring regional cinema to limelight. However, these are many a times labelled as one-off instances. India has a diversity of media to offer to the world in terms of culture, language, music, genre etc. Still, its international influence is limited to one or two movies a year with the TV and the music industry lying mostly dormant. It is not able to maintain this influence over a longer period of time and in all fields of media, thus, preventing it from generating an Indian wave of its own. Lessons from the success of the Hallyu wave might help us overcome this. And so, perhaps, in some years from now, there will be another girl in another far away land wondering upon the rising popularity of desi media among her peers. Till then, the Indian media industry has a long way to trudge in order to embed itself into foreign young minds and their daily lives.