In January, we did a cover story on how “Hallyu”, or the Korean cultural wave that encompasses everything from films to dramas on Netflix to Korean beauty products and, of course, ramen, was paving the way for Korean businesses to make inroads into markets like India—the perfect synergy of soft power and economic power that had once been the sole bastion of dominant Western economies but is now shifting eastwards.
Hallyu is real, as any fan of Korean dramas and its stars, like Hyun Bin (Crash Landing On You; Late Autumn), will tell you, and it has a massive fandom in India—recently, two fans of BTS singer Jeon Jungkook put up hoardings all over Delhi University’s north campus, Sonipat, Haryana, and Indore, Madhya Pradesh, wishing the star on his birthday, a treat earlier reserved for the likes of superstars Amitabh Bachchan and Rajinikanth.
Now a new podcast, Hello Hallyu, deconstructs Hallyu and the fandom around it, tackling topics such as the secret ingredient that makes K-dramas so addictive, the K-beauty wave and fan-led backlash against Korean beauty standards, and why we use terms like “obsession” to describe deep engagement with Korean pop culture—almost as if it’s weird and mildly dangerous.
Co-hosted by journalists Nirupama V. and Sadhana C., both of whom are fans of Korean TV shows, music and films, the podcast is produced by The Swaddle, a digital magazine on health, gender and culture. “We were flatmates in Bengaluru while working for mainstream newspapers, and Nirupama, who was already into K-dramas and K-pop, introduced me to it. And then I went down the rabbit hole of the genre,” says Sadhana, a former Mint reporter who now works for a software product company in Hyderabad. Essentially, they wanted to shift the conversation from sensational coverage of the “dark side of K-pop” and “why do Korean boy band members wear eye make-up?” type, to a more nuanced cultural lens. They did try to set up a fan website but a podcast seemed like the perfect vehicle, says Nirupama.
On the show, the two start by going into the origins of Hallyu—especially in India, where K-pop fandom started in Manipur and other North-East states when there was a backlash against Hindi entertainment—and then delve into specific aspects of the phenomenon.
One of the most interesting episodes is on why independent translators who work on Korean dramas and films out of love for the medium were so important to the origin of Hallyu. For, at a time when top streaming sites like Netflix didn’t have much of a catalogue when it came to K-dramas, sites like the US-based DramaFever not only acquired these shows but also had people volunteering to subtitle them so more people could watch them, say Nirupama and Sadhana.
“It was only after DramaFever had to shut down in 2018, and Netflix acquired most of their catalogue, that K-dramas became more mainstream,” says Sadhana. “And the pandemic has definitely accelerated that, because during lockdowns a lot of people reached out for wholesome content, not the typical jaded, dark shows that Netflix etc. put out,” says Nirupama.
The two believe Hallyu is here to stay, especially in India, where there are cultural resonances. Right now, translators are working on bringing this content in Indian languages on platforms like Rakuten Viki, they say.
Maybe these K-dramas can finally dislodge the original Indian “K-dramas” of the Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi variety—that would be doing Indian society a huge favour.