A still from Netflix's 'Squid Game' | Facebook/NetflixIN
A still from Netflix's 'Squid Game' | Facebook/NetflixIN
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Squid Game is everywhere — Indian social media, Instagram reels, memes, GIFs and food recipes. Even Amul made a cartoon on it. And it’s even bigger than Game of Thrones. Why? It is not a US or UK-based show. It is a Korean series. And that should give an inkling of what and how much has changed in terms of Indian viewership.

Friends and Game of Thrones are passé. Netflix’s Money Heist and Squid Game are the latest craze, and they are here to stay. Even though we are watching them with subtitles.

Turkish shows too have been equally popular. The country-wise viewership figures from 2014-2020 of the Turkish series ‘Resurrection: Ertuğrul’s YouTube channel showed India positioned at No. 2, with over 125 million viewers in the second quarter of 2020.

All these signal a much-needed change. What K-drama craze was the start of, has taken a turn for the better and bigger — Indians are finally exploring and loving world content. Not just US shows.


Also read: Indians have a new K in their lives. Not Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor but Korean culture factory


Korean ‘Hunger Games’ or desi ‘Luck’

Many have called the nine-episode series Squid Game the Korean take on the trilogy Hunger Games. Many have also pointed out the similarity between Squid Game and the 2009 film Luck, starring Imran Khan, Sanjay Dutt and Shruti Hassan. Squid Game has an IMDb rating of 8.3 out of 10 and has been a constant in the list of most-watched series on Netflix.

Seong Gi-hun, a chauffeur with huge debt, is invited to play a series of children’s games for a chance at a large cash prize. Once he accepts the offer, he is taken to an unknown location and finds himself among 455 other players, all with similar large debts. The players soon discover that losing results ends in death, and each death adds ₩100 million to the grand prize.

Indian actor Anupam Tripathi too features in the Korean show as a Pakistani migrant struggling with debt.

From the game of marbles to an uncanny resemblance to the problems faced in India like debt and the rat race, Squid Game has selling points that appeal to the Indian audience exclusively.


Also read: Oscar-nominated ‘Parasite’ signals global rise of South Korean films


Why the craze

In February 2020, Parasite director Bong Joon-ho in his Oscar acceptance speech urged viewers to overcome the “one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles”. And Indians seem to have really followed through.

But the question still remains—what really happened? The answer, like the answer to most questions of 2020 and 2021, is Covid. The pandemic meant OTT platforms became the biggest and only source of entertainment and new content for home-bound people across the world, including India.

And with the option of moving beyond largely White and Euro-centric shows, the world opened up for Indian viewers. The viewership for K-dramas and Turkish soaps have always existed. But it had largely been a niche group. But with the wild popularity of K-pop band BTS and BlackPink, the viewership changed drastically over the last few years.

ban imposed by the Revolutionary People’s Front in Manipur on Hindi films and songs meant the next available source of entertainment was pirated DVDs of K-pop music and K-dramas in Manipur. North East India has always been known as the heart of India’s Hallyu or Korean Wave.


Also read: Netflix’s Sex Education is the closest we’ll get to ‘that’ conversation in India, for now


It is not just Squid Game

While Squid Game may be the current obsession, Money Heist fever too was quite wild in India (and Pakistan). Its fifth season premiered on 3 September 2021. And days before that, an Indian IT company VerveLogic, based in Rajasthan’s Jaipur, gave its employees the day off to binge-watch the show. Money Heist 5, known as La Casa de Papel in Spanish, was the other non-English Netflix show that grew wildly popular in India.

From the Mumbai Police band performing to the series’ theme song Bella Ciao, to Bollywood Gen Z actor Ananya Pandey declaring Shah Rukh Khan would make the best desi Professor and that she would love to play Tokyo, the show became a household name.

You could be either a Squid Game or Money Heist fan, but there’s no way to escape this fever raging across India.

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