Hallyu, Indian Style: Why Bollywood Is Betting on Korean Remakes

TE3N -Reliance Entertainment Kross Pictures - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Reliance Entertainment/Kross Pictures

India's film industry is looking to Korea for inspiration in a bid to capitalize on a national youth craze for all things K-Pop.

India is riding the Hallyu wave.

The term — used to describe the global popularity of entertainment made in Korea — has started popping up in Bollywood circles as Indian audiences cotton on the charms of K-Pop.

As official remakes of Hollywood films gather steam in India's Hindi-language film industry, Bollywood is also looking to Korea for inspiration. In somewhat of a banner year, 2016 saw two Korean remakes: one of 2010 revenge drama The Man From Nowhere, which was called Rocky Handsome in India, and one of the 2013 thriller Montage, retitled TE3N in its Bollywood version.

Rocky Handsome featured Bollywood star John Abraham as a man who seeks vengeance against the drug mafia after a 6-year-old girl with whom he shared a special bond is kidnapped. Indian banner Azure Entertainment produced Rocky Handsome. Azure and Warner Bros. recently also announced plans for a Bollywood remake of Hong Kong cult classic Infernal Affairs, which was remade by Martin Scorsese into Oscar winner The Departed.

“Indian producers are being drawn to Korean films for remakes because of two factors: action and emotional quotient,” says Azure Entertainment founder and CEO Sunir Kheterpal.

India does not report official box-office figures, but Rocky Handsome is estimated to have collected $5 million and was considered an underperformer. But Kheterpal says he is not shying away from future projects. “We are in the process of negotiating for another title for a remake,” he says adding, “Korean cinema churns out some spectacular stuff.”

Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan starred in TE3N, the remake of Korean title Montage. Directed by Ribhu Dasgupta, TE3N, which revolved around a grandfather searching for the kidnapper and murderer of his granddaughter, opened in June. Reliance Entertainment and filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh co-produced the feature with Korean banner Kross Pictures in a move that marked Kross' first foray into Bollywood. The film also grossed an estimated $5 million.

But Kross has big plans for India and has announced plans for other Bollywood remakes of Korean features, namely A Hard Day and Miracle In Cell No. 7. The company has over 10 feature-film projects in development for India that include local versions of Korean hits Miss Granny and Tunnel. The company has even set up offices in Mumbai, adding to its operations in Seoul and Los Angeles.

Kross has proven adept at adapting projects for local markets, scoring a hit in China in 2017 with The Devotion of Suspect X, based on the acclaimed Japanese crime novel of the same name by Keigo Higashino. Kross has an Indian adaptation of the Suspect X novel in development, for Ghosh to direct.

When it comes to selecting projects for India, “it starts with choosing the right story, which must be developed and produced by the right people who have the right background to understand the differences of cultures,” explains Kross Pictures managing director and CEO Thomas Kim. He feels that the trend of remakes of Korean films is “absolutely long-term. In fact, I think it's just the beginning, and my team is super excited to be a pioneer.”

The Korean/Bollywood exchange goes both ways. Kross is also developing a Korean version of hit 2012 Bollywood thriller Kahaani, which Ghosh directed and which starred actress Vidya Balan as a pregnant woman who goes looking for her missing husband. The critically acclaimed title was distributed by Viacom18 Motion Pictures and was a box-office smash collecting an estimated $16 million, spawning a sequel in 2016.

“I feel drawn to stories in India, and Kahaani was the first film my team chose to remake in Korea given its universal theme and commercial track record, the same criteria as choosing Korean titles for India,” Kim says.

But India's craze for all things Korean goes beyond the movies. As with most countries caught up in Hallyu, it all started with music. Specifically with Psy and Gangnam Style. The 2012 global hit, and the dance craze it inspired, conquered the sub-continent.

“(Psy's) dance style in that video was a bit like Bollywood group dances,” speculates Korean Cultural Centre India director Kim Kum-pyoung. “Perhaps that's why it was (such a) hit in India.”

The same year as Psy was turning India onto Gangnam Style, the Korean Cultural Centre organized its first K-Pop Festival in New Delhi. The event featured contests for participants to perform like their favorite K-Pop stars. The inaugural competition involved just 37 teams. In 2017, the event drew 424 competing teams and thousands of local fans.

VH1 India, part of joint venture Viacom18 India, gave K-Pop another major endorsement last September, launching K-Popp’d, a weekly show dedicated to the genre. Ferzad Palia, Viacom18 India head, of youth, music and English entertainment, told THR the show was a response to growing fan requests via the network’s social media platforms.

“We started noticing viewers constantly requesting the K-Pop boy band BTS,” says Palia. “Up until then, the only K-Pop artist we (played) was, of course, Psy.”

Korean television dramas, which have strong links with K-Pop talent, are also finding favor with Indian audiences, thanks largely to digital distribution. In early 2017, Indian TV giant Zee Networks premiered Korean drama Descendants of the Sun on its Zee Zindagi channel and on the network’s digital service OZEE. This was followed by the exclusive digital streaming of Boys Over Flowers, the hugely popular K-Pop drama.

“We’ve seen some strong uptake for these shows on our digital platform,” says Zee Entertainment executive vp and head of digital, Archana Anand. While viewership figures were not given, Anand points that the shows reached out to the 18-45 demographic, with over 60 percent of the audience being women.

“There is a clear audience segment out there that’s more digitally connected and savvy, eager for new viewing experiences and hungry for content beyond the Hindi general entertainment fare,” she adds, explaining that “this audience has connected superbly well with these stories from other markets and these cultures.”

Netflix has jumped on the Hallyu trend, picking up several Korean series — Hello My Twenties, This Is My Love and The Miracle — for its Indian service. Recently, pan-Asian video-on-demand platform Viu, backed by Vuclip and Hong Kong-based PCCW, targeted viewers in India with a number of popular Korean dramas including Come Back Alive, Heirs and My Love From Another Star. The service plans to add a further 20 Korean shows by March 2018.

“The youth of India today are looking for world-class TV shows,” says Viu India country head Vishal Maheshwari who adds that “Korean TV shows deliver on all aspects, from story to production, which makes it such a success. The trend of watching Korean content is picking up rapidly across the country.”