One would think that in this day and age, Indian soap operas would let go of superstitious nonsense. But, lo and behold, prime time TV is still majorly stories about families attacked by nagins (female snakes) and houseflies. We talk about representation on TV and yes, of course, entertainment TV programming is particularly targeted at the female demographic. But, is there a true representation of the women folk here?
Where are the stories of college-going students, the working women, the entrepreneurs? I am not even talking about a hot-shot female executive here. A well-told story of a female breadwinner who runs a shop in a village makes for more compelling TV than the degrading household conflicts that currently occupy our screens.
It’s why when I was in college turned to entertainment from across the borders. A medium particularly caught my eye and that was Korean dramas. Yes, they can be largely rom-coms targeted at women, but there are shows that take risks and don’t shy away from experimentation. And these days, awareness programming has become the centre of many Korean dramas, challenging prejudices and biases of demographics young and old.
Most importantly, Korean dramas have that one thing that Indian soap operas don’t and that’s a strong female lead. The dramas don’t shy away from showing the societal struggles these women have to endure and had to endure in the past. These are the shows that I love currently. If you have any other recommendations, I would love to read your comments.
1) Mrs Cop: this drama is a police procedural that focuses on a single mom who works as a policewoman. She is belittled for being a mother with a badge. Working mothers even today face snark from conservative co-workers and relatives and the problem is hard to ignore. Shout out to all working mothers, you are doing great!
2) Something In The Rain: this show tackles three broad social issues – sexual harassment at the workplace, a blackmailing ex who possesses sensitive photos of their former partner and the social taboo of a woman falling in love with a younger man. The drama takes on the emotional violence of society and the constant need to judge women by the choices they make in life.
3) Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung: this is a period drama in which the protagonist, who is an avid reader, dreams of becoming a historical writer. But, the society of that time proves to be a hindrance. We follow her journey as she breaks through the glass ceiling and lays the path for her peers and the upcoming generations as well.
1) Angry Mom: bullying is a major issue around the world. This drama shows how dark and messy bullying can get and how it affects the lives of the students and their family. In the story, the mother disguises herself as a student and discovers the physical abuse her daughter is facing at school. As she tries to catch the culprits, she discovers how severe and systematic the issue is.
2) Beautiful World: heartbreaking as it is, this drama revolves around a family that loses their son to bullying. The video of him being beaten up by his school mates is circulated around but the family has a hard time seeking justice as the perpetrator hails from a rich family.
3) Class Of Lies: this is a recent K-drama and it focuses on the lack of strict laws pertaining to school bullying. We often see an instance of educational institutes denying bullying incidents on the school or college premises to protect their institutional prestige. Something similar happens on the show, but in our escapist K-drama world, a lawyer is willing to tackle the case.
Other dramas that cover the topic of bullying are Revenge Note, High School 2015 and School 2017.
There are a number of Korean dramas regarding mental health but these are the ones I have seen and recommend.
1) It’s Okay, That’s Love: this drama covers mental health issues in a sensitive way. The protagonist is a writer suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder who then meets a psychiatrist who is going through her own struggle with anxiety.
2) Good Doctor: this drama takes us through the societal struggles of a doctor suffering from autism. His ailment is often seen as a hindrance to his job by his peers, despite him excelling in the field.
It is important to note that not all Korean dramas deal with issues in the right way. There are some dramas that pass off creepy actions as romantic gestures. Those are the kind of K-dramas you would want to distance yourself from. But as I compare new Korean dramas to old ones, I have seen a considerable improvement in the representation of women and social issues.