Squid Game: A Dystopian Korean Drama Featuring a Pakistani Migrant Worker

Popular Netflix series Squid Games is a dystopian survival drama about unfortunate people trapped in debt who enter a series of six survival games. The losers die while the single winner takes away 46.5 billion (US$38 million) South Korean won. One US dollar is equal to about 1,200 Korean Won. 

Anupam Tripathi as Ali Abdul in Squid Games

One of the characters in the series is an exploited Pakistani migrant worker named Ali Abdul who just wants to send money home to help his family in Pakistan.  Ali's role is played by Indian actor Anupam Tripathi. Tripathi has previously played other foreign characters in the genre often referred to as K-drama. Squid Games has achieved top ratings around the world in spite of its very violent content. It is the top-rated show among Netflix subscribers in Pakistan. 

Household Debt as Percentage of GDP. Source: IMF

Squid Game is a powerful indictment of capitalism as practiced in many countries, including South Korea. It has brought to light high levels of inequality and household debt in South Korea. The total household debt of $1.5 trillion is about the size of its entire GDP, among the highest in the world. By comparison, formal household debt in Pakistan is just 4% of its GDP, according to the IMF. It can be explained by the fact that the availability of mortgage financing, car loans and credit cards is very limited in Pakistan. 

Sources of Household Debt in Pakistan. Source: SDPI

Only 14.6% of household debt is owed to banks, and the rest to informal sources like family and friends. Researchers Sajid Amin Javed, Wajid Ali and Ifra Baig at SDPI  (Sustainable Development Policy Institute) have analyzed four rounds of the HIES segment of the Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measurement (PSLM) and data from the PPHS (covering the 2005 to 2016 period),  and found that 20% of households in Pakistan are indebted.  

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Credit Suisse Wealth Report 2016

Pakistan's Trillion Dollar Economy Among World's Fastest Growing

Pakistan: A Majority Middle Class Country

Karachi School of Business and Leadership

State Bank: Pakistan's Actual GDP Higher Than Officially Reported

College Enrollment in Pakistan

Musharraf Accelerated Development of Pakistan's Human and Financial Capital

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Riaz Haq's YouTube Channel

PakAlumni: Pakistani Social Network


Riaz Haq said…
How Korean culture became a global phenomenon


The world has been going a bit crazy for Korean culture. The Netflix drama “Squid Game” skyrocketed to popularity. Its creator, by the way, said there will be a season two. Last year, “Parasite” became the first non-English-language film to take home the Oscar for best picture. There’s also K-pop (think bands like BTS) and kimchi. Korean culture has made such an impression that 26 Korean words were recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary. One of those words, “hallyu,” translates to “Korean wave” — coined to describe global interest in the country.

South Korea’s growing cultural power didn’t happen overnight. It’s been decades in the making.

“Starting in the mid-1990s, the Korean government made an effort to bring the cultural industries as part of the national economy,” said Dal Yong Jin, the author of “Transnational Hallyu.”

South Korea’s economy at the time relied mostly on conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai, brands the government helped create. So, the government goes to these corporations and asks them to help fund the entertainment industry. Part of the pitch is that Samsung and Hyundai will benefit, too.

“The spillover of popular culture is everything,” Jin said. “Because of popular culture, they like Korea, they like Korean product, like their smartphones, like their semiconductors. The influence is big.”

That cultural influence can help Korea sell makeup, fashion and food the way the U.S. sells Coca-Cola and Levi’s jeans.

So, Samsung and Hyundai start their own film and TV companies. At first, the goal is to get East Asia hooked. And it works, leading to more investment in entertainment, especially K-pop. Music labels open boarding schools to groom teen superstars. The government creates a ministry of culture and ends censorship laws that forbid Korean artists from singing in English. K-pop grows right as social media explodes. And in 2012, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” becomes the first video to break 1 billion views on YouTube.

K-pop “has just the right balance of local elements and global elements, something familiar and something strange. And I think the mix of that is very attractive,” said Suk-Young Kim, a professor at the School of Theater, Film & Television at the University of California, Los Angeles.

She said K-pop’s quirky, bubblegum vision of Korean youth sparked global curiosity in Korean culture. And it helped prepare people’s palates for more complex portrayals of Korean life: Think dystopian dramas like “Parasite” and “Squid Game.” These stories explore a growing wealth gap in a country that rebuilt itself after war and military dictatorship.

This history is a key reason that other cultures have been so receptive to Korean entertainment, Kim said.

“Korea being kind of mid-power has its own benefits,” she said. “You know, it is not small so that it has no resource to support soft power, nor has it been a superpower to create this emotional and cultural resistance.”

South Korea seems to be on its way to becoming a superpower, at least culturally. Today, entertainment is one of the country’s fastest-growing exports. It’s worth $10 billion, just one-tenth of its semiconductor exports.

But the rising influence of Korean culture? That’s priceless.
Riaz Haq said…
Netflix India Content Chief Monika Shergill Discusses Local Strategy – APOS India


Post pandemic, the Indian streaming audience is willing to consume varied content, and Netflix plans to serve them from around the world, as well as offering a plethora of local content, according to Monika Shergill, VP, content, Netflix India.

Speaking at the APOS India media conference on Tuesday, Shergill said, “Over the last couple of years, we’ve had a dramatic growth … what we’ve really seen and learned over the last couple of years, particularly, is that the Indian audience is really ready for a lot of experimentation.”

Shergill, who originally hails from the world of linear television, with stints at Star (then operated by Fox) and Sony, said that since the medium catered to a broad audience, it resulted in a “homogenized creativity, where [creators] had to stick to certain kinds of storytelling,” but that’s now changing rapidly.

Shergill points to a nearly 400% uptick in viewing of Korean content, a massive take up of Spanish programming, a 100% increase in kids content consumption and a 250% increase in nonfiction and unscripted content viewing from different parts of the world, in recent times, on Netflix India.

Catering to the core market with Indian programming, however, still remains a key pillar for Netflix.

“The one thing that matters to us most is how do you push the known and the familiar,” said Shergill. “You program to the audience taste and you push back on the audience taste and you make them have an acquired taste.”

The strategy for India, therefore, is to have a “deep and broad” range of Hindi-language programming, including commissioned original series and films and licensed films, while also growing documentary and unscripted formats and content in the South Indian languages of Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

“Netflix is perceived as a global brand, telling global stories and in every country having the kind of impact that it has, but if I just look at the core of Netflix and what the service is designed as, I would say that it is so well designed to be a very Indian service, because if you look at Indian audiences, we are such a heterogeneous audience, the tastes that we have, culturally, we are such a diverse population,” says Shergill.

“I feel Netflix is so culturally relevant to India, because we are geared up as a service to program to different formats, genres, tastes, moods,” Shergill added.

The executive said the demand for streaming content has also led to an expansion in the creative talent pool.

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