An inside look at how Bollywood, Turkish drama and K-pop are quietly taking on the world
Fatima Bhutto, in her latest non-fiction work New Kings of the World – Dispatches from Bollywood, Dizi and K-pop, argues that the West no longer dominates cultural soft power. The new cultural kings are rising from the east and the title of her book gives away the three she focuses on.
“This is a book about these new arbiters of mass culture arising from the East. Carefully packaging not-always-secular modernity with traditional values in urbanized settings, they have created a new global pop culture that can be easily consumed, especially by the many millions coming late to the modern world and still negotiating its overwhelming challenges.”
According to the author, the key reason for this decline in the popularity of American culture worldwide is the realisation of the fact that it is perhaps a bit too flashy. In 2008, top American soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful made a viewership record by hitting 26.2 million worldwide. Compare this to the 2016 Turkish drama or dizi, Magnificent Century, which was seen by over 200 million viewers worldwide.
The key reason for this decline in the popularity of American culture worldwide is the realisation of the fact that it is perhaps a bit too flashy.
For her research, Bhutto travelled from Abu Dhabi to Lima, Seoul and Lebanon. She starts the book with Bollywood and the city of Peshawar, the birthplace of Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, the city that now receives its foot traffic mostly due to the ancestral home of Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). According to Bhutto, Bollywood owes its international fame to its ability to convey stories of the common man to the world. There is a general reverence all over the world for Bollywood and SRK, shown in various forms. What comes as the most surprising aspect of this section, however, is the Peruvian fandom of Bollywood!
Turkish Dizi is another phenomenon that has lately taken the entertainment world by storm, despite the fact that these serials are quite long. They are watched in refugee camps and have even made their way to Latin America – areas which do not typically have a significant Muslim population. These dramas are mostly about the Turkish empire, love stories or the struggles of the common man.
The last and the shortest section of the book covers K-pop. Korean music began making headlines in 2012 when Gangnam Style broke all music records worldwide, becoming the first music video to ever reach over a billion views. From there onwards the momentum only accelerated, making K-pop a multimillion-dollar industry that resembles an assembly line with its carefully regimented production process. The production of K-pop is quite fascinating and counters the general impression that it is a frivolous art form.
The New Kings is a well-researched book exploring how good storytelling is capable of crossing all kinds of borders; be it geographical, lingual or political. At the end of the day, if a story can connect to its audience, reflect their struggles and aspirations, it will carry itself across cultures becoming a part of them eventually.
New Kings of the World – Dispatches from Bollywood, Dizi and K-pop
Author: Fatima Bhutto
Publisher: Liberty Publishing
The writer is a digital commutations and marketing professional