AT 6PM ON A MONDAY IN LATE JANUARY, Monica Riani, a public relations consultant, settled down to watch her current favourite television soap opera in her apartment, a few hundred metres from Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. Across Brazil, in what is almost a national ritual, millions of others were also tuning in to the evening telenovelas—or simply, novelas,as the soap operas are locally known—that dominate the primetime slots between 6pm and 10pm from Monday to Saturday. A view of the snow-capped Himalayas flickered across Riani’s screen, and a Brazilian lama at a monastery in Nepal prepared to hand in his robes so he could return home, some 15,000 kilometres away, to be with his beloved. In Riani’s living room, the electric fan turned at maximum speed. The temperature on the streets outside hovered around 40 degrees Celsius.
Riani was watching Joia Rara (Rare Jewel), a novela that centres on a tale of forbidden love set in Nepal and Brazil between 1934 and 1945. The show is produced and aired by the Brazilian media giant Rede Globo, which reaches over 90 percent of the Brazilian population and claims an average daily global audience of 100 million. Globo’s domination owes much to the popularity of its novelas, and the company constantly produces and airs new projects. Joia Rara, which launched last September, was filmed primarily in Globo’s Brazilian studios, but parts of it were shot over 20 days on location in Nepal.
Joia is the latest in a line of Globo novelas set partly in locations that are exotic to most Brazilians—O Clone (2001) took viewers to Morocco, Salve Jorge (2012) to Turkey, and Amor a Vida (2013) to Peru. Perhaps the most significant novela in this line was the Emmy-award winning 2009 blockbuster Caminho das Indias (India—A Love Story), which reached a staggering average viewership of 52 million and fuelled a spike in Brazilian interest in India. Between 2009 and 2012, the annual number of Brazilian tourists arriving in India increased steadily from 13,964 to 18,440. Joia, with a more modest but still respectable average viewership of 26 million, is now turning eyes towards Nepal.