"BOYS OVER FLOWERS,” says a girl behind me, jerking me out of my daydream. I have been here for quite a while, trying to decide which DVDs to pick from the lot spread out in front of me. More voices join hers, resulting in a lot of giggling. I turn to see a teenage girl holding a DVD that has on the cover a pretty girl with a part-scowling, part-scheming look on her face with four cute boys smiling in the background. Five more teenage girls—12th standard students at the Human Resource Development School—are standing around the one with the DVD and couldn’t be more amused. Between convulsive giggles, the 17-year-olds are flipping through the collection of pirated Korean DVDs at the Singjamei Supermarket in Imphal—films, dramas, serials and music albums. Boys Over Flowers is a popular Korean series about a beautiful girl’s tryst with the town’s four richest and most spoilt boys, known as the F4.
Ten years ago, teens in Manipur knew nothing about Korea beyond what they read in books and news. Who was to know Korean culture would eventually have such an impact in the Northeast Indian state? If you told someone then that teens in 2010 would be fawning over TV serials from Seoul, no one would have believed you. Yet here they are. How did this happen? The reasons can appear as unlikely as the results. But it began, in a sense, with a ban on Bollywood.
In September 2000, the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF), one of the oldest armed secessionist groups in India’s Northeast periphery, banned Hindi films and Hindi satellite channels in the four districts that make up the Manipur valley. The ban, it said, would stop the ‘Indianisation’ of the state. Hindi films were declared obscene and said to portray feudal values typical of India’s Hindi-speaking heartland, and thus had the potential to undermine Manipuri values. An RPF spokesman went as far as threatening to bomb any cinema screening Hindi movies.