Clueless idols, clueless staff, clueless locals – Fluttering India is by far the most aimless variety show I have ever come across. What is the purpose of this show? Is it a travel show? Is it about Hallyu’s (pathetic) attempt at cultural imperialism? Is it an exposition on journalism and how one makes it to the KBS 9 o’clock news? Or is it about Minho (Shinee) and Suho (Exo) rekindling their lost
passion friendship? Nobody knows but the show goes on nonetheless.
Assuming that the purpose of the show is to find out why India is, as the head reporter put so humbly, the “wasteland of K-pop”, Fluttering India does everything except hitting the nail. Our five rookie reporters – Kyuhyun (Super Junior), Jonghyun (CN Blue), Sunggyu (Infinite), Minho and Suho – head over to the entertainment capital of India, Mumbai, with their faulty knowledge of curry as their sole guide. Suho is a cut above the rest, though. In addition to curry, he knows India has McDonalds and Starbucks and has managed to send a satellite in space before South Korea. He also owns a book called There is Nothing Called Curry in India, the learning of which he did not share with Jonghyun leading to the latter calling daal the “original curry”.
But Jonghyun and Suho, despite their shocked exclamations at actually finding a pretty India with “movie theatres and buildings”, were much better at diffusing my ire than spork owning Kyuhyun. While Changmin (TVXQ) asserted that eating with hands is part of Indian culture and silently implied that Kyuhyun better assimilate, Eunhyuk (Super Junior) suggested that he would find spoons in restaurants but terrified Kyuhyun believed precaution is better than cure: Better go armed with a spork than touch this horrifying thing called food.
Day 1 included a trip to a restaurant to try ‘authentic’ Indian food which turned out to be largely North Indian. I don’t know why these guys were deprived of Maharashtrian delicacies like puran poli, vada pav, or the evergreen thali but since I have no clue about the freaking purpose of the show I will have to let this slide. They visit the consulate to gather basic information on India easily available on a Wiki page – so much for doing their ‘homework’ – but this was much appreciated because at least they bothered to lay the common facts on camera: multiplicity of languages, multiplicity of cultures and hence, an immensely diverse and complicated country. They also learn that while India does have K-pop fans, the numbers are quite minimal, a fact which will be denied by the fan at Starbucks. In addition, we are gifted an unnecessary scene of Suho being unable to flush the toilet.
Instructed to head over to the Gateway of India to interact with the local Indian population, the Fluttering India team and the imperialist ideology of Hallyu learn a lesson in humility. Bhaiya doesn’t know K-pop; Didi doesn’t know K-pop; Andheri ka don and Beiber guy don’t know K-pop. Suho is optimistic though; he is happy that the empire of South Korea has set up small but influential bases through their LG and Samsung products. Kyuhyun and Jonghyun delude themselves into believing that the strums of the guitar and the ‘amazing’ singing have gathered a crowd around them when in reality, it’s just the lure of the camera. The camera, of course, holds a painful memory for Suho. Positions were reversed and suddenly, he was the one responsible for clicking HD pictures for an eager tourist. He failed though. Miserably. But not without causing the entire production team and Minho to burst into laughter.
Kyuhyun and Jonghyun hit gold at Starbucks when they meet their first Indian fan. Failing to eradicate our existence, this godsend messenger of the entire fan community of India clarified that K-pop fans are present in substantial numbers in India and while they are spread all over the country, a concert would surely attract large numbers. A very elated Kyuhyun, after having tried hard to overcome the language barrier, goes to Rhythm house – Mumbai’s iconic 75 years old music shop – with the fan, and meets up with Minho and Suho. The fan doesn’t wait a minute to confess her love for Minho but clarifies that her bias is Taemin.
Their trip to Rhythm House is the only productive trip in the entire show where they actually gather some information on the music scene of India. For starters, the Indian music industry is dominated by the production of OSTs the success of which plays an important role in deciding the success of the movies. Arijit Singh’s “Sooraj Dooba Hain” becomes their case study and Suho makes a peculiar comment that while it is Indian in parts the melody is quite good. The day comes to a close with Jonghyun’s banal comment: “It’s no longer the India we read about.”
Day 2 begins with expert opinions on Hallyu making it in India which were largely pessimistic. Only the SM representative cites a possible reason for it: The dominance of Bollywood as a soft power in itself. I am also told that ‘No’ has phonetic resemblance to nine in Hindi and I don’t know what to do with this information. The day is dedicated to the idea, not person, called Shahrukh Khan and reveals the final member of the team, Sunggyu.
They start with ambitious plans of meeting Shahrukh Khan but satisfy themselves with a screening of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. While I was unduly excited at them watching the movie, I couldn’t get what was the purpose behind it. What do you learn by spending three hours in a theatre watching a movie without subs? This obsession with the visual medium manages to reveal the inability of the idol culture to separate the aural and visual spheres, something Bollywood has done over the years. Watching the movie does not enrich their understanding of the potential K-pop market in India but it does expose them to the dominant form of visual entertainment in India facilitating their deconstruction of the function of the idol into aural and visual but not quite succeeding in it: The visual quality of an actor is not the same as that of an idol.
Their purpose sidetracked completely, the team end up in Dharavi – the largest slum in Asia and the filming site of Slumdog Millionaire – to attend an acting class. The foreign mind is always at unease if it doesn’t see a bit of the famed poverty of India. Kyuhyun, too tired of the resemblance between India and South Korea, too flustered by Mumbai being reminiscent of London, is pleasantly surprised when he sees what he quite obnoxiously calls the ‘real India’. Dharavi is ‘real’ India; not Antilla or Gateway of India. However, amidst the imperialist and his slum tourism, the acting class was a breath of fresh air.
I was honestly surprised when they didn’t go around documenting the ambitions of ‘poor’ children and shedding crocodile tears on their lack of resources. To have them take a class with the children on acting – somewhat in line with the purpose, if any, of the show – was truly, truly enjoyable. Baburao Laad Saheb did more than just entertain; he revealed to the world a bashful Suho, a Sunggyu who finds it difficult to differentiate between mourning and celebrating, a comically surprised Minho, a creepily aggressive Kyuhyun and a questionable second place, Jonghyun. The annoying sentiment of pity is present during the episode but I think the acting test overshadows it.
The day came to an end with a Mukbang and interaction with young people in the shopping mall. Minho invents what he deems his brilliant question: “What do you think of accepting other cultures?” The responses to it are obviously positive – no one goes around saying that they won’t be accepting of other cultures – and the citizens of the wasteland of Bollywood feel positive about the potential K-pop market in India.
In all honesty, I find the show terribly boring. I can understand why desi fan may invest their time in the show but otherwise this show with its lack of a script and a purpose is totally deserving of its poor ratings. I appreciate their attempt to provide a historical perspective to certain architecture or phenomena but the sketches with their compulsory turbans make that attempt absolutely futile. While I don’t want to debate over the myth of Ganesha – myths differ from region to region; it’s a narrative and holds no truth value – I would still like to correct Kyuhyun on the fact that Shiva wasn’t any person; he was the husband of Durga and the father of Ganesha. These little but fatal mistakes ruin the otherwise viewer friendly nature of the show.
A great thought on the part of the production team was the inclusion of Bollywood songs as background music. It definitely felt exciting to hear a bit of “Badmaash Dil” and “Tumhi Ho Bandhu” but they could have toned down the “Tunak Tunak Tu” obsession. It felt weird to have Kyuhyun deny the existence of Indian fans when it was the Indian Elf fandom which named and gifted a star to Yesung but it felt equally amusing to see Jonghyun assert the existence of Indian Boice, if not in India then at least in South Korea. Minho and Sunggyu persist on fulfilling the entertainment quotient while Suho is the only one willing to get some work done however awkwardly.
This show running on a rough script is largely a bundle of contradictions and poor editing as it continues really hard to look for an aim but in the end spends an hour doing nothing. It tries to break stereotypes but in the end, seeks solace in them to provide ‘variety’, be it making a song on curry or doing a weird ‘Indian’ greeting during the press conference in South Korea.