Originality and ancient mythological themes are causing Chinese fans to share their love for programming from the South Asian country

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/1 16:23:39


Many Chinese viewers find actors and actresses from Indian dramas talented and charmingly exotic. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Indian mythological dramas are very alluring in the eyes of Yang Buhui and many other like-minded viewers.

"Indian mythology itself is just fascinating. Its philosophy and worldview, which are very exotic, have been a wonderful new world to me," Yang said.

Yang, 29, who works in the gaming industry, has been running a volunteer group that provides Chinese subtitles for Indian TV dramas free for a year now.

The Chinese audience is no stranger to imported serial dramas, especially those from countries including the US, the UK, South Korea and Japan. Indian dramas are quite new to the Chinese audience, but they are gaining popularity.

Unlike English or Japanese fansubbing clubs, which have been around for almost two decades, the first full-fledged subtitle group dedicated to translating Indian dramas only started in 2015. Yang started hers about a year ago.

"Indian dramas are just as good as the other popular dramas from other countries. If you can get over cultural misunderstandings, you will be able to see a whole new, beautiful world."

Despite cultural differences, language barriers and a lack of resources and subtitles, Indian TV dramas are still becoming a rising favorite for Chinese audiences. Photo: IC

Exotic looks and good acting

Yang originally started the volunteer group because of her favorite Indian TV series of all time, Devon Ke Dev Mahadev (DKDM, Lord of the Lords Mahadev), which premiered in 2011 and ran a total of 820 episodes. It tells the stories of Lord Shiva, also known as Mahadev.

"I love the drama because it's a key to the world of Indian mythology," she said. "Besides, the actors and actresses are not only gorgeous, but their acting skills are good."

According to Yang, Mohit Raina who played Shiva and Mouni Roy who played Goddess Sati have earned many fans in China, including Yang.

Qing Qing, 35, who works in education, confessed that she loves the actors so much that she would watch the "raw meat" episodes, which in the fan community refers to the episodes in Hindi language that are not translated or subbed in Chinese yet.

In the beginning, there was not much translation work completed for Indian dramas, and Qing said she had to wait a long time for Chinese subtitles.

"Their acting skills are so good that even the evil characters seem adorable, and you just can't hate them," Qing said.

While many of the popular domestic actors are young, gentle and slender with porcelain skin, Indian actors have more exotic looks ranging from sweet to masculine to mature, she said.

"The male characters in many of the South Korean and Japanese dramas all look the same and they've become the standard for looks." 

Qing has also enjoyed many South Korean and Japanese dramas in the past, as well as comics and anime, but now she enjoys Indian dramas the most.

"People like different things at different stages of their lives," she said. "When I was younger and knew less, I considered the most eye-catching the best, which was also promoted by the media."

However, Qing now prefers Indian dramas, through which she can learn about a new culture, especially its mythological stories.

To her, while the characters are charming, being able to enjoy the stories is the primary element that makes a drama entertaining. The twists and turns of DKDM met all of her criteria.

Fan subbing

The most viewed episodes subbed by the group, according to Yang, are the first four episodes of the second season of Naagin, which have gained about 180,000 views as of May 1. The series, which began airing in 2015, is a supernatural drama starring Mouni Roy.

According to Yang, its enticing stories about revenge and love have helped attract a new following for Indian dramas in China.

The volunteers in the subtitle groups usually come from the viewer community. They want to follow the dramas more closely and contribute to the community, and they decide to translate on their own.

As many of the dramas are in the Hindi language, translating Indian TV series has proved to be very challenging for Yang. Compared to subtitle groups in other languages, there are not as many people who speak Hindi that are able to translate. In addition, the mythological terminology also adds another level of difficulty.

Yang herself knows no more than 10 words in the language. What gets her going with the volunteer work is her love for Indian mythology as well as the drama.

For some of the episodes, she found English subtitles, which makes the translation into Chinese comparatively easier. But for some of the episodes, she has only found Russian subtitles.

"We translate the Russian subtitles into English and then into Chinese, which largely relies on us being familiar with the mythology and the dramas' storylines. Then we have people who major in Hindi language as well as experts in Indian mythology double check the subtitles."

Although she cannot guarantee that the translation is perfect, Yang is confident that the viewers recognize the volunteers' hard work. There were times when some of the episodes they translated were used in classes for college students who major in Hindi language.

A new world of dramas

Besides DKDM, other fairly watched Indian dramas in China include Mahabharat, a Hindi-language mythological drama series that premiered in 2013 and Buddhaa-Rajaon Ka Raja (Buddhaa-The King of Kings), which first aired in 2013.

As the later is based on the life of Buddha, it has attracted a number of Buddhist viewers and people who take an interest in Buddhism. Meanwhile, Mahabharat has included some modern ideas and approaches to counter ancient ideology, and therefore it has proven to be well accepted among general Chinese viewers.

Like many like-minded Indian TV lovers, Yang's journey with Indian television started with dramas introduced by CCTV (Central China Television) in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, without the Internet, Indian dramas on CCTV attracted a number of loyal viewers.

Although Indian productions are still niche to Chinese audiences, there have been some well-known works. For example, the movie Three Idiots, a 2009 comedy starring Aamir Khan, is well known and liked by many Chinese.

"People will come to understand that Indian film and television, which has introduced great actors like Khan, are good," Yang said.

Khan, one of India's most celebrated film actors, has a sizeable number of fans in China. On Sina Weibo, he has 30,000 followers even though his account was created less than a month ago. His visit to China last month to promote his new film Dangal (2017) witnessed an immense following, the Sina Entertainment reported.

Besides the language barrier, the biggest challenge for Indian dramas to gain popularity in China, like dramas from the US, the UK, Japan and South Korea, is the cultural differences.

"In China, there is still a lack of interest and literature about Indian culture. People's knowledge of India is not objective enough," Yang said.

In the eyes of Jin Chao, 28, a student who is pursuing a doctorate in environmental sciences, Indian dramas' recent rising recognition in China can be compared to Chinese dramas' recent advance in the overseas market. Over the past few years, many Chinese dramas have attracted a number of international fans, and Jin believes that both are proof of universal requirements for shows to become popular.

"The shows that have become popular share good logic, well-knit stories and good acting skills. There are also domestic dramas with these traits, so it's natural that they become popular both domestically and overseas."

Knowing the cultural background

Jin's favorite Indian TV series is also DKDM, because of its "slow tempo, vigorous emotions, and a theater-like quality." 

Before watching the dramas, Jin had also read Indian literature, including Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India.

"I think they are a good combination of imagination, poetry and metaphysics," Jin said. "I was deeply drawn to the language as well."

Buddhism, which left India and entered China a long time ago, has shaped Chinese culture in a wide range of areas including literature, philosophy, art and politics. This allows the Chinese audience to sense familiarity in the Indian culture, Jin said. For example, there are a number of words in Chinese that come from Sanskrit.

Therefore, in addition to the Chinese subtitles, Yang and the group have made extra notes for DKDM in more than 600,000 Chinese characters to help the audience better understand the Indian culture and its mythology. "There are a lot of metaphors and high-level terminology that originate from their religions," Yang said.

Qing's interest in Indian mythology comes from the Buddhism stories told to her by her grandmother in her childhood.

She also stressed that getting a hold of the country's cultural background is a necessity to truly enjoy the Indian dramas.

"Everybody knows that both China and India are among the greatest ancient civilizations in the world. However, compared to what they know about the countries from the West or other Asian countries such as Japan, what many Chinese know about India is still limited to the simple introductions in textbooks," Qing said. "I hope that there will be a massive import of Indian films and dramas in the future."

Newspaper headline: Indian TV winning hearts in China


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