The buzz all over Kashmir is Squid Game. A Korean drama series that every second person seems to be talking about. Netflix which provided the platform to it said the series has become the most widely viewed ever with more than 111 million viewers globally. And a few hundred thousand of those viewers are from Kashmir as well. It is currently the top show on Netflix in at least 90 countries, from Argentina and Australia to Egypt, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and the United States. Desperate people caught up in desperate situations is what makes Squid Game so relatable to almost everyone here. The players in this game, some of who are sympathetic, some cruel, cunning, and vile, are seen being “eliminated” one after another as they play the “deadly” children’s games.
Abdul Ali (played by Anupam Tripathi), for example, is an immigrant worker from Pakistan, who feels compelled to participate in the game to provide for his family after his employer refuses to pay him for months. Kang Sae-byeok (played by Jung Ho-yeon) is a North Korean defector who hopes to support her little brother and retrieve the rest of her family members who are still across the border. The main character, Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae), is struggling to provide for his daughter and assist his ailing mother while combating gambling addiction.
The plot is centered around a series of children’s games in which hundreds of adult contestants compete for the chance to win unimaginable money. However, the price of losing is death. The contestants, chosen by the mysterious game makers, are the most deeply indebted and desperate individuals. A handful of billionaires, known as the VIPs, watch the game and vote on the success and failure of the various contestants.
What lies behind the enormous and global response? No doubt there are many factors, but the central one is clear—its depiction of desperate individuals put in desperate situations, the consequences of a society riven by social inequality, the greed and criminality of the rich, and associated themes. The series is clearly a critique of capitalist society and generally deals with the issues confronting the characters in a humane way—in spite of the brutal and violent premise.
Kashmir too may find itself in this cauldron of hope and devastation where every day brings with itself a game of life and death. The participants of this Squid Game leave homes in the morning to play the game of life–not sure whether they would return in the evening.
Capitalists controlling lives as is shown in the drama series goes a step further in Kashmir. Here it is capitalists are met by geopolitical elephants trampling the grass as they dance and squabble decade after decade.
As for Writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk recently explained in an interview with IndieWire his motivation for writing the series: “I conceived of the theories for the show in 2008. At the time, there was the Lehman Brothers crisis; the Korean economy was badly affected, and I was also economically struggling.”
He continued: “Over the past 10 years, there were a lot of issues: There was the cryptocurrency boom, where people around the world, especially young people in Korea, would go all-in and invest all their money into cryptocurrencies. And there was the rise of IT giants like Facebook, Google, and in Korea, there’s Naver, and they are just restructuring our lives. It’s innovative but these IT giants also got very rich.”
Dong-hyuk added, however, that it was the election of Trump in the US that prompted him to put it into production. “I think he kind of resembles one of the VIPs in the Squid Game,” he said. “It’s almost like he’s running a game show, not a country, like giving people horror.”
Every contestant in the show is in a financial hole, with no options available to get out no matter how hard they try or what they are willing to sacrifice. One may argue that no feeling could be more relatable, and practically universal among workers.
Is it really the case that people, no matter how desperate their situations, will willfully and knowingly participate in a game of mass slaughter and barbarity in the hope that, in the end, they might come out on top and resolve all their problems with a mountain of cash? If so, what does this say about the director’s view of humanity?
This element of the plot tends to undermine the more basic message the series tries to convey, that despite the savage conditions forced upon them, most fight valiantly to keep their humanity, refusing to give in to the brutality of it all.
Then there is the fact that the social catastrophe faced by the contestants is generally presented in individual terms, with individual solutions. Everyone participating in the game is left to their own devices, with the exception of some of their fellow contestants, most of whom end up dead.