By Nitya Chakraborty
I have just finished seeing the nine episode South Korean social drama ‘Squid Game” released in Netflix on September 17 this year. Already it has become the biggest hit of Netflix productions in 90 countries covering 111 million viewers. My experience of viewing the film has been mesmerising. In recent months, I have seen lot of foreign films in streaming platforms, but I can never recall any such impact.
Squid Game directed by South Korean film maker Hwang Dong Lyuk tells the story of the desperation of the people in his country who have been marginalised and left in the backyard of the society despite liberalisation of the economy leading to higher growth. The series were done before the pandemic but during slow down of the global economy .The content of the film focusing on the indebtedness and the resulting consequences of the lower middle class sections of the society, is more relevant in 2021 during the present course of the pandemic hit economies in both developing and developed countries, though the extent varies from country to country.
The director has used this particular South Korean game to build his story brick by brick in none episodes showing how desperate youth including women rush for participating in this Game which guarantees only one winner and the elimination of other participants in the process of six survival games of varying genres. The participation is voluntary and the amount goes on increasing after every episode leading to process of eliminating- meaning deaths. The participants are just numbers- total 456- each person having a gruelling past of their own leading to piling of huge debts from which they are trying to come out through quick big bucks making exercise.
With each survival game getting over, some participants are being eliminated but in the Squid Game house, they become friends, exchange views, share the past and discuss the problems, but during the game, they are completely changed, then it is a fight for survival and the elimination of the rivals. The setting of the sets and the accompanying music have given a surreal touch to the scenes. Both hopes and aspirations, foreboding about elimination and remembering dear and near ones, go side by side as the Game proceeds to eliminate participants in phases.
There are poignant scenes relating to the relationship between the number one and the last participant number 456.The number one is an old man who is suffering from brain tumour and is in the terminal stage. He has joined to have fun as he is looking for last days of excitement. The 456 number on the other hand is the protagonist, representing the common South Korean youth who lost a job in a car company during slowdown and never got it back. He is married with a daughter, but after some time, his wife left him to live with a person with brighter future. This man intends to leave for USA shortly to secure a more comfortable life.
456 thinks he is a loser and he has to do anything to restore his image as a successful man. He is withdrawing funds from her working mother’s account but that got known to her mother. After failing to earn through every way he tried, he decides to participate in this Game which if he wins, will not only help him to neutralise all his debts but also buy a good house which was his dream all through. Further, the prize of huge amount will be of use to him to give best medical treatment to his mother who is ailing and refusing to go to hospital because of high costs. In the last part of the Survival game, 456 and number one are involved in the game and the 456 wins through devious means. He feels guilt but he has no options left.
Similarly, there are tales of a Pakistani youth who migrates to South Korea in search good job. He fails to get one and incurs debt. He is desperate to give a good life to his family and he opts for the Squid Game to become rich.’ The friendship between a North Korean girl who has fled to South Korea and looking for a job and a South Korean of her age, is also shown when both tell of their past struggles and what they will do with the money after they are back to their places. So the director makes a grand mix of the personal tales of the participants to focus on the ills of this unequal society with the central theme of the Survival of the fittest. The entire atmosphere in the Game set by using different colours reflects the sombre mood of the participants apprehending about elimination while nursing hopes of victory.
The director has made use of the characters in such a manner that no viewer is interested to know who is the best actor.. It is the whole team of participants who are heroes and heroines. Till the last, it is the team that matters, not individuals. All credit must go the director and the screen writers. The brutal adaptation of the children games in South Korea in the Squid Game, has been made giving such a global dimension that the viewers throughout the world have found the reflection of the spectre of inequality in their own country, irrespective of the standard of living.
Director Hwang Dong Hyuk has done a tremendous job which has catapulted South Korean cinema to the global level. Only in 2019, the film ‘Parasite’ by Bong Joon Ho got Oscar award. There is big interest in South Korean films now as the directors have a commitment and a vision and they are portraying the South Korean reality to the world viewers. Director Hyuk is planning a new film and there are many world class directors in South Korea now.
After seeing Squid Game, I am asking myself why Indian directors are not attempting such a film on hard social reality in OTT platform. Compared to South Korea, inequality and indebtedness of poor are more in India. Latest surveys have shown that 80 per cent of the rural households in India are in debt. The plight of the migrant workers after the lock down in March 2020 should become the subject of a great film. There are many folk tales and games in India also. We have talented directors now. They are all conversant with the latest technology. I hope some of them draw due lessons from this fabulous film Squid Game and come out with something rooted to India. The time is now. (IPA Service)