South Korean diplomats dance their way into Indian hearts

Korean Ambassador Chang Jae-bok and his staff showed off their dancing chops in their cover of the catchy hit song. PHOTOS: SCREENGRAB FROM ROKEMBINDIA/TWITTER

NEW DELHI/SEOUL - A dance cover of Oscar-nominated Indian song Naatu Naatu by South Korean diplomats has gone viral on social media, reinforcing South Korea’s already strong soft power diplomacy as the two countries mark 50 years of diplomatic ties.

Naatu Naatu, or “dance dance” in Telugu, is a musical number from the hit film RRR. The song won a Golden Globe in January for best original song, a category that had songs by Taylor Swift and Rihanna among nominations.

It has spawned many dance covers, but the one by the South Korean Embassy in New Delhi, in a Twitter post that has been viewed more than 4.2 million times since Saturday, has in itself become a super hit.

“As huge fans of Indian culture, we came up with this idea of making a short video clip of us dancing to the Naatu Naatu song, to rejoice in the success of Indian cinema/music,” South Korean Ambassador to India Chang Jae-bok told The Straits Times.

He said he was surprised that the clip to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties had gone viral, and revealed that it took about three weeks to produce, from conception to filming and editing.

Embassy first secretary Lee Jeemin, who was a member of a Korean amateur musical group, taught her colleagues the choreography and was responsible for the overall filming and editing, Mr Chang added.

“As Korean culture, including K-pop and K-drama, becomes more and more popular in India, I hope that our dance cover of Naatu Naatu will go on to show that we in Korea also love Indian culture.”

Among the outpouring of appreciation in India was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment: “Lively and adorable team effort.”

The dance cover opens with embassy first secretary Park Ji-eun and minister-counsellor Kim Min-sun, dressed in Indian salwar suits, recreating steps from the RRR song and adding their own moves, including a high kick.

It then cuts to the ambassador, dressed in an Indian jacket, dancing on the lawns of the embassy.

ST understands that this is the first time South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put out such a viral video.

News reached South Korea on Monday, with a number of local media outlets, such as Chosun Ilbo newspaper and Yonhap news agency, carrying reports about the clip going viral.

With South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol seeking to align more closely with the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, there is incentive for Seoul to deepen engagement with New Delhi.

“What has changed is that India and South Korea have become very proactive in articulating a very robust Indo-Pacific outlook. South Korea is looking beyond China and transforming its security policies in line with changing realities in the Indo-Pacific,” said Professor Harsh Pant, vice-president of studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

“I think the future of ties look much brighter than in the past.”

Dr Choi Yoon Jung, director of the department of diplomatic strategy studies at Sejong Institute, told ST that South Korea is looking to “upgrade the quality” of the bilateral relationship.

She added that South Korea is “now trying to look at India with a different perspective”, not merely as an important market for its many exports but also as a partner in global issues.

“India is a partner country with whom we can pursue our diplomatic goals, such as our Indo-Pacific strategy,” she said. “This year, Korea is also keen to help India in its efforts to become a successful G-20 host country.”

The overwhelmingly positive reaction to the video is “evidence that there’s widespread good feelings from India towards Korean culture”, she said.

She noted that India used to be one of the countries that the Korean wave failed to penetrate, but things changed during the Covid-19 pandemic, when Indians started to pay attention to the variety of South Korean content on Netflix.

Today, India is among the top six countries contributing to views of K-pop videos on YouTube and Spotify. Online shopping sites such as have seen an uptick in demand for spicy Korean instant noodles, skincare, cosmetics and fashion.

Language self-learning app Duolingo reported a 256 per cent jump in Korean learners in India from March to November in 2020, during the pandemic.

Popular music variety show Coke Studio relaunched in India with a viral music video, Memu Aagamu, featuring K-pop band TRI.BE, Indian singer Armaan Malik and Telugu actor Allu Arjun in 2022.

The film RRR, whose song Naatu Naatu the South Korean embassy staff danced to, is from the same Telugu film industry that Mr Arjun works in.

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Indians have also started noticing similarities between their language and the Korean language, as well as in their music and dance.

“Do you remember Gangnam Style?” Dr Choi said, referring to the 2012 viral dance hit by South Korean singer Psy. “When the Indian people heard this song, they were saying, it is very similar to Indian songs in terms of rhythm and the way it makes people sing and dance together. This (Naatu Naatu) video also has some special ingredients that Indians love so much. They are able to find a connection between the two cultures.”

Would India reciprocate South Korea’s dance diplomacy?

“Why not?” said Dr Choi, adding that the Indian Embassy in Seoul is gearing up to organise “the biggest cultural event” this year to mark 50 years of bilateral ties.

Interest in India in South Korea is also starting to grow among the younger generation, who appreciate modern Indian songs and films, according to Dr Choi.

She has noticed more stories and videos about India on the Internet these days. She also recalled a story about an Indian princess who travelled to Korea some 2,000 years ago and married a Korean king. She is known as Princess Suriratna, or Heo Hwang-ok.

“This is one of those famous stories that remind people that in ancient times, Korea and India had some kind of connection based on blood,” she said. “The story has not been proven to be real; it can be just a legend. But it is still working as a bonding factor between the two countries.”

  • Additional reporting by Rohini Mohan

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