With the Friends due back, Indian fans are over the moon
Viewers who caught the American sitcom in the early 2000s, when it made its India debut, talk about their show’s impact on their lives and cultural landscape.Updated: Mar 07, 2020 21:45 IST
Could you be any more excited about the upcoming Friends reunion special?
The American sitcom that ran from 1994 to 2004 will not have a sequel. Instead, the main cast of six — you know them all — will film an unscripted reunion episode for HBO, in May. Series creators, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, will join them to chat about the show, all this time after it ended.
Did it really end, though? In India, Friends has had a rich afterlife in reruns. More Indians have been introduced to the gang in the replays than from the original telecast. Blogger Neha Pai, 37, from Mangaluru, remembers the show’s India debut in the early 2000s, years after it became a sensation in America. “There was a lot of hype,” she recalls. “It was screened on an English TV channel late at night, and that alone made my mother apprehensive. Plus, it was really open about sex and I think this made a lot of Indian parents uncomfortable at the time.”
For an India newly adjusting to economic reform and foreign imports, this was a fascinating world — these young people drinking coffee, enjoying independent lives in New York. Janice Sequeira, 34, who co-hosts Mr and Mrs Binge-Watch, a podcast that dissects contemporary TV series, says the show gave Indian viewers a glamorous, addictive dose of Americana.
“It gave café culture a huge boost; it informed how we dressed and the way we spoke,” she says. “Things the Friends said unconsciously became part of our parlance. It made a lot of us fantasise about moving out of our parents’ homes. So the show had an aspirational quality.”
It was also a surprise favourite with call centre trainers during that industry’s boom years in the early 2000s. Scenes from the show were screened, over and over, to help Indian employees (often rechristened with American names) understand the accents, lingo and culture of their overseas customers. It was part of the American-accent training programme when Bengaluru-based Granada Gomes, 39, worked at 3G in 2002. Today, as a training head in the customer service industry, she screens episodes during her sessions too, but for entirely different reasons.
“I’m now training at a pub and I screen it to make my staff feel comfortable about themselves and their jobs,” Gomes says. “Phoebe worked as a masseuse, but that didn’t make her feel less confident.”
With reruns, new fans keep joining the fold. Millennial and Gen Z viewers binge watch it on streaming platforms and take Friends-inspired pop culture quizzes online, to share with actual friends. They’re not coming for the accent or the culture any more.
“The show deals with issues everyone can relate to, whether it’s finding and losing love, struggling with your career or a divorce, deciding to get married or have a child,” says Mumbai-based PR consultant, Nived Sawant, 20. “And yet, the show finds humour and hope in all these situations. And that’s really comforting.”