Bhuvan Bam gets a lot of mail. A big chunk of the correspondence is from parents who want him to block their children from viewing his channel on YouTube called BB Ki Vines. The channel has one of the largest number of subscribers in India, touching 9.5 million, and Bam, 23, is considered one of the most successful YouTubers in India. A week ago, Bam released his latest music video, titled Rahguzar, which has already had 9.7 million views. “I was expecting a lot of fan mail, but a majority is parents writing to me who thought ki unke bachche bigad jayenge. But, if your 12-year-old has internet, he is already exposed to a lot of things which are worse than what I say,”says Bam.
Bam’s channel — named after an American app Vine, where one could share six-second videos — showcases the antics of BB, a typical Delhi youth in his late teens, his group of friends, his parents and a dubious uncle. Often the content veers towards innuendo-laden potshots, and the language can get crass. References to Tinder, Snapchat, Instagram stories and hookups are found in abundance, all in the course of three friends hanging out. “But I am not creating this out of thin air, we see this all around us. The character who swear in the videos are those who swear in real life as well. Dad doesn’t, neither does mom. But that’s just the medium, why are we not looking at the message. There are 16 characters and they all have backstories,”says Bam, who blends pop culture, Bollywood references and social commentary. “My videos also call out people on their bias towards fair skin, I also call out people on slut-shaming,” he adds.
BB Ki Vines has Bam playing all the characters himself — with a scarf, muffler, fake moustaches and similar props. Yet, he is first and foremost, a musician, with a training in Hindustani classical music. “While studying at Bhagat Singh College, Delhi University, I started singing at the Moti Mahal Deluxe restaurant in Saket. I would get free ka khaana and belt out ghazals, old songs and take requests. In the lean months, like navratras, I would slip in one of my original songs in the middle. I started performing at gigs and getting invited to college fests,” says Bam.
He started writing satire and comic sketches after he performed in Kashmir in 2014 at a private event. “A week after I came back, Srinagar was flooded. On TV, I watched a reporter shove the mic in the face of a grieving mother who couldn’t find her child. I was enraged. I made my first video, a satire of 12 seconds. I uploaded this on Facebook. One thing led to another. I made a separate FB page, then went to YouTube. One video, where I introduced Bhuvan and his dad, went viral in Pakistan. Then, the video returned to India and I became popular here,” adds Bam. Ever since, he has been recording clips in the barsaati of his parents’ house in Saket in south Delhi on his handy iPhone. “You can even see the paint peeling off in the latest video,”he says. Next, Bam is gearing up to release more original music. He is also writing his own film.
Bam is thankful for the platform that social media has provided him, which he feels is still largely democratic and not censored. “If we lose that, the day we get even social media under the purview of a censor, we should not call ourselves a democracy any more. It’s a core right, I believe. An artiste can only create if he/she is free. Agar humse woh bhi freedom le lenge, toh hum jaise kya karenge?” says Bam.