A house elder, clad in the traditional Kashmiri pheran and a skull cap, is drawing on a hookah outside his house. The mere presence of his daughter-in-law, who is sweeping the verandah, riles him. This soon turns into a squabble, which quickly escalates into an all-out brawl, with not just words, but shoes and bottles of the medicine being used as projectiles.
This video, Changir Ghar (The household of mischief makers), with its message that a family which squabbles never prospers, has been viewed 1.4 million times on the YouTube channel, Kashmiri Kalkharabs. With little access to movie theatres and other sources of entertainment that citizens elsewhere in the country take for granted, those living in the Valley seek entertainment on television or on the internet. Increasingly popular, however, are Kashmiri-language YouTube channels which address the day-to-day issues of ordinary Kashmiris through comedy in videos such as Hasdi Hamsay (Envious Neighbour), Modern Nosh (Modern Daughter-in-Law) and Unpad MLA (Illiterate MLA).
Kashmiri Kalkharab, for example, has over 4.2 lakh subscribers, the highest of any YouTube channel from the Valley. Another popular channel is Kashmiri Comedy Kings. It has nearly 98,000 subscribers and was also created last year, by two brothers, Parvaiz and Waseem Ahmad, from Mujgund village, just outside Srinagar. Then, there are Koshur Kalakar, run by Sopore-based Mudasir Farooq, which has a subscriber base of 1.68 lakh, and Kashmir Rounders, which has 3.31 lakh subscribers and, according to creator Maahi Aamir, is the oldest channel of its kind from the Valley, having been created in 2016.
The basic idea is the same in all their videos, says Parvaiz Ahmad Bhat, creator of the channel. “We want to send a message to the public through our videos and also make them laugh. Through this medium, we want to reach more people, because our videos can bring respite to them,” says Bhat.
Kashmir Rounders, too, began with the idea of using videos to highlight the many problems in the Valley but were criticised for this. “Everyone said that pain is already all around, and our videos are adding to the sadness,” says Amir. That’s when they hit upon the idea of using comedy to talk about the same issues. “Now, in 99 per cent of the videos, we see a positive response,” he says.
Most of these channels are popular enough that they are able to make some money. Kashmir Rounders, for example, makes up to Rs 30,000 a month. Kashmiri Kalkharabs, too, earn enough from making about four videos a month. They have expanded into a six-member team. Still, the earnings are not enough to make a living. Jehangir Ahmad, who acts in Kashmiri Comedy King’s videos, says, “We take up daily wage jobs, then we make fewer videos because we are busy in our work. Sometimes, we even spend money from our pocket so that we can make one video.”
Running YouTube channels is not something that can translate into an actual job in the Valley. Farooq says, “It is just part-time because we are making people laugh. We don’t know what will happen in the next moment in Kashmir. What if the internet is shut down tomorrow for four months? So we can’t take such a risk,” he says. For example, Bhat reveals, that while, typically, they can expect 50,000 views overnight when a new video is uploaded, on days when there’s a shutdown, the traffic goes down by 80 per cent.
Given this reality, the release of content has to be carefully planned. Aamir says, since Kashmir Rounders has fans in every district, they are the ones who keep him and his team informed about any impending trouble. “If there’s an encounter or any other incident in any area, our fans immediately convey the news to us and we delay the release of our videos,” he says.
Bootstrapping and frequent internet outages ensure that making the Valley people laugh is no easy task. The teams working on each of these channels cite the possibility of social impact as the main reason why they do what they do, even if it means digging deeper into their pockets for each new video. “After we made Jehaiz bad bedeth (The curse of dowry), we got a call from a doctor who was inspired by our story and said he is going to marry an orphan girl. Such is the public response. What else do you need in life?” asks Waseem.
This article appeared in print with the headline ‘Smile, the valley is watching’ ‘