On June 5, five young men in carefully coiffed hairdos and designer jackets took the stage at a World Environment Day event held at Carter Road in Mumbai. Despite the presence of established stars such as Jackie Shroff and Swanand Kirkire, the loudest cheers from the hordes of pre-teens and teenagers were reserved for ‘Team 07’, the moniker that the band of five goes by.
At least three among the five — all in their early twenties and social media sensations, each with millions of followers online — are now at the centre of the TikTok controversy that erupted following the murderous attack on Tabrez Ansari by a mob in Jharkhand last month.
Team 07 had uploaded a video on the popular video-sharing app TikTok, allegedly warning of the consequences of Ansari’s lynching.
In a complaint to the Mumbai Police on July 8, Shiv Sena activist Ramesh Solanki alleged that the men had attempted to incite hatred among religious communities: “Their videos are viewed by millions of users every day. The reach of their videos… cannot be passed off lightly.”
The leader of Team 07, Faisal Shaikh a.k.a. “Mr Faisu”, has 25 million TikTok and 6.2 million Instagram followers. His colleagues, Adnaan Shaikh, Hasnain Khan, Faiz Baloch, and Shadan Farooqui have 10.6 million and 3.3 million, over 11 million and 4 million, 9.4 million and 2.8 million, and 6.7 million and 2.2 million TikTok and Instagram followers respectively.
The FIR registered earlier this month named the TikTok handles of Hasnain (21), Shadan (23), and Mudassir (23), residents of Dharavi and Bandra (East). Last week, a Mumbai local court rejected their plea for anticipatory bail.
After the FIR was registered, TikTok took down the offending videos and suspended the accounts of the three members.
In their plea to the court, the three youths stated their occupations as “entertainers”. They said that despite being “too young” and not hailing from families with a background in films, they had achieved millions of followers on social media through “sheer hard efforts”. They also claimed they had more followers on social media than many Bollywood celebrities, and that they were often invited for film promotions.
Their lawyer Ali Kaashif Khan told The Indian Express that they have now moved the Bombay High Court.
Online advertises have commissioned Team 07 to promote a range of products from chips to kurtas. The group has also appeared at shows hosted by fashion houses. They recently promoted Salman Khan’s Bharat through a video online, and uploaded a video on TikTok with the popular musician Badshah.
Members of the group met while studying at Bandra’s Rizvi College, and got together a year and a half ago to upload videos on YouTube and musical.ly , the video-sharing app that was re-branded as TikTok in 2018.
Since the FIR, the three Team 07 members have issued an apology stating they did not intend to hurt anyone, and were taking down the video.