As Assembly elections were underway in Nagaland in February 2018, one Youtube channel caused all the traffic in the state. The channel, Dreamz Unlimited, had been making its presence steadily felt over the past year with their videos, which ostensibly had two objectives: one, to send out a message — either social or political. And two, to make you laugh.
This formula shot them to viral fame, as videos about clean elections, voter habits and corruption — all in Nagamese with English subtitles — flooded Facebook and Whatsapp groups of the young, internet-savvy youth of Nagaland. Some described the videos as sarcasm “in its purest form” while others commented that it was “on point”.
This election season, the Nagaland channel is back with its gems: short videos urging people to come out and vote. “Consider it a social gesture” says Tiakunzuk Aier, the 36-year-old who directs most videos by the group.
On April 1, the channel upload a video called The Fool. The clip, about three minutes long, stars a man who promises to participate in “clean elections” (basically meaning he would not be bought off by political parties before voting).
“I will not sell my vote” he declares, before he is offered money by a representative of a political party. The video goes on to show various “offers” — one more tempting than the other, before the man gets the most tempting one of them all: a suitcase seemingly full of cash. At the end, the box turns out to be empty — a metaphor of how political parties “fool” voters with empty promises.
Fittingly, the group chose April 1, or what the world celebrates as Fool’s Day to release it.
Reports from the 2018 Assembly elections highlight how every election in Nagaland sets off a vicious cycle of power, money and corruption.
“Not just in Nagaland, but in many states in India, buying votes is a big problem,” says Aier, “So we try to send out a message by injecting humour in it. Humour and sarcasm have more repeat value — means people like to watch it again and again.”
The Fool already has over 200,000 hits on Youtube. “All our videos get this sort of attention,” says Aier, who along with his cinematographer and editor, Mtakum Aier and sound recordist, Alonng Longchar, write the script. “They usually bring out the humour, while I focus on the issues,” he says.
Next week, just before the state goes to polls, the group will do an awareness video that encourages the youth to go out and vote. “People are more aware about exercising their voting rights during the Assembly elections. We will try to tell them to do the same for the Lok Sabha Elections too,” says Aier.
Nagaland goes to polls on April 11 for its sole constituency seat in the parliamentary elections of 2019.
Earlier last month, the Election Commission got them to produce the 2019 election anthem for Nagaland, Akha Nuton (New Hope). While this one was not satirical, Aier says that nine out of ten Dreamz Unlimited videos are usually humorous, even if they are about serious topics. In 2017, during a political imbroglio within the ruling government, the group came up with the Kaziranga Song, set to the tune of British rock band Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody — criticising the instability of the the government. “That is the the video which got us attention — from outside Nagaland too.”
Mostly, since the videos are in Nagamese, the channel doesn’t get much traction from outside the state. However, in Nagaland, they are hugely popular, with more than 185,000 subscribers.
Aier first started the group in 2008 — back then it was a theatre group that did comedy acts and plays. “In 2016, we did our first Youtube video called Watery Solution. There was protest here by teachers at that time — and the protesters were shot with water canons. It was big news here, and we thought we could satirise it,” he says.
Despite the group being known for always calling a spade a spade, (For example, in True Lies, a politician is seen telling a cheering crowd: “I have been fooling you for the past five years. And here I am again, to fool you once more”), various government departments have roped them in to make videos.
“For the Forest Department, we did a video on wildlife conservation and for the Department of Social Welfare, we made something on diseases like malaria etc,” says Aier, adding, “Our videos are not against a particular political party, nor are we taking sides. It’s a balanced view — of things that are true and real. Even the politicians say that they appreciate and enjoy our videos.”