Frozen Laughter’s

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A group of young men were the only source of on-line entertainment in Kashmir. After the internet ban, these well-earning boys are taking medicines to manage their idleness, reports Umar Khurshid

Team of KalKharab.

Late in the afternoon of a snowy day in January, Youtuber Pervaiz Ahmed, 28, was preparing a script for his next video at his two-storey house in Panzinara, in Srinagar outskirts. An  Arts graduate and manager of YouTube channel Kashmiri Kalkharab, Pervaiz focuses on social, cultural and environmental issues by highlighting the plight through satire and comedy.

Wearing a woollen jacket, a multicoloured neckerchief and a long furred cap, Pervaiz is working on his twenty-fifth script ever since internet services were blocked in Kashmir. On August, 5, after the Government of India stripped Kashmir of its statehood, internet services were completely shut all over the valley. Only last week, the 2G services of 300 plus white-listed websites were restored.

“With the exception of scriptwriting one cannot do anything,” Pervaiz said. “From editing to uploading the video internet is basic.”

“One of the most difficult jobs in online media is earning the likes and subscriptions on time,” Pervaiz said. Almost half a year suspension has not only halted his online earnings but also rusted his team’s capacity. He said the fall in his earnings has shattered his team.

“We have made our profession our identity,” Pervaiz said. “Choosing another profession at this point of time seems redundant.”

In 2016, when Pervaiz, barely out of college, was surfing on social media, a satirical video based on Kashmir grabbed his attention. It led him to create a YouTube channel Techno Kashmir. With the uploading of two technology related videos, the response was appreciative. “But I had never thought of choosing it as my profession,” Pervaiz said.

Two years later, in early 2018, as Pervaiz kept spending most of his time on YouTube; he understood the ways to make revenue out of the videos. His friends helped him. Showkat Ahmed, 31, who has masters in history, was supportive but did not know how to do it.

Months later, Pervaiz arranged a camera, computer, costume and other things. With Showkat’s assistance, Pervaiz also managed a team of four boy actors. Gradually a team was assembled: Mehraj-u-din, 30, an old-hand of DD Kashmir, Zahoor Ahmed, 26, Yawar Ahmed, 22, and Imran Ahmed, 18, all residents of Panzinara. They resisted the inclusion of female actors.

Kashmiri Kalkharab Dukandar, their first 10-minute video was uploaded on January 2018. In two days, it had three lakh views. By now it has million-plus views. Till August 2019, the channel had earned half a million subscribers. With 83 videos, the channel was first comedy channel to receive YouTube silver button.

Initially, the team was not earning much but now they are all satisfied with the income. The third-party advertisements have added their income. Most of their clients are non-locals who promote their phone applications through their videos.

Koshur Kalakar, another YouTube channel, manager Mudasir Farooq, 26, lives in Sopore and is also suffering because of the internet. A post-graduate in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Punjab, Mudasir began his work in 2018.

In 2015, when Mudasir graduated and returned home, he was sceptical to choose his profession. Months later, he found a job in Pune at a multinational company Pixopall, an image and video editing company rooted in San-Francisco.

Within three years Mudasir gained experience in multimedia and understood the online revenue process.

In 2018, he returned home and involved three boys in the neighbourhood – Junaid Pervaiz, 25, Showkat Ahmed, 25, and Aatif Ahmed, 19.

“Unlike others, we decided to provide infotainment instead of the entertainment,” Mudasir said. They uploaded a video in March 2018 titled Fake Doctors In Kashmir. It gave them a wide reach.

Within few months, they got 180, 000 subscribers on YouTube. “Before August, we were earning a good amount satisfying all our financial needs,” Mudasir said. “I guess we couldn’t have earned this much in other professions so easily.” The team was looking towards a 200 thousand mark when the internet services were withdrawn.

Mahi Aamir, 25, of Shangus Anantnag is another YouTuber who began his earnings from modest Rs 10, 000, and touched Rs 50, 000, in August 2019. Then the internet stopped and his earnings nosedived.

In 2017, Amir convinced four of his cousins – Mir Umar, 19, Mir Owais, 20, Wasif Bashir, 20, Azhar Shah, 20, to create entertaining videos and post online. Days later, the team uploaded a replica video of Kon Banega Crorepati, on Facebook. Within 28 hours, the video fetched millions of viewership. This encouraged them to utilise YouTube.

An MBA from Barkatullah University Bhopal, Amir’s team faced criticism initially. Later, they earned both money and fame.

Amir said the passion to create comedy videos started after he began watching Indian pranksters on YouTube. He believes that choosing a difficult profession in Kashmir is better than looking for government jobs. With four lakh subscribers on YouTube, the team Kashmir Rounders is set to launch the new faces later on.

Ultimate Rounders share the same story. The internet blockade has left the six team members jobless.

Well-known by his stage name Aashu, Ishfaq Ahmed, 26, began uploading comedy videos in April 2019. Within five months, his channel fetched one lakh five thousand subscribers in five months. However, the internet ban left the team penniless. The team including Adil, 19, Arsalan, 19, Saqlain, 21, Zahid and Aashu shot their first video in April 2019.  The first video they uploaded was Tahreh Behche and the response was satisfying.

Team of Kashmiri Rounders.

A school bus driver by profession, Aashu was once taken by the Kashmir Kalkhrab team for side role leading him to continue his acting purpose. “Most of the time I used to take leave at my job and go with the team for shooting,” Aashu said. As time passed, Aashu’s younger brother Yawar suggested him to create his own channel.

Within a few days, the team Ultimate Rounders was ready and began their work from April last year. With the uploading of 42 videos, Aashu said his channel is among the top ten entertaining channels of Kashmir. “My brother Yawar helped me most from creating the videos to earning the revenue,” Aashu said.

The internet blockade has pushed these online entertainers into depression. “They all are taking the medicines on a routine now,” Ashu regrets.

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