Meet The Kashmir Boy, The BBC Projected Kashmir’s “Social Media Star”

by Khalid Bashir Gura

SRINAGAR: Wasil Manzoor, 18, a resident of Pampore was recently featured in BBC’s trending programme as a local social media star sensation: How to be a social media star without the internet.

Wasil Manzoor

Still in his teenage, he works in a private company to support himself financially. Manzoor has a huge following on Tik Tok and social media apps like Instagram to boast of. He has more than twenty-five thousand followers on Instagram and had almost half a million followers on Tik Tok, the app currently banned by the government in India after a standoff with neighbouring China. After passing his board exams, he wants to tiptoe into college life and aspires to be a journalist.

Manzoor did not let the virtual world blindfold real world. An elder among his sibling, he sensed the responsibilities and realities of financial limitations that his humble background entails with. Thereby, he sought financial independence but everyday harsh realities of life do not stop him to dream and do what he is best at; acting.

A Modest Start

In December 2018, when young Manzoor’s final exams’ were finished and he was brandishing his new gifted phone from the family to his friend he decided to make a funny video on Tik Tok just to ward off boredom.

With each funny video, he entertained people and each video motivated him for next until his 30th video became viral and then there was no looking back as the video garnered more than three million views on the app according to Manzoor. “It was a conceptual video where two brothers loved and proposed the same girl,” he said as after the viral video what followed was: fame, followers and money also trickled down.

Now a, TikTok star with followers running three lakh in less than a year, his every video used to became viral till August 5, 2019. “I used to earn from the promotional videos, paid campaigns. For each viral video would fetch Rs 700-1500. I would have around more than 1 million followers had August 5 communication clampdown and lockdown not followed,” he said.

Along with his friend Faizan, he was at the peak of popularity and sudden disruption took everyone by surprise and no one was informed what is in store for us. “If I had a hint of being cut off from the rest of the world, I might have informed them prior to lockdown. Few days prior to August 5, lockdown I had travelled to my maternal home to Budgam. I was stuck for months there and was frustrated,” he said. “My mother had suffered a fracture in her hand and I came to know after months as phones were not working.”

The Communication Gag

As months passed by without access to phone and Internet, Manzoor was frustrated. Initially, he had thought that siege will end soon but it turned out to be longer than expected. “I felt choked all the time and wanted to run away from the confinement.” What haunted him and added to his frustration was that his work on TikTok might go down the drain and he may end up losing millions of followers. “When one is inactive on social media platforms for months, people, of course, will follow.” But Manzoor was taken by surprise when after easing of lockdown he went to Delhi and checked his account. The fact he was oblivious to was that he had gained more than one lakh followers even without making new videos for months on TikTok but on Instagram his followers had reduced from 12000 to 5000.

“Most of my videos get viral outside Kashmir and as the internet was working in other parts of India my TikTok account continued to garner followers.”

A Visit To Delhi

In late November 2019, when he travelled to Delhi, he was surprised to see a spike in followers but according to him, it took another one month to restore the account to former impression. “Almost for a month, in Delhi, I worked hard making videos and hoping for them to get viral. But I was disappointed,” he said adding that the audience may have had thought that we have stopped making videos and my new videos were not getting viral for more than a month. It was only at the start of New Year that smile and happiness outside his acting world were back.

The disappointment with the fallout of being cut off from the world did not last and persistence and patience paid as in January 2020 his videos started getting viral again; garnering views in millions.

In Jammu and Kashmir, as life was limping back to new normalcy, the slow speed Internet was restored by the end of the January but social media was still inaccessible as only approved number of sites by the government was allowed to access. As months passed by and Kashmir was still emerging from the post-August 5, 2019, reading down of article lockdown, another lockdown due to raging pandemic enclosed people all across the world like Kashmiris. As the world had access to high-speed internet when coronavirus pandemic forced them within homes, Kashmir was rejoicing and ascending to access through VPN’s to finally government lifting ban on all barred sites but slow speed internet persists for more than a year now.

Entertaining In Lockdown

This year’s pandemic lockdown was less harsh to endure as the Internet was working for Kashmir. During the lockdown, he continued making videos to entertain people and his audience liked and appreciated his work all across the country despite slow speed that added to his frustration and his limited access, and recurrent Internet shutdowns he battled in his district due to frequent encounters. “Most of my audiences are from outside as the people in Kashmir have difficulty in loading videos. It takes time in buffering even a small video at such a low speed. For fifteen seconds video it takes many minutes to upload video,” he claims.

These days, he is most active on Instagram on which he has more than 25 thousand followers. “If one has high-speed internet one can do a lot many things. 2G speed has limited our abilities to function fully,” he said.

When the nationwide lockdown was imposed due to pandemic, in mid-March early this year, Manzoor when saw people violating lockdown restrictions across the country, he made a video wherein he urged people to stay put and stay in just like Kashmiris have had previously and that too without the internet. “I questioned them why can’t they stay in. They have high-speed Internet. Kashmir is still grappling with low-speed internet,” he claimed and the video, which he posted on Instagram and TikTok got more than 2 million views according to him.

Being exposed to a large audience even from mainland India, Manzoor says he gets both positive and negative comments. “Sometimes people from India do not believe that internet in Kashmir can be shut for so long, and some even saluted for being Kashmiris being used to lockdown,” he said. “And those who don’t believe what is happening in in Kashmir are ignorant of the realities as mainstream media never portrays realities or informs them of truth,” he adds.

Want People Laugh

According to him his only motive for making videos is: “to make people entertain and laugh as I know how depressed people are and what we really go through in everyday life.” But he learned as a content producer that it is not just people in Kashmir that are depressed but even outside students and audience who watch his videos; though the intensity may vary, he added.

While making videos he endured months of criticism from relatives and people who really did not consider making videos a productive engagement. He found his consolation and strength in the family. “My family, especially my father supported me,” he said, adding that once his videos got viral and people acknowledged his talent of giving expressions, the cruelty from conventional and conservative minds subsided. “I did not matter to me what anybody said, as long as I knew I am doing right and does not harm anyone.”

A Journalist In Making

As Manzoor, looks forward to carrying on his dream of becoming a journalist, he also plans to continue to do what he is best at that is acting and hopes someday, like many other TikTok stars who are working in the media industry, will be noticed for his skills and be like them, even if it means if an advertisement company hires him or any web series director someday signs him for the project.

He has hopes and dreams from TikTok but he sees it as his non-vocational activity. “With hard work, patience everything is possible,” he said as he considers studies important along with talent and skills.

But after witnessing bumpy ride in the past few months, Manzoor managed with limited speed and infrequent Internet. After few months, fate had another parting in store, this time more heart-breaking than former: On June 29, this year the central government banned hundreds of Chinese apps following tensions between India and China which escalated into deadly clashes in the Galwan Valley on June 15 that killed 20 soldiers. In an official statement, the ministry of information and the ministry of information and technology said the apps have been banned due to many reasons such as security and privacy.

As he continues to upload content at 2G speed on social media app Instagram, he is now aware of what has happened to TikTok. “I am being informed by people from other countries on social media that my TikTok account is working and its faithful followers have not left their star.”

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