New Comedy Kings

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Living in perpetual gloom and sadness for decades, some young men have unleashed their funny bone on the internet, thus offering moments of laughter and smile. Farzana Nisar meets content creators of some of the Kashmir’s most popular comedy and satire channels that operates from YouTube, the Universe’s new TV

Team Kashmiri Kalkharabs with the awarded silver button from YouTube.

It is a regular Sunday noon and five young boys are shooting an act in an open yard in south Kashmir’s Shangus village. Dressed in long loose Pheran hanging down the knees with traditional Kashmiri skull caps donned on, one of the boys delivers Kashmiri dialogues for a comic skit before the camera.

It looks a sort of a small festival as the place is packed with a crowd of young and old. Despite attempts to clear the crowd and keep them away from the lenses, fans surround them for selfies. These young boys who have mastered the art of humour and satire are the brain behind one of the Kashmir’s most followed comedy channels on YouTube: Kashmiri Rounders.

In October 2017, Maahi Aamir, 25, discovered the hidden talent in his friends and decided to showcase it to the world. Initially, the group of five uploaded a video on Facebook, which was highly appreciated. They later created their own YouTube channel that has eventually become their identity.

Their work was an instant hit as thousands of viewers watched it. In a span of just nine months, the channel has 1.93 lakh subscribers and is the second local channel of its kind to receive a silver play button from YouTube.

Kashmiri Rounders has put out 67 videos, and most of these capsules have got more than three lakh views each. The topic of their videos ranges from current happenings to satirical takes on society.

“People want a break from their stressed lives and the tension of living in a conflict zone,” Maahi Aamir said. “So, we try to create such content that can make people laugh and forget the worries for a bit of time.” Aamir is the lead actors of the channel. He is currently pursuing his MBA and the other members of the group, Mir Umer, Mir Owais, Shahid Mir and Wasif Ahmad are all students, some going to college and some to school.

Aamir and his gang are the new kings of the new media. They do not require standing in queues to get into the broadcasting institutions to prove their worth. They put in their efforts and upload it on the social media. The people respond and help them grow.

In Kashmir, the growth of social media has created many channels for people to exhibit their work to the world. For some, the trend of Vlogging is emerging the real-life business. YouTube has become the new source of entertainment as large numbers of local channels are mushrooming on the global platform that is a repository to data as long as one would watch for 6000 years. But the best performing channels on YouTube are those creating some content for laughter.

Sociologists too think that Kashmir has begun rediscovering its funny bone. “We live in a state where people die every day, we are not happy, but now youngsters are stepping forward and trying to make people laugh,” Sheeraz Ahmad, who holds a doctorate in sociology, said. “New generation has created a space to express their story in a different way.” Referring to the different videos that surfaced on social media platforms related to the scrapping of Article 35A in the valley, Sheeraz opined that the young comedians portrayed the whole situation in a humorous yet informative manner. “The videos made people laugh but at the same time were a layman’s guide to the provision that is so vital to the very existence of Kashmir,” he said.

As the laughs have rolled in, these YouTube comedians have begun to realize that this can be a big business. For the content creators of silver play button awarded Kashmiri Kalkharabs, YouTube is not just a video sharing site anymore but a source of income. Kalkharab loosely translated to the word ‘mad head’, a word and character that every culture has, in one or the other way.

The actors of the group include six unemployed youth from Panzinara in Sumbal, nearly 15 km from Lalchowk, the heart of Srinagar. Parvez Ahmad, a graduate from Amar Singh College had created the channel a year ago but could not upload a single video. With the help of his other friends, Showkat Ahmad, Parvez Ahmad, Zahoor Ahmad, Yawar Ahmad, Mehrajuddin and Imran Farooq, he started to prepare comical sketches and uploaded them on YouTube.

The humour on this channel has attracted a flock of both young and old people who take a dose of their best medicine, the laughter. Kashmiri Kalkharabs is the most subscribed comedy channel of Kashmir, with more than 2.50 lakh subscribers. Some of the Kalkharab videos have approached a million views.

“The videos must be relatable,” said Parvez Ahmad, the channel founder. “We create theme-based comedy videos and try our best to make people laugh. But at the same time, the audience consideration is must; we need to be careful not to use bad language.”

But what is more interesting is that the new media does not follow what the formal media does. According to the content creators, they don’t write a script and plan out the video. “We are self-taught artists,” Parvez said. “We just think of an idea and then act humorously in front of the camera.”

Vlogging is hard work, but has its rewards, said Showkat Ahmad, another Kalakharab artist, who is a history postgraduate. “I don’t have a job but we earn a good amount of money from YouTube,” Ahmad said. “Moreover, we get invitations from various events to show our talent and make people laugh, which is surely better than sitting idle at home.”

Inspired by the success of other comedy channels, three boys hailing from Sadoora in south Kashmir also decided to try their hands in comedy and start a channel. Abrar Majeed, one of the trio, named it ATZ videos, where the acronym stands for the names of the group members: A refers for Abrar, T for Tanveer and Z for Zahoor. Tanveer is a mass communication graduate and helps them to shoot and edit the videos. Zahoor is pursuing his masters in Computer Applications.

In the last few months, the trio created over 40 videos and reached 34000 subscribers. “One of our advantages over other comedy channels in Kashmir is that we have a professional videographer and editor with us,” Abrar said. “So we equally focus on the quality of videos.” Earlier, he said, they didn’t know they can make good money. “But now we have realized it can be a good source of income as well,” he added.

Zahoor, the lead actor of the channel said that he was unaware of the hidden talent he possessed. “I used to sing and act sometimes in front of my friends and they discovered the funny side in me,” he said. “Now making people laugh makes me happy.”

Some of the other such local channels currently active on YouTube are –Kashmir Fun Club Official, Koshur Kalakar, Koshur Humour, Kashmiri Back Benchers, South Kashmir Jokers, Kashmiri Dramabaaz, Kashmiri comedy, Kashmiri Jugaad studio, Kulgam Rounders, Redwani Rounders and many more. This competition within these funny gangs has led them to get into perfection in content and presentation. Some of them are keen to have the best equipment and some are always hunting for better talent. In both cases, they are willing to pay and are paying.

While content often trumps technical quality, these YouTubers have moved from Smartphones to DSLRs. “Earlier we used to shoot with our phone cameras but after earning a good amount of money from these videos we decided to upgrade our equipment,” a member of the Kashmiri Kalkharabs said. “We now have a DSLR of our own.”

Having faced a lot of ups and downs, the local comedians now love every moment of their journey. Although they believe that making people laugh is not an easy task. According to the content creators, the major hurdle they face in their work is convincing their families. “We live in a conservative society and it is difficult to make our parents understand what we actually are doing something,” Tanveer of ATZ said. “They think we are wasting our time.”

According to the new monetization rules on Youtube, a channel can apply for monetization at any time. To be reviewed, all channels need at least 4000 watch hours in the previous 12 months and 1000 subscribers. Previously, channels had to reach 10,000 total views to be eligible for the YouTube Partner Program (YPP).

Kashmir is changing. This change is emerging from the internet, the most democratic tool that Kashmiris access to. Kashmir, right now, has more Smartphones than the population indicating that individuals use more than one phone at a time. The interview is being consumed perhaps faster than the Wazwaan.

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