New Delhi: Dinesh Pawar, a resident of the tribal village of Jamde in Maharashtra’s Dhule district, felt crushed Monday as the Modi government banned TikTok, the Chinese video app, in India.
Pawar and his two wives had gained a following of 30 lakh on TikTok with their dance performances on 1990s Bollywood songs. They claim to have earned no money from the social media platform, but it helped them get a taste of stardom.
“We were devastated but we realised that it’s not only us. Both my wives saw the news and cried like anything. This ban hurts millions of people like us,” he said. “We have decided to move on to YouTube.”
Prakash Chavan, a partially blind Jamde resident who had also gained a solid following on TikTok, said the ban had spelt despair for not just him but at least 11 other couples in the village who had started posting videos on the app.
“They have locked themselves inside their homes and have not come out for the shoot today,” he told ThePrint. “I myself cried. But I also saw on TV that TikTok was earning crores from India. We support the Indian government on this, but they should come up with apps like TikTok,” he said.
‘A simple medium’
TikTok, where interactions are based on short videos that range from comedy to Bollywood jigs and lip-synced dialogues, had emerged as one of India’s most popular social media apps.
It had an estimated base of 12 crore active monthly users, with the app also striking a chord with small-town India and even within villages.
Viral videos from the platform over recent years have shown village residents dancing with abandon in farms, or celebrity doppelgangers mouthing some of their most famous dialogues.
It became a medium that animated sections across society, bringing residents of remote villages on the same platform as major celebrities and earning them the kind of popularity that seemed out of reach earlier.
In Jamde, where the local school only offers lessons until Class 5, TikTok was an app that many found easier to use than its social media peers. They also devised their own lingo for the app’s various features. For example, they know a video is viral when it has the “suffix k” placed ahead of the video, which is their understanding of the number of views (230k, 430k).
“TikTok was easy and a home for marginalised sections like us. We felt like home on TikTok. Other apps like Instagram are complicated. Nobody cheers us on other apps like the users on TikTok appreciated us. We can’t imagine big people writing about us if it was not for TikTok,” said Chavan.
A mini Bollywood
Located 350 km from “City of Dreams” Mumbai, Jamde boasts of numerous windmills, open farms and hillocks that form an attractive backdrop to videos.
The residents of Jamde belong to a tribe called Pardhi, which faced extreme ostracism under the British rule that forced them into a life of displacement and discrimination.
Village sarpanch Gopi Sopan Bhosle said Jamde was “an extremely backward village”.
“Only 4-5 boys and a single girl from this village have been able to study up to graduation level. Prakash is one of these graduates. The rest of us are either illiterate or have studied until the primary level,” he added. “There is a government school in the village, but it only offers lessons until Class 5. For further studies, one has to go to a school built approximately 20 km away.”
Pawar and Chavan, who is also known as “Shaka”, told ThePrint that they learnt the tricks of the trade from YouTube.
“Our village has always been greatly influenced by Bollywood blockbusters. That’s why my grandmother named me after the character ‘Shaka’ from Ajay Devgn’s film Diljale. Even today, our village has people named Rishi Kapoor, Mithun, Sunny Deol and Shashi Kapoor,” Chavan told ThePrint.
‘Will move on to YouTube’
Users like Chavan and Pawar, who make videos alongside their traditional occupation of farming and manual labour, went out of the way in their desire to start using TikTok.
Chavan, who uploads two-three videos daily on TikTok and other video apps like VMate, Vigo, Likee, and Kwai, purchased a phone for Rs 14,000 after selling his mother’s gold earrings. A relatively new TikTok content creator, he currently has over 2 lakh followers.
He took the leap after Pawar, 32, found his stardom growing on TikTok. Pawar, who works at a saloon in the village, had sold some of his goats to purchase an Android phone worth Rs 17,000 before he could begin shooting TikTok videos.
Initially, he used to make comedy videos but they did not get much traction. Then he and his two wives started uploading dance videos based on hit Bollywood songs of the 1990s. In no time, around 30 lakh users started to follow Pawar on TikTok. Now, his videos have started to spread from TikTok to other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Chavan, who has shot more than 700 videos to date, earned a sum of Rs 35,000 from VMate, a Hong Kong-based video app, in approximately two months but claimed he had not earned money from any of the other four apps where he posts content.
However, he added, several strangers he has met on various apps have helped him with his three-year-old daughter’s education and his wife’s medicines. Pawar, meanwhile, claims to have earned close to Rs 1 lakh from the VMate app, also over a two-month period.
While they have dabbled in other apps, TikTok, with its vast user base, offered them the kind of audience that other apps didn’t. The ban on TikTok has shocked him, but Pawar isn’t ready to give up. “We will now move on to YouTube,” he said.