New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi heaped praise on Tanzanian siblings Kili and Neema — who became social media sensations for their lip sync videos on popular Indian songs — during his Mann Ki Baat address Sunday, and urged young Indians to make similar videos on songs from different states.
The PM noted that Mother Language Day was on 21 February, and talked about the importance of preserving Indian languages.
“Just as our mother shapes our lives, our mother tongue also shapes our lives,” he said, adding that children should be encouraged to learn other regional languages too — especially by lip syncing videos of songs, just like Kili and Neema.
He urged listeners to use the siblings’ videos as an example to “redefine ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat (One India, great India)’ and “popularise Indian languages”.
Dressed in traditional Masaai clothes, the siblings from eastern Africa sing along to popular Indian songs and recreate scenes from Indian films and television shows. With over 2 million followers on both TikTok and Instagram, Kili and Neema have become a huge hit, especially among their Indian followers.
Their tributes to Indian pop culture have earned them some offline praise too. Kili Paul was recently honoured by the Indian High Commission in Tanzania. In an Instagram post, Paul addressed his fans in India and wrote that he wouldn’t be where he is without them. “More to come JAI HIND,” he posted.
Big dreams in a small village
Kili and Neema are Maasai, an ethnic group known for their distinctive culture. They live in Mindu Tulieni, a small village in eastern Tanzania. The Maasai are largely pastoral, and Kili and Neema help with farming and herding cattle during the day. Neema, unlike Kili, has never lived away from Minu Tulieni.
They spend their free time on the internet. While the internet connection in their village is good, Kili sometimes has to travel 10 kilometres to the nearby town of Lugoba to charge his phone. Most people in their village don’t have smartphones, and were confused by the media attention Kili and Neema were getting.
“We come from a small village outside of the city, so I never thought my dreams to be an actress and to be in front of the camera would ever happen. I just kept that in my heart,” Neema, 23, had said in an interview to the BBC last year. “To get the chance to travel to India would be amazing.”
It’s not just Bollywood
From singing the Indian national anthem on Republic Day to honouring late singing legend Lata Mangeshkar by lip-syncing her song Jaane Kya Baat Hai, Kili and Neema have thrown themselves into celebrating Indian music.
According to the BBC interview, the siblings never thought they’d go viral and started lip-syncing Bollywood songs for fun. When they saw how successful their videos were in India, they knew they’d struck a chord.
After first going viral in November 2021, 26-year-old Kili has been posting Bollywood content and Indian songs regularly. He even showcases his acting range — singing wistfully to Channa Mereya in one video, and delivering filmy quotes like Govinda’s line from Naseeb in another. Neema joins in often, either acting or singing along with her brother.
Kili and Neema have said they are big Bollywood fans and have watched several films in local cinemas. Kili’s favourite actors are Hrithik Roshan, Salman Khan and Tiger Shroff, while Neema is a fan of Madhuri Dixit.
“I’ve never been to India, but in my imagination, I’ve been there for a long time. I was there when Mumbai used to be Bombay. I was there when Sanjay Dutt and Akshay Kumar were trending and doing a lot of mind-blowing films. They always bring back old memories,” said Kili in an interview.
Kili does his research before singing and acting — he slows down songs on YouTube to pay attention to how words are pronounced, and practices plenty before recording. He also translates the lyrics so he can emote correctly.
“I don’t understand Hindi. I only know a few words like ‘dil’ means heart. I think ‘pani’ means water,” said Neema, who is 23.
Indian music and beats are popular amongst content creators globally, and are often surefire hits with Indian audiences. ‘Dancing dad’ Ricky Pond went viral dancing to songs like Chammak Challo with his children, and a group of dancers called the Basement Gang racked up views dancing to Tunak Tunak. The trend is the latest in a long history of exchanging of music globally — a far cry from when Russians used to sing ‘Mera joota hai Japani, yeh patloon Inglistani, sar pe lal topi Russi, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani…’ and ‘Awaara Hoon’.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)