Move over columnists and op-ed writers

BY ALKA GURHA| IN Digital Media | 23/08/2014
Web videos are more powerful in sending out catchy messages and triggering debate.
ALKA GURHA looks at how humour and satire are breathing new life into old issues. Pix: the Kalki Koechlin video

On Independence Day, All India Bakchod – an online comedy collective - managed to do what our respective governments couldn’t do in decades. They made a video of Indians and Pakistanis talking to each other in an attempt to find why we hesitate to connect. There is something about this video that demonstrates the power of web videos to convey powerful messages on a range of emotive issues.

When it comes to marketing ideas, tapping trends or breaking stereotypes, a web video is a powerful medium. The young, the educated, and the affluent are most likely to watch them and spread the message. If they relate to the topic and feel the same way - they see it, they like it and they share it.


The video shared by the Facebook page of ‘Humans of Karachi, a community that follows the model of, ‘Humans of New York’ begins by asking Indians, "What comes to mind when you hear the word, 'Pakistan'?" Malala, jihad, Ali Zafar, Coke Studio and terrorism were some of the answers.

The makers of the video matched the profiles of those talking to each other, making the conversation interesting. It is endearing when a Pakistani Chelsea fan congratulates an Indian Arsenal fan. The friendly banter makes one wonder about the propaganda and stereotyping carried out by vested interests. The video negotiates the uneasiness with the deftness of a narrative that is engaging.

I am not sure how realistic it is, but according to a comment, ‘it left a lump in the throat and a smile on the face.’ Needless to say, the video triggered an animated discussion on the All India Bakchod website, although some comments were not in good taste.

This reminds me of another satirical video that went viral after Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan’s controversial remarks about sex education. Enacted by Bollywood actor Anand Tiwari and directed by Sapan Verma of East India Comedy, the video received more than 350,000 views on YouTube and became a trigger for a larger debate.

It depicted a mock sex education class where a teacher was struggling to teach the ‘government approved’ syllabus on sex education. Young people found it so compelling that the video grabbed the attention of the foreign media such as Al Jazeera and others.


Prior to this, actress Kalki Koechlin’s video on sexual harassment and rape in India, ‘It’s Your Fault’ conveyed a strong message in a satirical manner. The footage showcases the absurd reasons given by people for sexual attacks against women, including provocative clothing, late night parties, and going out with boys.

If you are active on social media and scour the Internet as much as I do, you must have seen the videos made by Buzz Feed, Storypick, SchoopWhoop and others. BuzzFeed, a social and entertainment company that provides irreverent news and funny videos was founded in 2006, in New York City. It has a global audience of more than 150 million most of them are Indian consumers. As a result, SchoopWhoop (BuzzFeed’s domestic replica) has emerged as a major player in the digital-social-publishing arena.

A Google study says that with a user base of over a billion in India, almost one-third of YouTube viewers in India access videos on their mobiles. However, with so many videos doing the rounds, it is not easy to stand out in the crowd.

Also, it is not what you convey but how you do it. The approach matters. First of all, these videos touched a current event. They were in the right place at the right time. Second, the underlying message appealed to a wide range of young people on social media. Finally, they struck an emotional chord. Most videos that go viral urge people to share them further. Of course, a dash of humour or biting satire helps to grab attention.

Though satire and comedy have the ability to make the content easily digestible, the message gets limited to English-speaking, sarcasm-appreciating audiences. Regardless, the emotional connect is imperative. Anything that makes you laugh or cry grabs attention.

Columnists and editorials can drone about an issue for months, but the way young people process information is changing. Web videos shared on social media are a great tool of communication with the changing demography. Computer mediated communication holds the potential to redefine strategies in order to convey socio-political messages. Though the idea is nascent, people on social media are embracing it.

Even as I write, viral videos of The Ice Bucket Challenge (where participants dump a bucket of ice cold water on themselves and dare others to do the same) have generated $22.9 million towards creating awareness about a neurodegenerative disease.

One video might not bring the people of two nations closer, stop crime against women, or bring about any major change in the sex education policy, but viral videos can play the role of a catalyst in bringing about a change on the socio-political front.


(Alka Gurha is an award winning blogger ( and a contributing writer for a weekly newspaper, Friday Gurgaon)

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