Pakistan’s relationship with the video streaming giant YouTube has been an undeniably turbulent one in the past decade. While hundreds of hours of content were uploaded every minute between 2012 and 2015, Pakistanis were denied access to any of it due to the blanket ban enforced on the website. During these three years, our presence was completely effaced from the global pop culture pioneer. When the website was reinstated, in late 2015, the ensuing culture shock was unquestionable. We had a lot of catching-up to do.
More than two years after YouTube returned to our mini screens, it seems we are well on our way to finally becoming a legitimate part of the global culture on the website, mainly due to the rise of the Pakistani YouTube stars like Irfan Junejo, Mooroo, and UKhano. These people still do not have the sizeable cyber following that a vast majority of the most popular Pakistani YouTube channels do but by no means does it prevent the fan following or views they have garnered in the public sphere and on their videos. This fact was particularly apparent at the recently concluded FiLUMS Festival, held at Alhamra Arts Council, where a number of the much loved Pakistani video bloggers was invited to speak.
At the venue, one could feel the fervent passion and enthusiasm of the fans merely from the huge queues outside the halls. “Irfan bhai is so much like all of us, but the way he tells stories is what makes him special,” said a fan as he waited to get inside the hall where Junejo, arguably the most famous of the current lot of vloggers, was about to arrive.
The auditorium of over 750 seats was packed to the brim, and seeping with anticipation. As Junejo walked on to the stage, he was met with rapturous applause and cheers, which continued intermittently for the entire hour-and-half of the session.
Junejo revealed that he began to vlog in January 2017. He stressed on the importance of storytelling. The topics he has documented range from visits to the dentist, to humorous tales of him scratching his brother’s prized car in Karachi’s traffic, to his travels in the most far-flung areas of Northern Pakistan. In just under two years, he has amassed under half a million YouTube subscribers through these stories, as well as a huge fan following that is constantly hooked onto his every word. This following cuts across a variety of classes and circles of society.
How did he reach this celebrity status in such a short amount of time, and through a medium that didn’t even exist in the country a couple of years ago? “I don’t know myself,” he replied, rather too seriously. “If someone in the audience can help me answer this, please do so.” In him saying this, he inadvertently spelled out one of the very reasons: humility.
Junejo projects himself as one with the common man, someone who doesn’t really know how he became so admired, and who doesn’t want to change himself because of it. “I’m just a middle class launda like all of you,” he confessed, evoking laughter and applause from the audience.
He went on to explain the most typical factors of what he believes constitutes a good vlog: “You have to travel a lot, your life has to be very unpredictable, and you have to be meeting a lot of new people all the time. I had none of these when I started.”
As the day at FiLUMS went on, relatability and likability became factors that almost all the YouTubers cited as a push towards their success. Umer Khan, better known by his moniker UKhano, said that “you have to make people laugh.”
He further stressed on putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and challenging yourself to reach your limits. This is something he has personally achieved in his videos time and time again, which are typically the length of short documentaries, recording his travels across Pakistan. What makes his videos special is the immaculate editing (he spoke of how he spends six hours on just two minutes of video, which he hopes will get him to the Oscar’s one day), and his heartwarmingly humorous interactions with the locals. His dream is to portray Pakistan in the most positive light for all the world to see, and he hopes to slowly achieve this as his YouTube channel nears a hundred thousand subscribers.
Taimoor Salahuddin, also known as Mooroo, regaled the audience by playing his popular tracks, ‘Mariam’ and ‘Tasveer.’ The crowd sang along to every word of these. Later, Mooroo explained how he had conceptualised and written these songs, both of which stemmed from heartbreak. He also acted out the beloved character of Amanullah, originally played by himself, a highly blunt house worker in his comedy sketches.
Through Mooroo, we can see that the world of YouTube is a highly dynamic one where anything goes as long as it is done creatively, and is expressed by someone that the common Pakistani is able to like and relate to.
Seeing the amount of work and thought that these creators put into their content, the future of Pakistani YouTube seems bright, and one that might just be able to compete with vloggers worldwide.