Neebiir Kamaal talks to leading YouTube stars from Bangladesh to find out the challenges they have to overcome to establish their channels
They had the ingredients. But that was not going to be enough. They had to find the formula as well, and they did. The outcome is of course success. They might have a long way to go, and sustaining success would require special skills, but at the moment, they have it going for them.
The showbiz scene in Bangladesh has been snail-paced for a long while, especially in the scope of creativity and originality. Angry heroes have hovered around the grand house of Chowdhury Saheb for decades on the silver screen, while the heroes and heroines in teleplays somehow have miraculously managed to avoid holding hands or hug each other, even when circumstances demanded.
A group of youths in Bangladesh, as if to bring a fresh air of change in the showbiz scene, have emerged on YouTube as they look to redefine entertainment in the Bangladeshi context.
New Age Youth got in touch with rising Bangladeshi YouTube stars to find out what it takes to do what they have set out to do. All of them however, have a few common characteristics. They know what their unique selling points are and how they should bet on them. They are also funny, talented and bold.
Salman Mohammad Muqtadir, perhaps the most widely popular YouTuber in Bangladesh elaborates the challenges that he has had to face to bring his channels SalmoNTheBrownFish and Salmon The Putimaas into prominence. ‘When I had started, YouTube was still not that popular in Bangladesh. So in order to succeed, one had to ensure that people knew about YouTube features like subscription, views, likes and sharing videos. So viewers had to be firstly introduced to the technological aspect of it. But this was only the first step, as then it had to be made sure that the content of the videos were relevant,’ Salman says.
Comedy in Bangladesh still does not enjoy the freedom of expression that can be seen in advanced parts of the world. So Bangladeshi YouTubers who bank on comedy, although pushing the boundaries, have had to keep a close look on their creative content so that they do not ensue too much of a cultural shock. So while making skits for his channels, Salman also has had to be careful.
‘You have to keep in mind that you cannot make the same kinds of jokes that you could easily pull off in Western countries, as some people here could be offended. Another hurdle that we had to overcome is that people are often very quick to judge you. When you are trying to do something new they might label you as a rich brat, which is so not true. We have had the fare share of our struggles. We had to get sponsors and then invest that money for the work we do,’ Salman adds.
Salman also points out that although many Bangladeshi YouTube channels are doing quite good, Adsense earning from YouTube channels is still not adequate enough in Bangladesh to take it as a fulltime job. ‘What makes your money is the remuneration you get from your sponsors. That is why you have to make sure that you create a solid brand value for your channel. I have paid my tuition fees and personal expenses from the sponsorship fees of the channels,’ says Salman who is currently also a second year student of BBA at North South University.
However, sponsorship comes with its own problems. Sponsors almost always interfere with the creative content and artists have to compromise to keep their channels afloat. ‘Sponsors leave the whole creative side to us, then when we come up with the final content they change the entire thing. Then we have to negotiate with them. We usually never compromise with creative content for the BrownFish channel. If the content has to be changed, then we publish it from the Putimaas channel,’ Salman elaborates. Often the marketing heads of corporate houses are not so creatively open-minded, which creates conflict.
One of the best things about the teams of successful YouTube channels in Bangladesh is that one gets to work with their friends in such a way that fun and work become synonymous. Shouvik Ahmed and Shoumik Ahmed, who are twin brothers, are both friends with Salman and part of the BrownFish team.
Shoumik stresses that there is still a lot of limitations when it comes to the freedom of creative expression. ‘We had done this sketch on Bengali politicians, and even though it was well received by our viewers, we started getting threats from different groups with political interests. In fact, dubious men approached us on the streets as well, but we did not take the video down. However, another video that we had done about the despicable public sexual assaults on Pahela Baishakh had to be taken down the next day due to enormous pressure, which shows that our society is still not ready to address some very serious issues,’ Shoumik says.
Shouvik Ahmed, another popular YouTuber who loves acting and singing has gone on to partner up with Tamim Mridha to launch their own YouTube channel GaanFriendz, which has more than 88,000 subscribers in just over a year, making it one of the fastest growing YouTube channels from Bangladesh.
GaanFriendz would remind you of the musical sketches that you often see Jimmy Fallon pull off in The Tonight Show, but of course GaanFriendz comes with a ‘classical’ twist where the talented duo cover western hit numbers with a pinch of eastern classical music and comedy.
‘Becoming a successful YouTuber is all about being unique in some way. Many people starting out think that one has to have an expensive camera and other cutting edge gears to make quality videos, but that’s not true at all. What matters is coming up with content that has a unique selling proposition (USP), imitating other channels is not going work,’ says Shouvik, as he explains the most important quality for establishing a successful YouTube channel.
What GaanFriendz offers is very unique indeed, Tamim impeccably enacts the role of a classical music teacher and Shouvik plays his student.
An initial challenge for Shouvik has been the reluctance of his family members to see him do YouTube videos, as it is still not seen as a mainstream career option. However, he mentions that once the channel took off, his family has been very supportive.
When it comes to redefining the entertainment scene in Bangladesh, one has to specifically mention Asif Bin Azad and his YouTube channel BhaiBrothers LTD. The Bangladeshi society is rather intricately hypocritical. We often tend to do certain questionable things but must show our better selves by refraining from talking about them.
Asif Bin Azad, with his talk show ‘The interview with Choto Azad’ makes certain topics a part of normal conversation with witty puns, and in the process brings tricky but important topics to the attention of viewers.
‘There is a disclaimer that appears before the interviews. It goes: This is a family show; all the members can watch it in different rooms,’ Asif mentions.
BhaiBrothers LTD. also features Rudro Tahsinn and Rakin Absar (although Rakin is currently not working with the team) and is one of the biggest growing YouTube channels from Bangladesh.
Xefer Rahman, one of the first well-known YouTubers from Bangladesh covers famous English songs on her channel ‘Xefer’. It has not been such an easy road to success for her as she creates content that is more openly accepted by a certain faction of the audience, and yet she has more than 21,000 subscribers on her channel.
‘Some people give up when they face criticism. But then there are certain people who use the criticism to become a better version of themselves,’ Xefer says as she points out how endurance and nonchalance to criticism are essential qualities to sustaining success in showbiz. Salman, Asif and Shouvik have also stressed on this point.
Xefer also mentions that it can be doubly difficult for girls in Bangladesh to venture into showbiz and follow their passion due to the frowns of parents, society and culture – but she wants other female musicians, who might not create mainstream music in Bangladesh to come out and steadfastly follow their dreams.
Raba Khan, 17, is perhaps one of the youngest YouTubers of the lot. She runs her YouTube channel The Jhakanaka Project with her brother Fahad Reaz Khan. Raba stresses that the Bangladeshi audience is still not so warmed up to the idea of seeing a female comedian. Apart from her skits, Raba also sings and has to create content in accordance to the feedback she gets from her viewers.
Although the YouTube community is a relatively small section of the Bangladeshi entertainment scene and caters mostly to young urban audiences, these bold YouTubers are gradually reaching out to the masses with waves of change and creativity.