In the early 2000s, cable TV channels in Kashmir were flooded with a new version of comedy sketches. These sketches which had actors like Bashir Kotur became household names. It was a reinvention of comedy in Kashmir that was dominated by the legendary Ahad Raz and Shadi Kaul in many DD Kashir TV shows. In a few years after that, these comedy sketches became bland and lost their touch.
After the 2010 uprising, the social media in Kashmir was dominated by politics like in the daily life. Until last year, a tenth grader started making small comedy sketches inside his home. His sketches became an overnight hit, and viral all over the social media. Taha Naqash armed with his personalised take on the social life of Kashmir, has become one of the first social media stars from Kashmir.
We met Taha at Kathi Junction, a popular spot with young Kashmiris in the heart of the city. Taha had come with his books in a couple of bags, for the book donation drive for the underprivileged children. As soon as he entered the small cafe, everyone’s eyes turned towards him. It was a reminder of his popularity among the youth. So what was the reason that made him take a camera and record his comedy sketches, “I wanted to make people laugh, it was not done in Kashmir before, so I wanted to take initiative.”
After recently passing his matriculation exams, a student of the premier Tyndale-Biscoe school, Taha wants to keep continuing what he has been doing since last year. “When I made the first video, people supported me, i had thousands of views overnight and that surprised me.” His comedy struck a chord with Kashmiris where there’s a dearth of entertainment, and somehow it has provided an escape. “His videos make me laugh, and I see them every night before I go to bed,” says Furquan Qureshi, “we have a lot of tension in our society due to the conflict, and his comedy provides us with a much-needed relief.”
When the 17-year-old Taha made his video, that became viral overnight. He hid that he had become a star, and for three weeks he couldn’t show his work to his parents. “My father had gone to the market, and some shopkeepers had told him that his son has become popular with his comedy.” When his father came home, “I showed him the electricity thief video, I couldn’t show him the Jaanu video for obvious reasons” grins Taha.
In any conservative society, changes are looked down upon at first. But with the passage of time, people embrace it. Taha’s parents told him that “as long as he was safe from the authorities, he can do what he wants.”
When I asked Taha about the political satire comedy, he quickly responds with “I don’t want to get into political satire because one it might lead to consequences from the state and the second reason is that the society is not developed in a sense where they would appreciate it.” To the question that political satirists such as Bassam Yousuf or Trevor Noah have developed a brand of their comedy through political satire. Taha says, “People get angry very quickly here, this is working for me, and I don’t want to go there yet.”
Xaid Films, an animation artist who plagiarises Iranian and other animations and dubs them into Kashmiri had also become a hit couple of years back. Such was his appeal that political parties came with offers for him to campaign during the assembly elections. He denied their requests and has also kept himself anonymous. But with the advent of Taha Naqash and others, his plagiarised and dubbed comedy has lost its popularity.
Taha, usually has himself doing two roles in a sketch that is less than one minute. The length of an Instagram video, that has been increasing its reach in Kashmir and within a few years will dominate the social media platforms in Kashmir. Taha understands this very well and has hence developed a strategy. He first checks the views of his previous videos to see what is most watched by his audience. Then he finds a new idea and develops it. Instead of posting it daily, he takes a break in between his uploads, “I don’t want people to lose their interest with a video every day.” A strategy that has worked for him, with over 100,000 plays of his videos and consistently being reposted by other bigger social media accounts.
The problem he says is that he doesn’t have enough people to do more roles in his videos. “I have a camera but no tripod, I have a house but I don’t have a brother, so I ask my friends to be part of my acts.” He has received solid support from his friends, “I believe if your friends have old thinking, one has to find new friends as they will not help you grow.”
His videos are also popular with Kashmiri expatriates all over the world. “My cousin lives in the US, and she says whenever they have a Kashmiri gathering there, they watch his videos and laugh.” They are more encouraging than people back in Kashmir. For independent artists in Kashmir, the society is not receptive to new ideas remarks Taha. “Every time, I plan a video I have to see the politics it can portray and have to make sure that it doesn’t play with the sensitivities of the society.”
On his future plans, in his comic style, he says, “Parents say Seat Kad (qualify a competitive exam) and not over-indulge in darbeadari (wastefulness)” But he wants to continue his comedy part-time while he aims to become a businessman like his other cousins in the Naqash family.
Will his comedy also see an end like the Bashir Kotur comics? Taha responds, “Copying happens everywhere, but one has to reinvent his comedy so that they are relevant to the times we live in.”
His brand of comedy has inspired scores more, who have become popular on social media. “Impact has happened, a lot of people do this now, some do it even better than me, Kashmiris adapt quickly to change.”
As we wind up the interview, many of his fans come to take a selfie with him. Taha bids us farewell, and says “I don’t know if I will last but let’s see how long this goes on.”
Some of Taha’s work:
You can follow Taha Naqash here on Instagram.