A man, a woman and a viral story
Against the backdrop of arid, hilly terrain, the “heroine” sways to the sound of a popular Bollywood number. The “hero” enters the scene, as he catches the anchal of her printed cotton saree. They stare into each other’s eyes at the end of the video, quite abruptly, but not before making you smile at the cast’s rustic innocence. Choose another video on YouTube and the scene remains the same, just like the hero. But the “heroine” changes as a new face enters the frame. Swinging to another Bollywood hit, with cotton and sorghum fields in the backdrop.
Welcome to the world of Dinesh Pawar (29) and his wives, Pooja (27) and Lakhani (25), former TikTok celebrities and now rising stars in his desi version, Moj, as well as Instagram. Away from the glitz and glamor of the City of Tinsel, in Jamde village, Dhule district, Maharashtra, Pawars are carving their way to stardom, shooting one viral video after another in their own style inimitable. Their first taste of stardom came about two and a half years ago, when one of their dance videos on TikTok received a million views. With around 30 lakh followers, the trio used to earn Rs 1 lakh per month until the app was banned in June 2020. Pawar and his wives – he married two sisters – suffered a huge setback, financially and emotionally. Last year during Navratri, Dinesh, his wives, four children and a large population from their village moved to Bardoli in Gujarat to work as daily punters in the sugar cane fields. Forced to work for Rs 100 a day as farm laborers, the Pawars took a break to recharge their minds.
But they are back and how. Not one to be intimidated by the downward turn of events, Pawar and his wives have moved on to Instagram and Moj. Although popular on Moj, they have yet to gain the huge following they had on TikTok. Their videos of popular Bollywood dance numbers are once again gaining popularity due to the rustic charm and rural setting. “We regularly shoot videos in the sugar cane fields. We make at least two videos every other day and post them on Moj,” says Pawar. Outlook.
The Pawars belong to the Phase Pardhi tribe found in Maharashtra, parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The British had branded some of the tribal communities, including the Phase Pardhis, criminals by birth under the Criminal Tribes Act. In 1952, they were denoted as criminals and classified as a nomadic tribe. However, the stigma remains to this day. Discrimination against Pardhis is rife and they are still not allowed to settle in many villages. Jamde is no different and the settlements of the Pardhis lie far from the main settlements, often lacking the basic amenities available there.
Although bigamy is illegal in India under Hindu marriage law, marrying multiple wives is a common practice among the Phase Pardhi tribe. Often there are no formal ceremonies and a man and a woman are just beginning to live together. They garland themselves before their deity and are considered married. Marriages are not officially registered. “They are very happy together,” Dinesh says of his wives, with whom he has three daughters and a son. For the community, Bollywood movies provide much needed relief in their dreary lives. Bollywood’s influence on Jamde is evident in the names of its residents: Rishi Kapoor, Sunny Deol, Sashi Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty. With Bollywood at their hearts, TikTok provided the perfect outlet for Dinesh and his wives in their search for purpose in life.
No wonder Pooja and Lakhani cried bitterly after TikTok was banned because they were crazy about making videos, Pawar says. The trio had made more than 700 videos for TikTok and also posted them on Hong Kong-based app VMate. “We earned Rs 1 lakh per month from TikTok and VMate. Both of these apps were banned and we lost our biggest source of income,” adds Pawar. He admits, however, that he is not very fond of YouTube, while Instagram is more or less “ok”. “With the Moj app, our videos go viral and we earn around Rs 9,000 per month. But Moj can’t beat TikTok’s reach. Some of our videos have had millions of views. Money was good back then too,” says Pawar.
One of their videos, on the hit song Diwana of the star of Salman Khan Maine Pyar Kiya earned them their first million views and a mention from actor Raveena Tandon. “We didn’t understand anything at all. When the press came to interview us and we saw each other on TV channels, we knew we had done something great,” says Dinesh, illiterate like Pooja and Lakhani. The ban on TikTok has hit the village of Jamde hard, as a dozen couples who were making videos lost their income. While Pawar migrated to Moj, the other couples gave up after their attempts failed to bring them any money. Today, the Pawars have over 1,200 videos.
Life continues to be a challenge, but they say they’re not done yet. Although the district has seen the establishment of many educational institutions, the village of Jamde does not yet see any signs of development. It is counted among one of the most backward villages in Maharashtra. The Pawars live in a small hut with bamboo and hay sheets for the walls and plastic sheets for the roof. Their electricity comes from wires “hanging” illegally from a nearby pole. There is no access to drinking water nearby and they have to walk some distance to fetch water.
But not all the hardships have dented the community’s love affair with Bollywood. “We let the music seep into our bodies and dance like we’re possessed. My wives are good dancers,” says Pawar. “We are always looking for new locations. The best videos are shot in the fields, people really like them. Much of their evenings are spent watching Bollywood songs on YouTube and then re-enacting them. “When one woman is busy, the other will do the video with me. We don’t need a specific time. We can do videos anywhere, anytime,” he adds. Initially, they wore “ordinary” clothes for the videos, but as they grew in number and popularity, they began to invest in clothes and other accessories, while Pawar ditched his synthetic pants for jeans. cheap, his wives traded saris for salwar kurtas. “A woman wears sari and the other, is in salwar kurtas for videos.
Welcome to the world of Dinesh Pawar, 29, and his wives, Pooja and Lakhani, former TikTok celebrities and now rising stars in his desi version, Moj, as well as Instagram.
Initially, when Pawar communicated the idea of making dance videos to his wives, they laughed and hid their faces in their palus saree. He sold some of the goats he owned and bought an Android mobile phone on which they started watching Bollywood songs on YouTube. “They got interested. We learned our dances from YouTube. At first it was difficult, but now it’s easy,” he says. At the beginning of their video production, they needed a lot of reshoots, but not anymore. Now they are practicing the dance before shooting the video. “We include our own steps in the dances. We think people love them because most of our videos have surpassed millions of views. Even Raveena Tandon commented on one of our videos,” says Pawar. “As we cannot read the comments, I ask some of my friends in the village to read them to me. They help us a lot. »
Before he started making videos, Pawar had a barber shop near the village, which was frequented by villagers. Majority of its customers were watching videos on various apps on their cell phones. He was curious and watched with them. “It sparked my interest. I asked them questions and they introduced me to YouTube. One of them told me that even I could make videos. My educated brother-in-law helped us make the video,” says Pawar.
Caught up in the dream world of making videos, Pawar found he had no time and little interest in running the saloon. He sold the store for Rs 1.50 lakh and invested the money to arm himself with what to do the videos. “I tried to make videos but had to keep taking breaks when customers came to get their hair cut. started posting my videos on VMat and Tik Tok, I started earning Rs 1 lakh every month.
Although their home continues to be a house with porous walls and a plastic roof, the immediate uplift in their lifestyle began with an account at the village bank branch. The apps would deposit the money into bank accounts and not distribute the money, Pawar says. Women started wearing nail polish, kajal and lipstick for videos. “When one of our videos passed a million, the press came to our colony. They interviewed us and we were shown on TV. Fame brought curious villagers with it to their colony. To be shunned to be invited to take selfies with other villagers, Pardhis began to be accepted within Jamde, they could go to shops, sell their wares and agricultural produce in the village markets, drink tea in the village tea shop and even eat at local restaurants.As people started responding to their videos and fame rolled in, their rustic dialect took over English, Marathi and Hindi words.
(This appeared in the print edition as “Love is a Viral Thing”)
Haima Desphande in Bombay