Paromita Vohra: Viral freedoms

Aug 12, 2018, 07:18 IST | Paromita Vohra

An active viral challenge, to really work, has to be reassuringly easy enough to copy for a rookie (hence simple, hook-y songs and dance steps work) but pose some difficulty that makes doing it feel like an achievement

Paromita Vohra: Viral freedoms
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Paromita VohraIf you had never heard of the Kiki challenge, you probably would have by now, thanks to the rather comical tale of three young men who made an (amazingly fun and funny) Kiki challenge video, which is a parody compilation of how people might do the Kiki challenge all over India. They have a Gujarati dandiya style Kiki (or, as they correct a passer-by who tries to make them do it the right way — the Kokila challenge), a Bhojpuri style challenge and also one in which a boy gets off a running Bombay local and asks a passenger to shoot him dancing, but finds that the passenger refuses to return his phone, mocking him with calls of 'Kiki Kiki'. As you can no doubt tell, I have watched the highly entertaining video (many times).

The comical part of the tale though, is not the hijinks in their video. Rather, it lies in the fact that the Mumbai police took up a whole other challenge in response – to find these boys and make an example of them in the matter of indulging in derring-do on train platforms. With a tone of frowning righteousness, the police have been quoted in the media describing how they scoured the video, noted the number of an ambulance service, which had been used in the making of the film, and then produced the boys in a Vasai court. Now they have been ordered to clean Vasai station for three days and possibly do prachaar against dangerous stuff on the train.

There is something a bit endearing about this punishment, mostly because it is so mild. The idea of cheeky people and mild rule-breakers being chastised always calls up a vision of naughty kids being scolded by cantankerous elders, whose siesta they have disturbed with some noisy shenanigans. Of course, had the video not gone viral (over 22 lakh hits in a week) it may not have incensed the cops so much.

Success at rule breaking always feels like effrontery, even though it really was just exuberance. There is a mild whiff of not caring for authority involved, though even the authorities know that it is such a mild disregard, as to practically not be there. It's like Holi without colours.

Indeed there is something about an active viral challenge that is full of irrepressible innocence. It's so childlike — to see something and want to mimic it. This is different from the passive virality of something we enjoy consuming addictively — a song or a wink, which is easily manipulated into propaganda by the circular logic of marketing companies, who pay to promote something which they then define as a viral success.

An active viral challenge, to really work, has to be reassuringly easy enough to copy for a rookie (hence simple, hook-y songs and dance steps work) but pose some difficulty that makes doing it feel like an achievement. It is ok to look a little foolish, in a viral challenge, just as it is admirable to be skilled. There is an element of a block party to a video challenge, like Kolaveri or Kiki, a world-wide block party via social media, and a pretty inclusive, one, where the cool kids and the nerds can all be present. It allows for freedom as well as belonging; unity and diversity, if you will.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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