Sowing dreams

Behind the desi version of Kiki challenge, is a group that cares for their village

70-pilli-tirupati Countryside creativity: (from left) pilli tirupati, anil geela and sriram srikanth out in the fields | Sagar Thamminedi

A VIDEO OF TWO men dancing wildly next to a pair of oxen ploughing a slushy field has caught the attention of the international media. But it wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t for the song playing in the background. The 39-second video is India’s most popular entry to the ‘Kiki challenge’, which began with people stepping out of moving cars to dance to the chorus of Canadian rapper Drake’s hit number ‘In My Feelings’.

One of the two men in the video is a farmer, Pilli Tirupati. “I agreed to dance because I badly wanted to show my village to the outside world. It was a tough time, but the director [of the video] motivated me,” said Tirupati, 28, who lost both his parents over the last few years.

This is just one of the incredible stories told by My Village Show, a group in Lambadipally village, Telangana, which makes videos on rural life and posts it on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. The Kiki farm video is one of the 200 videos uploaded by a young team that loves their village.

With a population of around 3,000, this quaint village is located more than 200km from Hyderabad. The famous 300-year-old Hanuman temple in the hills of Kondagattu is the nearest landmark for the scenic village, which is nestled between hills. After ten minutes of manoeuvring muddy roads, we reached a colourful house, which is the office-cum-studio of My Village Show. This is also the house of Sriram Srikanth, the brain behind the brand and the director of the videos.

“I watched a lot of videos of the Kiki challenge. I thought we should try something new and in the next one hour we were in a field with bulls. We completed the shoot in a few takes,” said Srikanth.

Media houses like BBC and The New York Times have featured them, while Bollywood celebrities tweeted the video. The youth were known locally for their videos even before their Kiki version went viral. Since 2013, hundreds of villagers, both men and women, have contributed to the making of short films by Srikanth and his team.

“My parents are from this village,” says Srikanth. “Though I grew up in a town, my parents got me here whenever I had holidays.” An engineering postgraduate, Srikanth left his teaching job to venture into the creative field. “Initially, I just made videos to create awareness about village life. My first video was uploaded in 2013 and no one saw it,” said Srikanth, laughing. “Later, I shot videos of local festivals. They got a decent response. Then, we decided to make short movies based on real life situations.” Seventeen of their videos have more than 10 lakh views on YouTube. A social experiment in which the village elders were asked to try burgers for the first time also went viral.

In this village, internet connectivity was a problem. Srikanth and his team pursued a broadband service provider in the nearest town, 10km away, to provide internet to the village. After six months of canvassing the operator, theirs is the only house with a connection.

If these are baby steps in introducing technology to the village, then credit should go to them for unearthing talent as well. Their greatest discovery is Gangavva, a woman in her 60s, whose portrayal of a tough village lady with a soft heart had become so popular that a local news channel has tied up with the brand to telecast a show with Gangavva as the lead. This is major source of income for the members of My Village Show, whose earnings are meagre.

“Even if I earn 02,500 per month, it is sufficient. There is happiness and contentment in this village,” said Anil Geela, the other dancer in the Kiki video. Geela, who had also left his job as a school teacher, and the team have started building a single-storyed human resource development centre, which will have a huge library and classes on various topics.

“The cost of this project is around Rs 8 lakh,” said Srikanth. “It will not only help youngsters to read and study, but also impart skill training to women and men.” He believes the village has the potential to turn into a startup hub.

Dozens of YouTube channels created by village youth from across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have been inspired by My Village Show, and at least three groups in Lambadipally have come together to write scripts and shoot videos.