Bhuvan Bam
Image Credit: Supplied

He has more than 20.5 million YouTube subscribers and has earned over Rs220 million from his original digital content, but multi-hyphenate Bhuvan Bam loathes being called an ‘influencer’.

According to the first Indian to ever cross 10 million followers on YouTube, being labelled an culture influencer is reductive.

“Influencing is such a huge responsibility. My audience is vulnerable, but I don’t want to tell them how or what to think,” said Bam in an interview with Gulf News.

In his head, this 28-year-old Delhi lad — who wears many hats including that of a comedian, singer, actor, and content creator — takes pride in being a democratic spirit.

“I never force anything on them and I don’t call them [subscribers] my fans either. I hate that term. How can you beg them to subscribe and then call them ‘fans’? That’s not cool,” points out Bam. He claims he has never paid a penny to ever promote his content and has relied on word of mouth to do all the talking. His topics might be snubbed by highbrow intellectuals, but his loyal followers love it when he goes on a rant about Valentine’s Day and the pressure of pampering your special one with gifts.

His calls his topics proudly ‘middle-class’. And it has worked.

Bam’s reach on social media is so vast now that he was recently invited by the Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) to experience this city and create digital content that would entice his millions of his subscribers to jot down UAE as a must-visit holiday spot this summer.

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Bhuvan Bam Image Credit: Supplied

“I had so much fun at Ski Dubai and I have never felt this cool in summer. Dubai has some incredible things to offer. I even went on a desert safari and it was so much fun,” said Bam. He even flashed a tiny scratch gotten from his adventure-filled safari expedition as a badge of honour.

“There’s so much to do in Dubai ... The Burj Khalifa, the shawarmas, the Ski Dubai,” said Bam. He had packed in so many activities that he was more than an hour late for this interview. But his charming and affable personality made up for his unbelievable tardiness.

“You know what’s more scary than being late? Being stuck with that journalist in an elevator,” said Bam with a laugh.

Bam, who will soon make his acting debut on a web streaming platform with ‘Taaza Khabar, saw his first web film ‘Dhindora’ garner almost half a billion views. His short video — in which he plays 19 characters in varying ages and temperaments — is also a big hit.

“I am not an influencer, I am an entertainer,” said Bam.

Excerpts from our interview as we talk about his meteoric rise in the digital world, his humble beginnings, his haters, and more …

How did it all begin for you?

I started my own YouTube channel in 2015, but I had no clue how to go about it. I always thought Bollywood and music videos had a monopoly over YouTube. But I was proved wrong. When I was in school, I didn’t want to pursue academics and I had no interest in learning. I used to doodle on the back of my books and I scored a 75 per cent in my school. Honestly, I launched my own YouTube channel in the most serendipitous manner. Someone randomly told me about this new platform called YouTube and I didn’t know how to proceed.

I began making stuff on Facebook, mostly music because I used to sing in a restaurant. I was 21 back then and one thing led to another … A video of mine went viral in Karachi and Bangladesh. At that point, my comment sections were filled with comments from those living in Pakistan and got over 10,000 followers in a day … Apparently, my videos were going viral in a university in Karachi. The truth is that sarcasm runs in my family and we are gifted with his ‘street-smart’ humour. I am that typical Delhi boy who kept wondering: ‘Dude how did it all this happen?’ … Till date, I haven’t spent a single penny on any video promotion. It’s all organic.

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Bhuvan Bam Image Credit: Sonia Shah/Gulf News

Tell us more about the breakout video of yours that went viral in Pakistan?

It was a video about Valentine’s Day and this guy ranting about why there was a need for it when most boys survive on such frugal pocket money … It was an anti-Valentine’s day rant about buying gifts and the hoopla around it. Musician Raghu Dixit was the first celebrity who shared my video and the rest is history.

Influencers were not taken seriously initially … How did you deal with such snide observations?

I deal with it by not calling myself an influencer and I hate that term ... I just want to share what I have learned in my life and what I feel about a certain topic.

So you are a reluctant influencer?

I am an entertainer! This generation is lacking in emotions. All we do is abuse each other on social media because we have a keyboard and some free Wi-Fi. The anonymity gives many the power to abuse anyone and become this generation of keyboard warriors. But where’s the emotion, the comedy, the sadness … I want to fill those gaps.

While that’s noble, you have quite a potty-mouth in the segments where you are with your friends — all acted by you?

A: Have you been to Delhi? Trust me, I don’t abuse half as much. I have created 19 character of my own, and only three out of those 19 character abuse since we are a group of friends. Talking without slang in Delhi or Mumbai is unheard of. Among friends, everybody abuses a lot and the only difference is that I do it on camera. Why should there be hypocrisy around it? When three friends sit and discuss life, they often talk crass … But it’s not just crass talk in my videos. I balance it with content that are about issues that I feel passionate about … Also, when I look and see the content I did a decade ago, I would never do that again.

Are you embarrassed about your content uploaded before you hit the big league?

I have matured with age and I don’t have the guts to do it now. I don’t think like that anymore and that phase has vanished. I am 28 and I started at 22 or 23 where I had nothing to lose.

Bhuvan Bam
Bhuvan Bam

We live in a society that’s easily offended. How do you navigate such an explosive terrain?

People will get offended when you talk something with full confidence and half knowledge … But you can’t keep everyone happy. I am just here to make you laugh … While everything is political, I choose not to talk about the religious or communal stuff. I don’t do insult comedy. When I have 19 characters played by me, I don’t need to look outside to abuse or target. I have created my own universe where I can abuse myself.

You have successfully made money out of your YouTube channel and reports claim you make over Rs220 million … How did you crack that complicated code?

Frankly, I have never survived on click-baits and that’s what I see everyone around me try to do. News loses its authenticity then and I have also never sensationalised anything. I talk about problems that affect the middle-class or a family who’s going through some issue and I put a humourous spin to it. Just like any good old Indian drama, my content has emotions and humour. I make content about parents nagging their kids and how those parents ultimately have their child’s best interests in mind. I have some kids who experience it DMing [Direct Messaging] me about their squabbles with their parents. I interact with my subscribers. I talk to them and I even play music for them. My subscribers are my reality check. If that’s gone I will have nothing to say. They are my biggest teachers … Most of my content comes out of my DMs.

Do they ever get spiteful and troll you mercilessly?

A: Those who DM me after midnight are often drunk and tend to abuse me. I am like their punching bag … But I talk to them and reason with them. I reply to their spiteful messages and sometimes they change their mind about me … How can a person who doesn’t know me have a reason to abuse me? Their hate is often misguided and we often end up talking late into the night.

Bhuvan Bam
Bhuvan Bam is a big hit on YouTube and social media

I don’t believe in trade secrets. This is not a trade for me

- Bhuvan Bam when asked to spill his secrets on monetising his content.