Three Thai-Indian social media sensations on laughing in the face of adversity.
By Tom McLean
A fusion of personality-driven magic and familiar domestic charm, videos on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook have undoubtedly taken the world by storm. And now with COVID-19 forcing thousands to spend their free time indoors, it’s no surprise that more and more individuals have stumbled across this exploding social- media phenomenon. From enjoying zany and relatable clips, to coming up with their own for ardent fan bases who excitedly wait for new content , it’s clear that a new kind of public figure has emerged: the celebrity next door.
Shivam Pawa (@pawashivam) was born and raised in Bangkok to a family whose roots go back to the Partition of India. Although there isn’t a doubt in Shivam’s mind that Thailand is his home, he reflects fondly upon his family’s heritage, as the notion of separation between his birthplace and cultural legacy inspires a great deal of Shivam’s creative content on the video platform, TikTok.
“I was sitting at home browsing and these TikTok videos kept popping up, and I thought ‘what is this?’ I’ve always wanted to try dubbing, so I was happily surprised to see they had an app just for it. I did a few videos and they began to gain recognition. I started off with random videos before curating the content a lot more. My Indian background, along with my ability to speak Thai, allows me to merge Indian and Thai culture. I want to show that they can be brought together, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
And with his most popular posts nearing 1 million views, it’s clear he’s hitting the right notes:
“My most popular video, where I’m dubbing a Thai song, has approximately 953,000 views. The second most popular one has almost reached 200,000 views and features me in a dual role depicting what an Indian kid goes through every day with his mother. I’m lucky to be surrounded by so much support, although this whole thing is a bit hard on my mum because I borrow her clothes a lot!”
Like Shivam, Simiran ‘Simi’ Srinarula (@kaekkeekui) also aims to bridge this divergence between home and heritage through online content. A professional video editor and copywriter, Simi attended university in Australia before returning to work in Bangkok. Her platforms of choice are Instagram and Facebook, with her avatar Kaek Kee Kui boasting an impressive fan following:
“I started making videos almost four years ago when I was studying in Sydney. It was my first time living away from home. I missed my friends and family, so I’d send videos back home as a way of staying in touch. One day my brother was like, ‘you should upload these’ and even though I was reluctant because I thought it was embarrassing, I did it and it went really well.”
Since then, I’ve met many people who think that my home is India. But I’m Thai, and Bangkok is my home. It doesn’t come from a bad place though. I think there’s a great deal of curiosity about the Thai-Indian community and these online platforms allow us to answer these questions in a fun way.”
Like many creatives, Simi also likes using her platform to address otherwise taboo topics:
“Out of all of my posts, one of my favourites is where I talk about women, periods and PMS. Too many people become awkward and try to avoid hearing about this topic, so I wanted to bring awareness to it. I usually receive positive reactions, but I do get occasional remarks from aunties saying, ‘you’re a girl, you shouldn’t talk like that. You should be more conservative.’ But I don’t let it bother me.”
Like Shivam and Simi, Amrik Khurana (@paewdarat) has seen a great deal of success in relating to audiences. Through earnest humour and clever portrayals of Thai and Indian lifestyles, Amrik and his wife Darat have received countless comments from viewers praising their perceptive wit and hilarious observations of day-to-day life.
A pharmacist at a private hospital, Amrik also found himself bitten by the TikTok bug, and thanks to some hard work and a crafty eye for comedy, he and his wife’s shared account quickly gained an impressive, viral following:
“At the very beginning, our goal was simply to entertain people. But after we released a few videos, we received many positive comments from Thai viewers who said their perception of Indian people had been enriched as a result of our content. They’ve grown to admire how most Indians can speak Thai fluently, how we have a sense-of-humour, and how we enjoy the ‘Thai way of doing things.'”
Many of Amrik’s videos incorporate references to Thai pop culture and literature in a bid to appeal to diverse audiences:
“A video where I portrayed Karaket from the Thai series Buppesannivas has received 1.4 million views and counting! However, a video I made on my birthday, where I was feeding fish while pretending to be Nang Auey from Pla Boo Thong, makes me laugh every time I watch it.”
It’s apparent that all three creators share a common goal: the desire to act as a positive influence on their communities and the world, especially throughout these recent, difficult times.
“It feels incredible to be the reason for someone’s smile,” Amrik beams. “I often get comments from people telling me my videos help them relax, and take their minds off the more stressful things going on around them. It’s a great feeling.” Simi adds to this notion, “It’s important to think about your intentions. Is your intention to become famous? Or is it to create a positive impact?”
Likewise, Shivam strongly urges more Thai-Indians to express themselves creatively and believes nobody should be afraid of using online platforms to showcase their talents.
“There are so many Indians in our society who are incredibly talented but feel like they’re not daring enough. If you have a flair for dancing, acting, or even singing, you should try it. Don’t pay attention to what other people say.”
It’s clear that the concept of ‘celebrity’ has and will continue to change. Charisma, humour, and creativity are universal human traits, and as more platforms emerge that showcase everyday voices, it’s easy to understand why so many people would rather watch their friends on an app than a stranger on television. Amrik, Shivam, and Simi’s creative expressions are warm and relatable, inspiring unity through the sharing of a more genuine human experience – something we all need in a world that continues to struggle with disharmony.