The rise of the video sharing app TikTok in India is redefining our cultural understanding from the way we perceived it earlier – that cultural influence only travels downwards.
What I find really exciting about the TikTok revolution is the new burst of creative expression, particularly among the young people from smaller towns, who are invisible or have been marginalised. These are the voices in society that we normally do not hear.
Instead, we are now getting to see an unapologetic form of creativity and there are several elements to it. One is in the form of uninhibitedness of self-expression in the videos that they put out. The other is in the music tracks that they are dancing to. They are not the biggest hits in the country, but they are regional songs from Bengali to Tamil, and everyone does their own version of it. It’s interesting how you are getting a pan-India commonality of expression from this medium, with their own kind of variations emanating from a common pool of creative expression.
The other thing I find interesting is that there is no embarrassment about the very modest surroundings where the video is being filmed. They are not trying to hide the fact that it’s a small house or walls with plaster peeling-off. You are not in any way pretending to be anything but what you are. And that in a society, which is so hierarchy driven, a society that’s so class conscious and caste conscious. To have that kind of a playing ground where everyone is able to express themselves so freely is a very interesting development.
The other interesting fact is that one expects a kind of a hierarchy in the music that one chooses for their self-expression. One expects the metros to be comfortable with a certain style of music and as you go down the strata you expect another genre of music. But there are enough examples where you will find people in villages grooving to western tracks. The entire distance that was presumed between one class and another is renegotiating itself.
The fact that there is a certain edginess that you are finding across the board and the freedom that one is witnessing, is very exciting culturally. That triggers a whole lot of possibilities. It throws open the doors for one reimagining what a big town or small town is, or how fashion moves from one place to the other -- all of this can potentially get reconfigured. Some of the old assumptions in retail or fashion could get dismantled. There are lots of possibilities and that’s the exciting part of any new cultural kind of phenomenon.
(As told to Campaign India’s, Prasad Sangameshwaran. This article first appeared in Campaign's global issue that was released during Cannes Lions 2019)