She is a digital entertainer, with an audience across the globe, a social media fad who’s videos have gone viral. Her fame among her audiences, who are hooked to her satirical content has gown over the recent months.
Anshita Koul, or as she calls herself, Anshita CRAZY Koul, in an exclusive interview with Free Press Kashmir’s Zia Shakir, talks about her experience and the feedback she receives as a YouTube entertainer from the valley.
Q. Anshita Crazy Koul, thats quite a name. Introduce yourself to our audience at Free Press Kashmir.
Hi everyone at Free Press Kashmir, I am Anshita Koul, AKA Anshita Crazy Koul, amongst my YouTube subscribers. I am a native of Jammu and Kashmir, born in Kashmir and brought up in Jammu.
I graduated as a Computer Science Engineer from Pune University and worked in the IT industry for 5 years. I moved to Germany 2 years ago and switched my career to Digital Media and Entertainment. I am a freelancer and work as a Social Media Influencer and a YouTube Entertainer now.
Q. Anshita Crazy Koul as a youtuber, how did this happen?
I have always been the entertainer amongst my family and friends, right since the age of two. I was that child, who did not need any invitation or convincing from her parents or relatives, to start dancing at a wedding, or sing a song or recite a poem. That element has always been there, it’s a part of my existence.
In my second year of engineering, I realized that it was not for me but I did complete my graduation and got a campus placement. After my first job, that went on for a year, I went through a critical existential crisis and finally quit the job.
When I was jobless for 8 months, I started watching YouTube. It was 2010-2011, YouTube had just started making its influence on Indian digital markets, I loved the concept and planned that one day, I am going to have my own YouTube channel.
I created a lot of videos, for my friends and family in last 6 years. I just loved the entire creative process of telling a visual story, putting the pieces together to give an experience to the audience. I never let the dream die, nurtured it as much as I can and when the time was right, I made it happen.
Q. Can you please explain to our audience how do your videos influence your audiences and the response you get, negative as well as positive.
After I started my YouTube channel, I researched a lot on what new I can bring to the platform. As YouTube tutorials guided me to find a target audience, I realized that there is a dearth of funny Kashmiri content on YouTube that the younger generation can relate to. And I did an experiment with ‘Things Kashmiri Mothers Say’ video which was highly successful and is the most watched video on my channel. And that gave me the confidence to produce more such content.
After a couple of generic Kashmiri videos, I started receiving messages from so many young Kashmiris, to make videos on different topics covering the entire spectrum of the Kashmiri culture. The most amazing thing to happen was to see how Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits equally enjoyed my videos and could relate to it, irrespective of the religious differences.
My work, not entirely, but in a tiny way, bridged that gap between the two communities that have practiced more or less the same culture for ages. That was a huge achievement, to receive messages from younger audience living in Kashmir, confessing that they are very curious to know how Kashmiri Pandits used to live their day to day life and it was a big revelation for them to find out, that it’s almost exactly like how they do. And for the first time, I realized that I can make a strong and a positive influence.
Q. What did your parents think about this out of the box job?
Making these videos I also realized that I cannot just speak about the good or funny things about my culture, as there are many things which need to change, ideologies that are obsolete and customs and traditions that we should not be proud of. The one such example is the Zamtur video, where I used satire and farce as comedy genres, to urge the elders in the family to stop treating their son-in-laws as super humans or Gods.
That video connected with so many people, young and old, Kashmiri pandits, kashmiri muslims and infact many of my non-kashmiri Indian audience. I received innumerable messages, thanking me for speaking up. I could see a paradigm shift in my own family per say, they stopped treating my husband as some alien who has super powers and treated him more like a family member, like their son.
I remember, post that video, when me and my husband visited my parents and he got up to make himself a coffee in the kitchen, my mom instantly got up thinking “hatha zamtur woth paaney coffee banavne” and immediately my dad stopped her and reminded her of my video and also the fact that it’s his kitchen as much as it’s ours and he is our son.
In last one year, I have made many non-kashmiri videos as well, which have questioned some standards in our Indian society and they have also been received very well. And the kind of response and engagement I receive clearly shows that most of the people support me for saying things that most of them are not able to, and it makes them feel that I am their voice.
In the end, I feel, as an artist and a storyteller, my job is to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed. Also, I don’t want people to think like me, I just want people to think.
Initially, my parents did not understand entirely what I am doing but I took out time to sit with them and explain everything. They believed me when I said that I know what I am doing. They are a great support and I never took them for granted or assume that they won’t ever understand me.
Instead, I take out time, discuss my videos, ideas and my belief systems with them, even if it makes them uncomfortable sometimes but at the end, it’s always a more meaningful conversation and benefits everyone.
Q. Having a modern way of life, you still endorse Kashmiri ethos including language in your videos that you upload on your channel. Why is it?
I am not really a religious person. But I am deeply fascinated with cultures across the world. And that’s because I am a people’s person, I am always curious to know how people behave, what do they think, what do they eat, how do they celebrate, how do they swear, the faces they make when they are angry, sad, happy etc.
After I moved to Germany, I started volunteering as a tour guide and traveled a lot. It was a game changer for me, to meet people from different parts of the world, from different cultures, speaking different languages and still wanting the same things as any other human being.
On my tours, I always ask people what makes them happy and I get the same answers from everyone, despite where they come from. This experience made me curious about my own culture. I realized that I hardly know or like anything about the Kashmiri culture, apart from the food.
In fact, I had a lot of complaints and was not very thrilled to be a Kashmiri. But then as I started exploring more and more – the language, the food, the folklore, the swear words, the music, the arts, the customs, the legends, I could not stop myself.
I never intended to promote Kashmiri culture through my work, it happened naturally. I fell in love with the rich heritage, the complexity of the language, the ethos, the unique quirks and idiosyncrasies that we as Kashmiris possess and I wanted everyone, especially my generation, to come on this journey with me.
I am often criticized for saying some words in Kashmiri, especially by the older generation, as it makes them uncomfortable. But as an artist, as a comedian and as a storyteller, I would always show the entire spectrum of our culture – the good, the bad and the ugly. So that we proudly bring forth the good, actively work and improve on the bad, and firmly get rid of the ugly. That is the only sane way to preserve the rich Kashmiri culture.
Q. One of your videos, ‘cheap Kashmiri thrills’ is based on your love towards Monj Haakh of Kashmir. The younger generation is unaware about kashmiri food that the elders would experience with hilarity back in Kashmir. Do you still miss that food that you would experience here in Kashmir, back in 90’s?
[Laughs] The idea behind that video was to create a Kashmiri parody of the original song. So I asked my parents and some Kashmiri friends about what is the one cheap thrill that they enjoy as a Kashmiri.
Most of them said, zamut-doad batta, roganjosh and monj hakh. And it was bingo.
Monj Hakh is something that is one of the staple food of Kashmiris and almost everyone can afford it. So it is our cheap thrill. It’s not exotic, but it is the simplest thing that can make a Kashmiri happy. The lyrics were just a word play to fit the rhythm of the song.
Monj Hakh is widely available in the world. We get it in Germany too. Having said that, Kashmir’s monj hakh is a different level. So yes, I have observed my parents and grandparents often speak about it and how they miss it. I am personally not a crazy fan of monj hakh. That’s why I showed 4 different characters in the song.
Q. In your recent video, “If Game of Thrones was Kashmiri” you say “You will go back to Habba Kadal”, although you are miles apart but, mentally and emotionally you are close to your ancestral home, Kashmir. Do you want to come back to Kashmir and live rest of your life here, if yes, then can u get all those avenues back here in Kashmir that are essential for your personality?
Haha. It was a wordplay again. I understand that if I use monologues and dialogues like these in my videos, most people will instantly do the correlation and feel that I am suggesting about the fact that we (Kashmiri Pandits) are not home anymore.
But that is never the intention. I was 3 years old when the Exodus happened. I grew up in Jammu. After the migration, all the times I visited Kashmir and areas where my ancestral home used to be, I understood the pain my parents and grandparents often spoke about with tears in their eyes, about losing their homes and identity. It was losing heaven for them and I totally empathize with it.
But since I can only speak for myself, to be honest, I have no memory of growing up in Kashmir. I have no memory to go back to. I was raised with the value that you will be remembered for the work you leave behind, not who you were, where you come from. I am a very global person, and I actually don’t want to live at only one place for the rest of my life. I want to keep moving. I call myself a Musafir and Earth is my home. I know it sounds very unrealistic, artistic and philosophical, but it’s actually doable.
Having said that, this is only my personal opinion. I cannot really comment on whether the avenues in Kashmir are essential for growth or not. More often, I find myself questioning that if the conditions in Kashmir are suitable for anyone for that matter!
Q. There are massive problems that our society, especially the women face on a daily basis, be it harassment, eve teasing, rapes. In your recent video ‘If Game of Thrones was Kashmiri, you say that you want drag all those mischievous politicians with stern punishment and so on. Do you want to make more related videos on such social issues in your your satirical form?
Yes. That is the plan. I recently made a satire called “Annoying Things Women Are Tired of Hearing” and it was amazing to see the kind of response especially from the women folk.
I received countless messages thanking me for bringing these questions out publicly and calling them out. I am planning to make many such more videos and hopefully, they will be able to make a tiny shift, if nothing at all, in the minds of people.
Q. Your Final Message to our FPK audience.
Every once in a while, take a cup of tea, sit in the silence, close your eyes and imagine the best version of yourself, this world and everything you have ever felt, touched, seen or heard. That’s who you really are.
We all have negative voices in our head, but we have to remember to give more power to the positive ones. We have to get up every time we fall. We have to find meaning in the way we live, the way we love and also the way we suffer. We have to allow the light within to guide us so that we can rise and shine.