Bhuvan Bam on why he didn't choose streaming for his show Dhindora: The idea was to have everyone watch it for free
'The audience that I have cultivated is on YouTube. So it would have been really unfair on my part to tell my audience to get a whole new subscription just to watch something I created,' says Bhuvan Bam.
Bhuvan Bam likes to play the long game. The YouTuber — BB Ki Vines, his YouTube channel has 23.8 million subscribers — is among the top five content creators in the country. Yet, he is not satisfied with just being known as a content creator. On 5 October, Bam debuted the trailer of Dhindora, his first web-series on YouTube.
Revolving around the comic misfortunes of a family, Dhindora took inspiration from all the characters that Bam, a comedian, actor, writer, and songwriter, has effortlessly essayed in his videos in the last five years.
In the show, the long-haired, affable Bam plays 10 characters, right from Titu Mama and Janki to Babloo and Bancho, an extraordinary feat even for someone like him. The show is a testament to not just Bam’s effortless comic timing but also a worthy offering for his cult-ish fandom. He has been involved with every aspect of Dhindora, including bringing on board an experienced set of collaborators. Rajesh Tailang — of Delhi Crime — has acted in the show, Hussain and Abbas Dalal have co-written Dhindora along with Bam.
Still, his biggest feat might just be convincing Sneha Khanwalkar — arguably one of the most underrated (and elusive) Indian composers of the 21st century — to do the music for the show. Bam personally got in touch with both Tailang and Khanwalkar. "When you go through an agency or through some people, your idea stands the risk of getting lost in translation. So I DMed them on Instagram,” he tells me over the phone.
All things considered, Dhindora was a success even before it was out. But Bam does not play the easy game, he likes to think long-term. So instead of taking the eight-episode show to a streaming platform, he decided to upload one episode every week on YouTube. The first episode dropped on YouTube on 14 October and racked up over 51 million views. The remaining six episodes have all averaged 20 million views. Irrespective, every episode is underlined by a breathless comment section that witnesses an overenthusiastic outpouring of affections from fans who just cannot get enough of Bam.
Bam is overwhelmed by the response but he is not satisfied with it, using the adulation as an experiment to gauge his own reach. "Before Dhindora, the average age group of my audience was between 15-30 years. But after Dhindora, I have 50-55 year olds messaging and mailing me to ask where I have been all this while," he tells me over the phone.
It is also a way to gauge the pull of his own brand. With the show, Bam also launched his own production house. The idea is to build a content ecosystem for the BB cinematic universe — a world where Bam sets the rules for engagement. “If you notice, when two of my characters are interacting with each other in the show, the framing is really tight like it is in my YouTube videos. That was a decision made by us because we wanted viewers to connect with the fact that this is a show made by BB Ki Vines,” Bam tells me.
With one week to go before the series finale, I chatted with Bhuvan Bam about being confident in his own voice, the joys of collaboration, and why Dhindora had to be a YouTube show. Edited excerpts below:
You have mentioned in interviews that the idea for Dhindora came to you three years ago. When you started putting the project together, how did you envision it?
When we first started writing Dhindora, it was supposed to be a movie. We wanted to make a movie of our own. That plan changed when we realised that in the age of streaming platforms, it would make more sense to turn it into a series. That way, people can stay with the content for eight weeks, and talk about it for all those weeks. Once we made the decision to turn Dhindora into a series, my first thought was that it should also be written with the intensity and clarity that a series deserved.
According to you, what genre does the show fall under?
I would say it’s a comedy drama that moonlights as a social satire. Dhindora talks about how relationships change over the course of time as well as how society perceives your wins and your losses. It’s a mirror to our society.
You came up with the story and concept for Dhindora, co-wrote the script, penned lyrics, and are playing 10 characters on the show. That's a lot of responsibility on someone — in the sense that one wrong decision could have consequences. At what point did you start feeling the pressure of being this closely involved with the show?
Even though there was constant pressure to translate the vision that I had in my mind on the screen as creatively as possible, I think production was more challenging. These are things you realise on set.
I’ve skipped so many lunches on set because I knew that if I’m having lunch, there is no shoot going on.
There are moments where six versions of me are in the frame at the same time, and that makes the entire process more difficult. I would say my lines, and then quickly change and return to say my lines as a different character. The Delhi portions in the show are all shot in natural light. And we shot during winter, which meant that the sun would set early, around 5 PM. Doing all of this in proper light felt like negotiating with a time bomb.
You are someone who prefers creating alone. But making a show like Dhindora is impossible without collaboration. Did making a show where there are two other co-writers, a director, and other actors, alter your process of creating in any way?
Not really. I’m pretty confident about the fact that if I’m not interrupted during the writing process, and given the freedom to say everything that I want to, then I’ll pull it off. Having a set of collaborators, right from Hussain and Abbas Dalal as co-writers and Himank Gaur as director, also helped me get a second perspective.
With Dhindora, you have also launched BB Ki Vines Productions. How do you see the production house evolving?
For one, we don’t want to just stick to comedy. It goes without saying that BB Ki Vines Productions will keep churning out comedy content in the future. But we want to primarily hire new talent who will bring new ideas to the table so that we can dabble in any genre that we want, whether it is drama, thriller, or animation. When I say that the production house will give opportunities to new talent, it is also in terms of acting. It’s not necessary that I will feature in every project. I see Dhindora as the first step. It’s like we’ve produced Dhindora, we’ve made sure to get actors from Bollywood to feature with us on the show. If we can do this much for our first project, we can definitely scale up for fun.
Before Dhindora, you had also backed Plus Minus (2018), your debut short film. As a content creator, why is it so important for you to produce your own work instead of just appearing in it?
For someone like me who has a clear image in mind of the kind of work I’d like to do in the future, this is the right time to produce our own work so that we don’t have to wait for someone else to do it for us. It’s especially important because there are so many content creators coming up everyday. In a way, social media has made it easier for everyone to create their own work, it only makes sense to own it as well.
So did the idea of taking Dhindora to a streaming platform never cross your mind?
It did cross my mind but it was a very conscious decision to stick to YouTube for Dhindora. Look, these characters were born on YouTube. They’ve evolved on this platform for the last five years, and more importantly, the audience that I have cultivated is on YouTube. So it would have been really unfair on my part to tell my audience to get a whole new subscription just to watch something I created. With Dhindora, we wanted to reach out to the people who were offline: people who had no idea what Bhuvan Bam does on YouTube or have maybe heard of BB Ki Vines. The idea always was that it had to be viewed by everyone for free — even if it came at the cost of spending money from my pocket.
Dhindhora is playing on YouTube. The finale will premiere on 2 December.
Poulomi Das is a film and culture writer, critic, and programmer. Follow more of her writing on Twitter.
Rust armourer sued the film's ammunition supplier, accusing him of leaving real bullets among the dummy cartridges, resulting in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer.
Netflix aims to start production on the sequels in 2023, with Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds to return.
And Just Like That, Indians outrage over white woman calling lehenga a sari — after years of stereotyping her onscreen
Using white-skinned women as half-naked dolls in some terribly scored item song is perhaps a graver crime then admitting to not knowing what Diwali is.