What can you do in 15 seconds? 23-year-old Manav Chhabra aka Mr MNV can lip-sync, dance, act and build a successful career as a Punjabi pop music video star. Another TikTok sensation Ummey Khansa, a fourth-year law student in Delhi, can write and act in viral sketches. Rekha, a 32-year-old housekeeper in an office in Noida, can fulfill her acting ambitions and find a solution to everyday boredom.TikTok, a 15-second video-sharing app and ostensibly the Internet’s favourite punchline, is here to stay in India – despite the mainstream classist disdain for TikTok users. The jokes may have reached TikTok users, but most are still using the platform to creatively express themselves on the Internet, in a way most social media platforms don’t allow them to.Everyone Loves TikTok...Mostly“I have heard that good people who make TikTok videos have also stopped, only bekaar people are there on the app. That’s why I got scolded at home.”Rekha, TikTok userRekha downloaded TikTok a few months ago and regularly posts video of her lip-syncing, doing comedy or ones featuring her daughter.Inside the World of Hindutva Videos on Tik Tok“My friends help me make TikTok videos, the other day I went to the park, and we made so many videos. They are very fond of making TikTok videos, daily banaati hai woh, daily…” she laughs and then shows me the TikTok videos she has posted. Usually filmed in a park near her home, it features two to three young women dancing or lip-syncing to popular Hindi and Bhojpuri songs.But TikTok’s reputation for trouble though, has reached Rekha too. When her extended family discovered one video she had posted as a Whatsapp status, she was scolded for “ajeeb si” videos.Mention “TikTok” in everyday conversation or scroll through Twitter. Invariably, you’ll hear a variation of the following sentiment: TikTok ban being implemented again, how TikTok users are the worst or how TikTok’s popularity signals the end of the world are abundant. There are jokes about TikTok hairstyles (a heavily gelled look popular among young men on the app), exaggerated expressions, basic production values (cracked walls and improv props are common) and viral sketches with multi-layered storylines.Why do people love to hate TikTok so much?Tik Tok Star, Who Had Over 5 Lakh Followers, Shot Dead in Delhi ‘Just a Phone & Apna Talent’The reason for it is both complex, and simple: TikTok puts fame within reach for everyone. College studs and construction workers. Delhi boys and Akola girls. Fashion model and domestic help. On TikTok, India’s got talent is a motto to live by, and everyone seems to be having fun.“The best thing about TikTok is that you can use it while sitting at home, you can do everything while sitting at home. You don’t need anything, you just need you phone and apna talent.”Manav Chhabra, TikTok influencerManav Chhabra should know. From Roopnagar in Chandigarh, Chhabra has 4.4 million fans on TikTok , 1 million Instagram followers, fan pages and two popular Punjabi music videos to his name.When this reporter met him in June 2019, he was briefly in Delhi for a sponsorship deal which included a fan-meet (who call themselves #TEAMMNV) and pondering a move to Mumbai to further his career. (He’s since moved to Mumbai.) He started using TikTok (then called Musically) in 2016 by posting bhangra videos and lip-syncs of popular Hindi film songs.He had a “gut feeling ki yeh app bahut bada hoga (I had a gut feeling that this app is going to be huge) and so doubled down on his content; posting 2 to 4 videos every day. Soon, he became a “verified user” on TikTok, gathered more fans and started collaborating with other popular TikTok personalities.Tik Tok Has Huge Indian User Base, but Struggles with Hate SpeechWhen asked about people’s perception of TikTok, Manav says it doesn’t bother him. He doesn’t mind being called a TikTok star.“If someone asks me what I do, I say, I make content, I make Musically (TikTok’s earlier avatar), I make YouTube. That’s the reason I am here, that’s the reason I am travelling to all these countries and why I’ve never asked my parents for money for two to three years. (sic)”Manav Chhabra, TikTok influencerWhen TikTok Hits HeadlinesAnmol Bhatia doesn’t share Manav’s indifference though. “I feel the ones who make jokes are people who have a lot of talent but are not using their talent in the right way. They are pointing out those people who are not that rich and they are just making normal videos with their basic Android phones and are getting famous.” A 24-year-old TikTok influencer based in Delhi, with 3 million TikTok fans and 440 thousand followers on Instagram, Bhatia posts videos of her lip-syncing to Bollywood songs, while simultaneously running a fashion blog.“It does bother me when people make fun of TikTok, I am working on that platform, right? And I too create a lot of videos and when people say, ‘oh tu TikTok pe hai, usse kya hota hai?’ that really feels bad, because that’s also a platform, you are creating videos there, just because a bunch of people are creating wrong content or bad content, all of them are pointed out.”Anmol Bhatia, TikTok influencerMan Steals iPhone to Make Better Quality Videos & Post on Tik TokA glimpse of the “bad content” that Anmol is referring to is not a fictional issue. Apart from jokes, TikTok frequently hits newspaper headlines. On 4 September 2019, it was reported that Shahrukh Khan, a TikTok star with 40,000 followers, was arrested by Greater Noida police for being involved in at least six robberies. The police recovered five stolen mobile phones, a bike and some cash. Indrajeet Jadeja, a man from Rajkot in Gujarat reportedly set fire to his jeep for a TikTok video. Faisal Shaikh, a TikTok star, and his friends were banned from the app after they posted inflammatory videos against the alleged lynching of Tabrez Ansari.Political videos are easily available on the app, including polarising Hindutva videos. Disturbing videos of children on TikTok are also a concern. Though none of these headlines are a direct result of the existence of TikTok, it does colour the reputation of the app, and by extension of the people who use it.But Do TikTok Users Care?“Mujra karne waale is a phrase used for people who make TikTok…” 23-year-old Ummeya Khansa laughs, before clarifying that she hasn’t really received negative comments on her videos yet. Khansa started posting TikTok videos after she suffered a stroke and her doctor advised her to find something to “distract herself” with. Within three months of posting hilarious sketches, mostly shot at home or near her college, Khansa had 2.1 million fans on TikTok.For her, the reason for TikTok’s popularity is simple. There are so many people on the app, all one has to do is work hard, and there’s easy recognition on the app.“People say to me ‘I have seen you on TikTok, you make good videos,’ which I haven’t seen on other apps like Helo and others.”Ummey Khansa, TikTok influencerPakistan Bowler Yasir Shah in Trouble for Tik Tok Video With FanWhen asked whether she will continue to make TikTok videos despite her extended family being disapproving, Rekha said,“Koi nahin, I’ll still make the videos, chori chori. Mujhe bahut accha lagta hai (Doesn’t matter, I’ll still make the videos discreetly because I love it)“Whether the allure of fame, an outlet to creatively express oneself or just a way to have fun, TikTok’s accessibility makes it a social media phenomenon hard to ignore in India.Twitter jokes, be damned. We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. 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