Whatever Happened To ... The Farmers Who Danced In The Mud For The 'Kiki Challenge'?
In August 2018, NPR reported on two farmers from a small village in India who went viral for dancing in a rice paddy to rapper Drake's hit song, "In My Feelings." The video of them doing the so-called "Kiki challenge" racked up more than 1 million views. Where are the farmers and the creator of the video now?
Ever since the internet hailed the dancing farmer video, life has changed in big and small ways, says Sriram Srikanth, 28, the vlogger who choreographed the dance and shot the video.
Their little jig put the tiny village of Lambadipally in the southern Indian state of Telangana on the map.
Fans seek out their village, Srikanth says. "Many of our days begin by meeting people who've traveled long hours to come to see us," he says. At least 20 people show up every day on weekdays, and many more on weekends. He says they often just want to tell them how much they appreciate village life and their vlogs.
"It's a great feeling to meet them, to see their interest in our village and our work," he adds.
The viral video also helped grow Srikanth's YouTube channel, My Village Show. He started it in 2012 to chronicle the exasperating and endearing aspects of village life with doses of slapstick comedy. When the channel first launched, it had a little over 1,000 subscribers. Today, it has over 900,000 subscribers and 200 episodes.
After the Kiki challenge, Srikanth and his team uploaded 38 videos last year, 22 of which have scored over a million views. Some of their popular videos are humorous takes about how villagers deal with the influences of modern life — smartphones, selfie sticks, virtual reality technology, even fidget spinners.
The success has helped Srikanth build a steady income with advertising revenue and allowed him to pay his team and actors.
In the months after the Kiki challenge video, the My Village Show team expanded. "We're currently employing eight villagers who've joined us in acting and scriptwriting," says Srikanth. "We've built an office, and we train people in computer literacy. We're hoping that it will help the younger ones find employment."
Some people in the village are still trying to figure out why the Kiki video captivated a global audience. "They wonder why the international media came knocking on our doors when all we did was dance in the muck," says Srikanth, laughing.
And what about the dancing farmers?
Anil Geela, 25, has been offered a role in an Indian film. He's transitioned from farming and being a regular on My Village Show to full-time acting. "It's a small role — I play the friend of the bad guy and there's lots of comedy," he says with a laugh. The movie is set for a year-end release.
Pilli Tirupati, 29, had a baby boy just days after the video went viral. The villagers started calling the infant Kiki and the nickname stuck, he says.
Still a rice farmer, Tirupati shares one of his current struggles. "In Lambadipally village, water scarcity isn't the big problem. The biggest problem is the monkey menace," he says. "We have to stick to paddy farming, because if we plant fruits or vegetables, unruly monkeys end up eating and ruining our crops!"
Though things are busier for the team at My Village Show and more villagers are recruited to act in the vlogs, life for the farmers and the vlogger has remained more or less the same, they say.
But they have noticed a change in the way outsiders view village life. "Everyone knows rural life isn't easy. There's a perception that it is impoverished, when there really is a lot of abundance," says Srikanth.
"I feel like the biggest impact our work has made is to show how living in a village can be beautiful and charming, and that there are joyful experiences," he adds.
Despite the hardships, we're blessed to live this life, says Geela. "We're healthy, happy, have strong friendships and deep connections to the land. If you have roots in a small village, it's no longer a reason to be ashamed. And that's the message we'd really like to see go viral."
Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist based in Madurai, India. Her work has appeared in The International New York Times, BBC Travel and Forbes India. You can follow her @kamal_t.
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