THE ICON INTERVIEW: YOURS TRULY ONLINE

February 17, 2019

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While filming a travelogue in Kumrat Valley -Photos courtesy Mooroo
While filming a travelogue in Kumrat Valley -Photos courtesy Mooroo

I went to meet freshly married Mooroo, Pakistan’s favourite vlogger, at his home in Karachi, but instead of Bano, the orange Persian cat who’s featured in a lot of his videos, I’m welcomed by a gorgeous but very loud Pitbull. “I grew up around dogs,” he confesses, as he arranges to have the dog temporarily stowed in a room so I can make my way inside. Apparently Bano and the pitbull coexist peacefully in his home.

Once inside, it all looks familiar — Mooroo’s home has been featured in his vlogs enough times to make one feel like I’ve walked on to the set of a show I’ve seen many times. Ranging from anywhere between 10-20min long those vlogs are addictive — there’s a travel series where he’ll be poking fun at himself, his sponsors, the commercialisation of content and then his own personal experiences along with that of his trusty sidekick, Ahsan Ahmed. But more on him later.

Then there’s the series that’s about his own life — everything from his childhood experiences, family, coming-of-age, adulthood and most recently, a very heart-felt vlog about getting married and the complexity of romantic relationships. Mooroo’s life is an open book and his audience gets to see it vlog by vlog.

One thing that’s been happening more and more is that he’s ending every vlog with a drone montage of beautiful scenery and a very soothing voiceover summarising his final thoughts on the story or topic of the day.

Mooroo is a superstar on YouTube. He got to where he is via a filmmaking degree and renting out video equipment. But does he feel his stardom as a vlogger has come at the cost of his passion for music?

“That’s become a thing now,” laughs Taimoor Salahudin, popularly known as Mooroo, a nickname given to him by his younger sister when they were, well, younger. “I wrote something in my diary around eight years ago, it ended up being used in my video called Sex, love, life. And in that there is this drunk mamoon [maternal uncle] character who’s an alcoholic. That’s the first time I used that drone shot with a deep voice. I was playing a character. I felt like, ‘Oh yeah. He can talk like Zia Mohyuddin. He can make it all soothing and sexy.’ So, I did it. I liked it and it leaked into my vlogs. It’s a style that emerged that I had no control over. I hope I don’t end up doing it too much because that gets boring.”

A lot of the time, you’re just poking fun at yourself, I point out to him. “That’s the only way you’ll grow, by having a sense of humour about your own self,” he says, thoughtfully. “There are certain things you don’t like about yourself, so either you can beat yourself up about it or laugh at it. I feel like humour heals you. Some people might take themselves very seriously, [but] for me humour is that healing and a catalyst of change.”

In front of the Badshahi Mosque | Eruj Hadi
In front of the Badshahi Mosque | Eruj Hadi

I read an interview where he said a director told him to be more like Fawad Khan, Mooroo protested because he knows he’s not that kind of a ‘hero.’ “I remember this particular audition,” he says. “A TV director called me and said you’re opposite Bushra Ansari, you’d better up your acting game. I had never thought of acting as a competitive game. I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to learn something.

He said, ‘Imagine I’m Bushra Ansari, and you’re Fawad Khan.’ I kept playing myself and he said, ‘No, be charming.’ And I just know I’m not charming. I can’t do sexy.”

Then, how did he end up wooing his wife? “I vocalised everything,” he laughs. “Like, ‘Is it okay if I take you out?’ and everything was very permission-based, nothing was seductive. Because #MeToo was also happening and I wanted everything to be explicitly clear. Complete consent. And she found it cute. That’s what people have told me.

“I feel like playing sexy is relaxing all your muscles, putting on a nice suit and then standing like this.” He tries to give me the classic Disney leading-hero cartoonish smoulder.

One of the many things we know about Mooroo is that he graduated film school and then there is a gap in between and suddenly we have music videos and vlogs. The latter is something he’s very successful at. Did he ever go through any kind of major struggle to get there? “No, my parents invested in my studio,” he says. “And I immediately started a rental business. Apne aap ko baichnay ke liye darwaazey nahin khatkhataye [I didn’t have to knock on doors to sell myself] because selling yourself is so shameless. I had to sell a camera.

“The deal was that they’re investing this money, I have to make it back within three years, otherwise the technology is going to go redundant. So, for three years I was stuck in that rut: renting the camera out, doing post-production for God-knows hideous amounts of bad, horrible music videos, corporate documentaries. Stuff that I’ve taken my name off of.”

Is there an upside to doing all of that? “I gained so much technical knowledge,” he says. “I developed a work ethic, I became faster with my workflow etc. But the only thing I truly ended up learning was that I don’t want to be a part of that group! [laughs]. Because it’s a club that’s full of people I have nothing in common with. They’re not into storytelling, they’re into making money and more of the bureaucratic part of actually pleasing a client. I just found it to be really uninspiring.”

“But my dreams were such that I had to keep doing this hustle until I got the chance to do my own thing.” Now he does. Mooroo has been completely 100 per cent focused on putting out his own content on YouTube for the past four or five-odd years. “Before that I was throwing things out sporadically whenever I had the time and money,” he says.

Does he do everything himself? “I can and I have done it,” he says, “But now I’ve come to a point where I delegate it and I’d like to rest a bit and think of writing ideas. There are more stories in my head than will ever be executed. I have to try and get as many stories out there.”

Mooroo (R) and his loveable sidekick Ahsan Ahmed (L) with a school teacher in Kalash Valley
Mooroo (R) and his loveable sidekick Ahsan Ahmed (L) with a school teacher in Kalash Valley

“I have one helper, Ahsan, who comes with me in all of my travelogues,” he adds. I’m familiar with Ahsan, he’s adorable and comes across as the human form of a teddy bear!

“That’s why I put him on camera!” laughs Mooroo. “We’ll be shooting a music video and girls will come up to me and say, ‘He’s so cute!’ and I’m like, ‘I’m going to use that cuteness and put it on screen.’ He’s been in most of the music videos. He’s got his own laptop, he edits, he has his own channel. He’ll be a video-maker in his own right, very soon.”

Can you even make a living off of YouTube in Pakistan? Is there tons of money in this? “It depends on what you call tons,” says Mooroo, squinting his eyes. I can almost see the cogs turning in his head. “I’m toying with whether to give you a figure, because that’s what people are generally thirsty for.”

Is it enough to sustain a living? “It’s more than sustainable,” he responds. “I’ve been able to buy a car, I can buy another one, I’ve saved enough money. The faster and harder you work, the more you make.

“I’m not going to give a figure. Also, because I don’t have it. I stopped doing commercial documentaries because I was making more money from YouTube. But you’ve got to be open and challenge yourself. I wasn’t able to make that much out of music.”

Is that something that bothers you? “It does,” he says. “It was my dream. I’ve become so much better at storytelling through a visual medium that, intellectually, I can say a lot of what I want to say through it. But music is the only way I can get to the crux of the emotion that I feel.”

Are you currently working on anything? “I’ve written a few songs,” responds Mooroo. “There’s one with Zoe Viccaji. It’s a duet, my first one in fact. I’m doing the music video right now. Then there are two other songs. One of them is so aggressive that I might not even release it!”

What does he mean by that? “They’re [his audience] seeing me as a husband and a family guy now,” explains Mooroo. “And in the video, here is a guy who’s screaming curse words at the screen. I talk about things, people get pissed off at those things, I react by getting pissed off at them. It becomes this echo chamber of people screaming at each other. That’s what the song is. It’s straight up gangster rap, I’ll-take-your-girl-from-you aggressive.

“You’ll take whose girl? You’re married right?” he says in a high-pitched tone meant to represent his audience’s reaction. “But if I put it behind a character, maybe people might accept it,” he says thoughtfully, back as Mooroo again.

But that’s not the only thing Mooroo has up his sleeve. “Shaadi ka gana hai, but aik ajeeb se angle se hai [There’s a wedding song, but from a strange perspective],” he says. “It came out [in production, not release] a week before the wedding.”

His wife, Eruj, heard it and she was not pleased. “She was like, ‘We’re getting married and you’re writing about somebody else not getting a girl? And that too at a wedding? At our wedding?!’” he laughs.

Why did he write it? “I was insecure about … I’m giving my heart away forever. I’m never going to have a broken heart again,” he says. “Does that mean I’ll never be able to write a broken-hearted song, with the same intensity?”

I wish I had your problems! I say to him. “The thing is, people come up to me and talk just about that Mooroo — the broken-hearted Mooroo,” he explains. “That’s what they want. I thought, ‘I’ve been through enough heartbreaks to channel that emotion.’ So, I wrote a broken-hearted song.”

The song in question is Aadhay Gaanay Tootay Waaday. It’s produced in the manner of somewhat cheesy, emo 90s’ boy-band love songs and has Mooroo’s signature witty lyrics. It’s a sad song that makes you laugh. But again, one could argue that’s life itself. Or like some of the characters Mooroo plays in his vlogs.

Published in Dawn, ICON, February 17th, 2019