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Memes emerge as social media art, comment and empowerment tool

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It's all about art -- when M F Husain took brush to canvas, when Satyajit Ray got behind the camera and even when a clever somebody logs in to inscribe astute comment on image to produce what has come to be known as a meme.

Memes emerge as social media art, comment and empowerment tool
It's all about art -- when M F Husain took brush to canvas, when Satyajit Ray got behind the camera and even when a clever somebody logs in to inscribe astute comment on image to produce what has come to be known as a meme.
And when India's twin obsessions cinema and politics combine, you get a meme that is not just just humour but a biting comment on contemporary times and also a tool of empowerment and expression.
According to Ramit Verma, creator of social media account 'Official PeeingHuman', memes are "time capsules" representing the culture prevailing at a particular point.
Like when a cow replaced antagonist Ganesh Gaitonde in a defining scene from Netflix's India original "Sacred Games", based on a book by author Vikram Chandra on Mumbai's underworld.
It was a sure-shot viral meme -- a bovine standing amidst the burning mountain of Mumbai's trash in self-deified glory with the dialogue "kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun hee bhagwan hai" (it often feels that I am god) inscribed on it.
Bulls eye for the creator who used the pop culture medium to make a devastating comment on the current political climate and issues related to the cow and cow slaughter. The viewer may or may not have seen "Sacred Games" but the message hit straight home.
Memes were used to drive home other messages in 2018.
Films such as "Padmaavat", "Manmarziyaan" and "Kedarnath" and the controversies they raised blurred the lines between cinema and politics. And memes used India's obsession with the two and turned them into instant social media art.
What makes current affairs and entertainment industry gel is that both are articles of mass consumption and, in the age of internet, people need everything that is a touch away, said the man behind ROFL Gandhi, a popular parody account of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, requesting anonymity.,
"We don't have the time and patience to read or even go through something as concise as a tweet. A meme is something you read with your eyes but don't have to apply much mind to," Vyshnav Vinod, one of the content creators of the Bengaluru-based "Unofficial Sacred Games", told PTI.
The viral cow meme was shared on Facebook by 'Unofficial Sacred Games'.
According to Vinod, the relatability of content, powered by the 'share' option, make memes an important part of the internet culture.
In 2018, memes gave due attention not just to incidents of mob lynching over alleged cow slaughter, credibility of leaders ahead of the 2019 general elections but also other issues.
"Shows like 'Sacred Games' and 'Mirzapur' have interesting dialogues, cusswords and gruesome footage which is perfect material for the meme community. It's like either you make it or somebody else will make it," Vinod said.
According to 'ROFL Gandhi', memes lifted from a movie or a web series are tailor-made for political commentary and satire.
"Movies and web series are a mass thing. If you look at Bollywood, we expect people to know about an upcoming movie and even if you are not going to watch the movie, you will at least watch the trailer. People on social media are creating memes out of trailers," ROFL Gandhi, who wishes anonymity but prefers being called a "visionary troll", told PTI.
Citing "Mirzapur" as an example, he said no one initially cared for the crime thriller from Amazon Prime Video.
"Only a handful had watched the series. But after the memes, the appeal of 'Mirzapur', which caters to the middle class, suddenly caught on. It started being viewed as a mass entertainment series. In two weeks, all social media platforms were flooded with 'Mirzapur' memes," he said.
Memes sometimes also fuse past and present.
Veteran actor Amrish Puri's dialogue Aao kabhi haveli pe from the 1986 fantasy film Nagina was used in a meme last year. And this year, "Stree", one of 2018's blockbusters, featured a song titled "Aao kabhi haveli pe", which honoured its genre of horror comedy and and was also lauded for its subversion of the 'witch' concept to question prejudices.
Using "Waah Modiji Waah Waah" as an outro in video memes to lifting the "Banda ye bindaas hai" song from the film "Aks" as a tool to critique the government, Verma of 'Official PeeingHuman' described a meme as a unit of culture.
"The content is so relatable because most creators are individuals drawing experiences, emotions and inspiration for such content from their personal life and that of others around them...," Verma told PTI.
He believes Indian politics and films go perfectly together.
"Since we are a film obsessed nation, I try to pick up filmy things from other content on the internet to use in my videos every now and then because it increases the shareability and relatability quotient," he said.
ROFL Gandhi predicts a short lifespan for memes, which may last for over a year or two.
"Seeing the history of social media, there is a time till when things will work. It's a phase. Maybe we'll find something more interesting to express ourselves," he said.
But Verma is optimistic about memes playing a longer innings in pop culture.
"The term 'meme' might phase out in the future, but the kind of content it represents is not a fad. It is too empowering for the common person to give up on," Verma said.
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