Tiruchi expat worker rises to fame as gulf social media star

Thanks to social media, former motorist Rasool Kareem discovered a whole new vocation in Qatar

Thanks to social media, former motorist Rasool Kareem discovered a whole new vocation in Qatar

When Rasool Kareem, 35, decided to support his family by taking a job as a driver in Doha, Qatar, in 2007, he did not realize that his career as a social media star in the Gulf country was literally going to change his life in the most unexpected way.

With a YouTube channel called “Kareem Time Official” which has 1.9 million subscribers and 537,894 followers on Facebook, in addition to another 70,6000 on his Instagram account, the native of Woraiyur, Tiruchi is a recognized public figure in the world. Persian Gulf social media space.

Kareem’s work stands out as he makes videos about the lives of South Asian (mostly Tamil) expatriate workers in the Gulf, with a cast of amateur Qatari and Indian actors.

Its content is available in Arabic and Tamil and uses observational comedy to ridicule people’s shortcomings, while conveying a serious underlying message.

“It is not right to blindly vilify people or countries. There are good people and bad people in every community, and sometimes comedy becomes the best way to spread tolerance, especially in places that depend on expatriate workers,” Kareem said in a WhatsApp phone interview. “Most of my Arabic videos are uploaded to YouTube and Instagram, while the Tamil ones, which I produce with the help of a creative team in Tiruchi, are on Facebook. The comedy sketches have a slapstick and physical humor to also appeal to viewers who may not know either of the two languages,” says Kareem.

A star is born

Like the millions of blue-collar workers who travel to Persian Gulf countries every year in search of work, Kareem had a family to support in Tiruchi. “I didn’t study much and spent a lot of my youth doing odd jobs. As I was the eldest in my family and needed to support my parents and siblings, my father made me learn to drive and got me a visa to work as a driver. for a Qatari family. When I had enough in my kitty, I decided to return to Tiruchi permanently in 2010,” he recalls.

Kareem’s interest in acting led him to spend a year in Chennai, struggling to get roles in Tamil cinema. “At the end of 2011, I realized that my acting career wasn’t quite there, so I decided to go back to Qatar and become a pilot again,” he says.

Migrant workers in Qatar operate under the “kafala” (sponsorship) system, in which a resident Qatari national is in charge of the visa and legal status of the foreign worker.

Kareem’s Qatari godfather (and employer), Naif al-Malki, became interested in the driver’s Kollywood audition clips and asked him to create something for him. “I sang an Arabic song in my Tamil style, which he uploaded to his Instagram page. We didn’t expect it to become a viral hit in all the Gulf countries. My first real fans were Arab kids, who loved my stuff,” says Kareem.

The song began his career as a social media star in 2013, when he began uploading videos that were largely single acts filmed on his cell phone, with active encouragement from al-Malki, who is now its commercial director.

Content is king

“I realized that to be taken seriously, you had to be careful about the content, so I started looking for actors who could join me in my videos,” he says. He found them in Qatar’s amateur theater circuit and brought together a typical Gulf “family” with his actors. “Today, Khaled al-Rubya, Huda al-Malki, Zahara al-Ansari, Tamim al-Malki and Abu Vinish are all part of the Kareem Time videos, with me. Sometimes we are taken for a real family”, he laughs.

Kareem tends to play the driver in most sketches, but in real life he quit working as a driver after his social media career took off. “During a vacation, I wanted to quit my job as a driver and stay in India because it was getting difficult to manage content creation with my regular job. But Mr. Naif persuaded me to return to Qatar and develop my job. on social media because he felt it had great potential,” says Kareem.

The team shoots three videos a week and uploads them periodically. “None of us get paid for in-house productions. But we allow actors to indicate their preferred salary for business promotions, which we’ve started getting from local businesses. I use my savings to fund the costs. video production,” explains Kareem.

For the more restrained Tamil content, Kareem tends to highlight the socio-economic dynamics of migrant workers within their families and society.

The father-of-two has learned to take the brickbats in his stride. “Through social media, strangers approach me and ask me for a selfie with their kids because they saw my work online. That’s the best approval you can get,” he says.

Kareem and co-star in a scene from his YouTube channel sketches.

Kareem and co-star in a scene from his YouTube channel sketches. | Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

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