HT Brunch Cover Story: Funny side up!
Meet two of social media’s most amusing guys—JustSul and Abdu Rozik—and find out what makes them tick!
One man’s funny may be another man’s blah.
But success on social media is measured by followers, not by laughs. Given that, humour content creators JustSul and Abdu Rozik, with a following of 6.3 million and 3.6 million respectively, are the digital world’s most successful comedians.
This probably explains why the two men are now in Mumbai, shooting for their first Bollywood film—Salman Khan’s next, no less! Given this opportunity, HT Brunch lost no time in pinning them down for an exclusive chat and photo shoot.
Since they are comedians, we expected to find ourselves thoroughly entertained—and our expectations were fully met. But humour was not the only attribute we found in them as we chatted. Behind the social media personas of JustSul and Abdu, we discovered, lie two very intriguing stories.
Read on. And prepare to be surprised.
JustSul: The migrant engineer with the luxe life!
Six years ago, Shantinath Ganpath Sul, now 53, knew little about social media. He was one of the millions of Indians working abroad to support their families back home; an electromechanical engineer in Zambia. “I was only familiar with Facebook and Whatsapp then,” he says.
Today, @JustSul, as he is popularly known, has over six million followers on social media. While his brand of humour may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this middle-aged Indian guy, by showcasing an exaggerated lifestyle and an over-the-top sense of humour, has found himself a sizeable audience from across the world.
“The first time I travelled to Dubai as JustSul, people started calling out my name,” Sul recalls. “From airport immigration to people in the bathroom and at the malls. That’s when I realised that I am famous!”
JustSul’s caricature of an Indian worker living the luxury life is most popular amongst the migrant community in the Gulf. But the character is not his brainchild at all! It’s an idea his boss’s son—a millennial, social-media savvy youngster—had and executed.
“Said Ahmad is the man responsible for creating JustSul,” says Sul, giving credit where it is due. “Said asked me to shoot a few videos for him when I worked for his dad in Zambia and promised he’d make me famous. At first, he made me say the lyrics (sic) of some hip-hop music and posted it on his Snapchat. But the first video that went viral was inspired by Kanye West’s All Day song, which got a lot of attention and put me on the map.”
Sul could not gauge the impact this viral video could have. It never even occurred to him that the character he played could become a source of income.
“All I could see was that Said was very motivated, and that’s what got me going. He believed in me so much. I trusted him and started seeing the numbers grow every time we made these videos,” he says. “When I first started this, it was never about money. I never even knew I could earn from this. But yes, I have earned the most in my life from social media. I am grateful that I am a social media star today.”
Sul was born and raised in Solapur, where he studied mechanical and electrical engineering at Solapur Engineering College. “I was passionate about acting and drama in school,” he recalls. His family today consists of a brother, three sisters, mother, wife and two kids, all of whom live in Satara, Maharashtra.
All his family members enjoy his content and newfound celebdom, Sul says. But ask him about a certain cuss word that his character uses regularly, and Sul gets guarded. “When I first used the word, I was very much against it,” he says. “But then people kept asking me to say it when they met me, and I realised they enjoy hearing it from me.”
Interestingly, Sul continues to keep his job in Zambia. “My boss and colleagues respect me for what I have done, and they are proud of me that I’m still humble doing both things together.”
There are many creators of funny videos today. What makes you different from them, we ask.
Sul replies with swag: “Name any other 53-year-old Indian man who does creative and funny videos which are watched globally. I’ll wait…!”
Something JustSul would say!
Abdu Rozik: The boy-man with a huge heart
If the roots of humour lie in pain, Abdu Rozik seems to convey that without saying it out loud. For the world knows him as the cutest “kid” on social media, and that’s just how he would like to keep it.
Savriqul Muhammed Roziqi, aka Abdu Rozik, the son of Mr Savriqul and Mrs Rooh Afza, who hails from a tiny village in Tajikistan called Panjakent, is, in fact, 19 years old. But at 94 cm, Abdu is a “proportionate dwarf”. This genetic condition, coupled with his clear skin and boyish features, makes him resemble a 10-year-old.
“I was in school when I realised I was shorter than the other kids. They were nice to me initially, and I also looked so cute,” smiles Abdu, showing that he’s a staunch believer in seeing a glass as half full rather than half empty. “But then my school mates started making fun of me, and I got really sad. In order to fight the bullies, I wanted to show that I was strong. So, I took up boxing.”
Abdu eventually found refuge in the performing arts. “I was a good singer, or maybe because I looked the way I did, people were attracted to me and became fascinated listening to me,” says Abdu. “I realised then that my uniqueness would open doors to many opportunities. It actually serves as my motivation to dream big.”
Abdu took to social media to showcase his talent early on. “I used to sing in the bazaars for a living when I started watching short singing videos on Facebook, Instagram and musical.ly, which later became TikTok. I wanted to sing my own Tajiki songs that way, and when I did, people started to follow me, and today, I have more than three million followers on Instagram,” he says.
His positive spirit shines again when he adds, “My biggest advantage is that I look cute. Please… I am not praising myself. I am saying this because I am short and people don’t believe me when I say I am 19 years old. It’s looking like a kid that makes me cute. And I can get away with anything by giving this cute smile.”
He smiles on cue and adds, “When I go for a movie that is not suitable for children below 18 years, the person at the ticket counter does not allow me to enter. But I also save money as I can buy things at the discounted prices that people give me, thinking I am a child!”
On the flip side, some occasions cause embarrassment. “Believe it or not, there are people who really think I am a child and lift me up,” he says with a bit of exasperation. “Even I have limits!”
Today, Abdu’s following is big enough for one of the biggest social media management agencies in the Middle East, IFCM, to represent him. He now lives in Dubai, and earns enough to send back home to his village in Tajikistan to support his parents and three siblings.
“I am living a dream life,” says Abdu. “I never thought I could live in such luxury. I wake up in the morning, go to the gym, then go for music and dance lessons in the afternoon, and in the evening, I attend language sessions to learn English and Hindi.”
Abdu hopes to graduate from social media stardom to Indian movies. His Instagram page is flooded with pictures of him with Bollywood stars, sportspeople like Virat Kohli and the like.
“I got the opportunity to participate in the sing a song event with Mr AR Rahman at the Expo 2020, which went viral,” says Abdu, his excitement still palpable. “It was my dream to meet Cristiano Ronaldo, which also came true on a recent trip to the UK.”
Abdu credits the upswing in his life to social media, and to his family. “My parents took great trouble to raise me,” he says. “They spared no expenses for my treatment, and when I took to social media, they only encouraged me. Now, I am the breadwinner in my family. I am happy to say that we now have a two-storied house, and they are happy. Of course, I hope to find an understanding life partner one day, but I will leave that to my parents to decide; after all, I’m just 19 now. I want to work harder to give my family an even better life. Alhumdulilah! Thanks to God first, and then to my family!”
Follow @JamalShaikh on Instagram and Twitter
From HT Brunch, September 10, 2022
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch