Making us laugh, with a message | Sunday Observer

Making us laugh, with a message

Taking the path less travelled requires much fortitude; it is only those who have faith in themselves who risk it all for their passion. For Rathidu Senarathna, that passion is to entertain, both the public and himself. His childhood dream to be an actor returned to him at age 25. Taking on the moniker of Ratta, he took to social media with his lightning bolt humour, giving life to many characters from his own scripts for comedic skits. He acts, directs, shoots, edits and produces all content single handed. Rathidu expressed his thoughts on winning over the 258, 230 subscribers’ hearts on his YouTube channel to, Youth Observer.

He had not anticipated this would be successful, when he began. “I never thought that it would come this far,” he said, “I started this as a hobby.” He would work on these skits when he had some free-time at work, and on weekends. As his subscribers grew, he realised that this was more than just a hobby. “I believed that I could make a name for myself,” so I kept working on it.” He then quit his job as a management accountant. “I chose freedom.”

Choosing Freedom

Unlike his old job, writing and producing comedy skits doesn’t feel like a burden to him. “It doesn’t pressurise me.” It is still somewhat different from his dream of being an actor. As a child, he imagined more conventional roles and a comedian was not quite what he aspired to be. “But I think I deserve this,” he said.

Having left fulltime work last year, Rathidu is now engaged in making videos full-time. This has meant that he has also had to get involved in YouTube advertising and marketing and this has immersed him fully into the Social Media Influencer scene.

“I used to follow many YouTubers and Viners,” he explained, “I studied their videos but I didn’t act on what I learnt.” Then, one day, on holiday, Rathidu felt inspired to make a video about a chair in his house which was always covered with clothes. He shot the video and posted it on Facebook. “It went viral.” That was his first video comedy.

Do-It-All -Yourself

It was after this that he started writing his own scripts and shooting them. “I didn’t post videos very frequently as I couldn’t balance it with work,” he explained. “Now, a few friends help me in shooting the more complicated shots,” he said, adding enthusiastically “90% of the videos that I have published are made entirely by me.”

Rathidu doesn’t make up for his characters. “Even for ‘Kanchana’ (Ratta’s wife), I just put on the wig and apply some powder to look a little different.”

His face lit up. “I’m just glad that people watch my videos and enjoy them. I feel awfully blessed and happy.” We asked Rathidu what happened to the character of ‘Kanchana’ as she hasn’t made an appearance in a while.“I started playing the role of Kanchana when I didn’t have a beard,” he explained, laughing “Now it has grown and I had to choose the beard or the character. I chose my beard.” We asked why the character Thaaththa’s hair is white but the beard is black. “For the character of the uncle, I lighten my beard with toothpaste,” he explained, “So, if I make my beard white for Thaaththa’s character, I will have to toothpaste it for every video.”

Being relatable

Rathidu said, “I get affected by what’s happening around me. It can be a humorous incident, a memory, an everyday event or a moment of grief. They get ingrained in my head. So, what I share with the audience in my videos is very applicable and people can definitely relate to the messages.” Some of his fans have commented: “Wow, this is exactly me. This is what I’m dealing with every single day.”

The character of Ratta is mostly influenced by foreign YouTubers and Viners such as Kim Batch, Anvar Jabawi and Logan Paul. Among the local artistes who have inspired him are Kushan Srimal and the famous Gappiya. “I have a lot to learn from actors like Wijaya Nandasiri, Podi Malli and Chooti Malli, too. My strength is in giving a twist and a punch from the script rather than from my acting.”

The local scene

A comedian in Sri Lanka cannot fully depend on YouTube content creations because of the small market. “When I started out, I posted my videos on Facebook as it reached more people than on YouTube.” Once his videos started gaining viewers, he decided to establish his YouTube channel. He has since created 80 videos.

Recently, Rathidu received an invitation to take on a cameo role on the small screen in a drama called No Parking. He believes that one must strive to reach and touch people wherever possible. If a good script comes his way, he would be happy to contribute, regardless of the platform. “When I do a video, I always start with a solid script.”

Comments and collaboration

Today, Ratta is collaborating with prominent artistes such as Kuppa Cinema, Fortune and Sippi. Collaboration is necessary to develop Sri Lanka’s social media industry, Rathidu believes. “There’s actually very little we can do alone.”However, “I feel that I can’t get the kind of punch I want by asking someone else to do it.” Yet, artistes must step outside their comfort zones and try to do something for the betterment of the industry. Rathidu wishes to develop this industry to the point where artistes can put “YouTuber” as their designation in their CVs and get the recognition and respect they deserve. “It’s not a mere social media platform; people actualy rely on it to support their families.”

Rathidu has been blessed as he has received 99% positive comments. Social media audiences in Sri Lanka are very different, he believes. There are genuine fans who appreciate good work. If what is offered is of bad quality or uninteresting, they will criticise. “They wish us well when we take a step forward and they like it when the person who makes them laugh can earn a living from it. However, some fans criticise us when we make it a fulltime profession.” “That’s so irrational.”

Challenges and support

“At times I feel blank and nothing interesting comes to mind,” he said, sharing that he has experienced burnout. “Artistes takes breaks to release stress”, he suggests, “Travel somewhere for a couple of days and let the mind refresh. After that, creativity flows.”

His family has been supportive of his venture into comedy. When he started making videos, he would do them secretly in corners of the house, he laughed. “I never had complaints.” Initially it seemed odd to them that a grown-up was fooling around in front of a camera, but once the videos were released on social media and people started talking about them, his parents realised that there was something worthwhile in his work. Thus, his decision to make a full-time commitment made sense to them. “I didn’t get negative responses,” and that positivity was also a great strength for me.” Rathidu said that he is very sensitive to his family’s opinions. “If I received a comment saying ‘This is a shame on us’, I would have stopped making these videos then.”

The Next Step

Rathidu’s next step is to launch a production house. He hopes that his fans will await more creative content with a professional touch. “YouTube content is in demand,” he said, “Commercials, teledramas and everything that is telecasted on TV is moving to YouTube. TV is becoming obsolete.” Now, many people get their content from platforms such as YouTube and Netflix. “YouTube lets you watch whatever you want, when you want.” Rathidu believes “that TV survives in Sri Lanka because not everyone can afford massive data plans, but someday unlimited data packages will be more affordable.”

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