It was the “dead city” image associated with Islamabad that Syed Muzamil Hasan Zaidi wanted to change when he started the “A Day in Islamabad” project.
When Zaidi, 22, looked up “Islamabad” on YouTube, the search results were mostly videos of politicians fighting on political talk shows. He decided to change that.
Over a period of three weeks, him and his friends took around 15,000 photos of Islamabad and edited them to create a time-lapse video that covered life in the federal capital over 24 hours.
Released in June 2012, “A Day in Islamabad” went viral on Pakistan’s social networks. It got 30,000 views in just 48 hours, and within three months, it was one of the top three search results for “Islamabad” on YouTube.
In September, Zaidi came up with another project: “22 Random Acts of Kindness”. Inspired by a similar video by an American woman, he spent his 22nd birthday performing deeds such as distributing balloons at a local orphanage and handing out appreciation letters to nurses and policemen around Islamabad. This video got half a million views on YouTube.
Zaidi, who studies computer science at the FAST University in Islamabad, already had a platform — a Facebook page by the name of Lolz Studios which he started in November 2010 — but the videos brought him unprecedented fame.
People recognise Zaidi in public places now; his admirers walk up to him and appreciate his work, he has a fair share of stalkers, his projects have gained international attention and the Lolz Studios Facebook page has more than 18,000 likes.
In short, Zaidi has become a social media mini-celebrity.
“I never anticipated it. Trust me,” Zaidi said. “The response has been extremely overwhelming.”
From a photography page to a “life blog”, Zaidi’s Lolz Studios enterprise has gone through several phases. He started the page in 2010 after being pushed by friends who wanted him to promote his photography skills. “There was no objective, no mission statement at the start,” he said.
Fresh out of A levels, Zaidi decided to take a year off from studies after a failed attempt at attending college in Karachi. His first project, titled “500 days of Lolz”, was a-picture-a-day assignment.
Right around that time, he fell sick with Dengue fever and Typhoid simultaneously. During the recovery period, he spent a lot of time online. He started closely observing online Pakistani content and people’s feedback to it.
The two pictures featured here are part of the “500 days of Lolz” project. PHOTO: COURTESY MUZAMIL ZAIDI
“I got to know what people like and dislike. What to target and what not to,” he said. “I definitely devised a system.”
Consistent formatting, not tagging people in posts, not asking them to share his content and posting unique content were part of the system he started applying to his own posts.
The observations also led Zaidi to a realisation: Online Pakistanis respond better to messages of hope. He adopted “hope” as the theme of Lolz Studios.
The “500 days of Lolz” photographs, the 22 random acts video and an earlier project where Zaidi and his friends got 400 people to smile for camera in Islamabad within one hour all seem to be examples of this central theme.
“Yaar, kuch nahi badalnay wala” is a common refrain even among the privileged Pakistanis who are active on social media, according to Zaidi. He does not believe in large-scale changes, but thinks social media can be used to alter such social attitudes.
“It’s simple: if we remain hopeless, we can never change,” Zaidi said.
He thinks social media can provide an environment where patriotism and social change can be made “cool” again.
He started Lolz Studios as a solo project, but now has a six-member team that shares his vision.
The team is currently busy with the “Imagine” campaign. It’s an attempt to appreciate policemen, nurses, security guards and teachers. Through videos, letters and flash mobs, the campaign would ask people to imagine themselves in the shoes of these professionals and understand the difficulties they face on a daily basis.
Perhaps, as a result of the campaign, some people would start taking some personal responsibility for social change, Zaidi hopes.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2012.