A look at one of the most original content creators in the Maldives as they nudge Maldivian society into the age of entertainment, one laugh at a time.
It all began when a short video, unassumingly uploaded to YouTube, caught the eyes of Maldivian youth. Titled 'Dhen Vaanee Kihineh?' (What happens next?), the silly sketch parodied the suspenseful buildups in movie climaxes – this one in the form of a one-man football team attempting the ultimate goal – with avid use of facial expressions, ‘slow motion’, dramatic showdown music and a bizarre plot-twist ending.
Little did the group of friends behind the skit know what kind of ball they had sent rolling that day in December 2009 – or how far the name “Space Parade” would reach over the next eight years.
“We were just bored,” chuckled Ahmed ‘Iya’ Iyash over his espresso while, beside him, Mohamed Hursheed shook his head in amusement as they recounted their beginning. “Everyone was bored and we wanted to do something we liked together."
Doing something they liked entailed “fondly insulting each other” and generally making fun of stuff – but this time on camera! Iya and Ahmed Karam, the startup team of Space Parade, came up with the idea, borrowed a video camera and casually called up some buddies to “act” for them.
“A lot of them don’t need much convincing,” Iya said with a laugh.
Their first video was just to lark around with friends. However, after the positive reception 'Dhen Vaanee Kihineh?' received from kids at the annual Hithaanee Camp, the duo decided to go ahead with their new hobby and share their videos on social media. And thus Space Parade was born.
“It’s partly random, partly personal,” mused Iya on why they call themselves Space Parade. “But the gist of it is, space is infinite and full of possibilities. And parades are fun and pretty to look at and very enjoyable.”
Considering the eccentric nature of Space Parade’s witty sketches, it’s certainly a fitting name. It’s also reflected in their creative process, such as coming up with ideas – nearly all of which are spontaneous and disproportionate to Space Parade’s actual capabilities, courtesy of their think-tank Karam.
“He presents an iceberg (sized idea),” Iya said, shaking his head.
“And then we have to cut it down to an ice cube,” finished Hursheed, who is more popularly known by his online moniker Azmyst.
Despite their overly ambitious imaginations, they manage to make it work. With more and more friends becoming regular members of Space Parade, they have blended various ideas to put out the entertaining videos that have amassed them a substantial following on social media.
“We do everything ourselves,” confirmed Iya and Azmyst.
While Iya had started out as the sole cameraman and editor with Karam acting alongside their friends - “Karam had to be on camera; he’s a funny guy!” – their roles diversified as Space Parade grew. Azmyst’s debut brought the magic of VFX and Iya, too, became a familiar face on screen.
However doing everything on their own meant a slew of unforeseen challenges, particularly when shooting pieces for their favourite genre – action/comedy.
With their love for films like 'Hot Shots!' and Jackie Chan classics, the guys of Space Parade enjoy choreographing fight sequences. For the amateurs though, this occasionally led to results like -
“Iya got punched in the face for real,” Azmyst cackled while the victim in question sighed wryly. Recalling the shoot of 'Ice Cream with a Vengeance' featuring one of their earliest fight scenes, the duo highlighted that they had failed to consider technicalities such as proper camera angles. Countless retakes to get a realistic punch later, Iya was sporting an impressive black eye.
“My eye was swelling up but they were like, ‘Hey it looks even better now’,” chuckled Iya, providing a glimpse into the easygoing rapport within the group.
It was thanks to such incidences, however, that Space Parade learned the ropes and figured out techniques. Their improvement shows in each new sketch, and the members are proud of their progress.
“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because we learn a lot,” said Azmyst. “…These are the same things we do in our real-life jobs. I take photographs and shoot videos for a living.”
“And I shoot and edit videos,” added Iya. “…With everything we do [as Space Parade], we try to learn something new.”
Though their increasingly busy lives prevent the whole gang from getting together often, they have not been put off from making videos – sporadically – over the past eight years.
In finding their own style and sense of humour, not only has Space Parade inspired others such as locally famous YouTuber Aal Naseer, who has starred in a number of their productions, but caught the eyes of businesses as well.
It was unprecedented when local company Honey Corner requested a paid commercial for one of their imported products, “Supreme” brand sausages – specifically a Space Parade-style advertisement defying the norm. Surprised but flattered, Space Parade was initially game to do it for free until they recalled they lacked proper equipment. Until then, they had been borrowing from supportive backers, such as local media studio Madhoship, but they figured a good pay cheque could fund at least a video camera.
Their creation was an instant hit. Aired on national television, Space Parade’s outlandish commercial depicting a barbeque in the background of a zany gunfight caught the viewers’ fancy so much that Honey Corner successfully sold out two cargo containers’ worth of sausages.
That pay cheque, along with the prize money won at a short film competition, paid for Space Parade’s own video camera, marking a special milestone.
More commercial deals then followed, notably the ads they created for Interactive Television and Sandwich Baa. They invested all the payments into their productions, from purchasing equipment and props to paying and/or feeding the friends that appear in their skits.
“If we’re getting paid, they’re getting paid,” grinned Iya.
Accounting for production costs and appearance wages also mean Space Parade does not come cheap. However, considering the quality of the work they put into paid videos, Space Parade no longer hesitates to name high prices, which they admitted had scared off potential clients.
Everything has worked out in their favour, though. Reflecting on their past commercial work, Iya and Azmyst attributed their success to clients who were not only unintimidated by the high prices, but willing to step back and not restrict Space Parade’s creative freedom, which is how they work best.
“We share our ideas with clients … but they have no input in the creative process.”
Naturally the reactions to Space Parade have not all been positive. Amongst the hoard of supportive comments they have been receiving since the beginning, there appears the odd contemptuous remark.
The negativity is a mere fly on the windshield for them though. Iya shrugged it off with, “Humour is very subjective.”
Elaborating on the topic, he and Azmyst revealed that they greatly enjoyed and took influences from 'Bahabaru', a satirical comedy series that had aired as a special Ramadan program in the 80’s and 90’s. However, they were not taken with the Maldivian humour that followed the 'Bahabaru' era – they could be watching a film the entire cinema was laughing at without cracking a smile.
“Humour is so subjective, there’s no way everybody would find [one thing] funny or love it,” said Azmyst. “… But sometimes we get really good criticism and we consider those.”
“We got this far because the whole spirit of this was for us to have fun,” added Iya. “Like, if we find something funny, we’d do it … and I think that spirit of it is why people find Space Parade cool.”
Atypically of Space Parade, their most recent videos came after a few months' hiatus. However, the team intends to keep putting out more videos – whenever that may be, even they don’t know – with the hopes of reaching a goal they had not publicly come out with before.
“One of the main reasons we keep up Space Parade is because we want to become good enough to create a feature-length movie at some point of our lives,” announced Azmyst. “Something that’s actually funny and hasn’t been done here.”
“We’re making stuff that we’d want to put in a movie,” continued Iya. “That’s what we’ve been inadvertently doing.”
Though Space Parade is yet unsure of what their dream film would be about, they promised it would be unlike any of the mainstream Maldivian productions.
Until that day comes, fans can always look forward to their future skits – and here, Iya and Azmyst answered the most burning question fans have for Space Parade: is there going to be an 'SPTV 2', a second episode to the fan-favourite television spoof 'SPTV 1'?
“Definitely … no,” said Iya, straight-faced. “But there might be a three,” he cracks with a grin.
Iya: Thanks for being a Space Parade fan. This is totally unprecedented; when we first started this, we didn’t think anyone outside of our friend circle would like [our videos]. But then it took off and the response has been really positive. It’s really humbling. The fans are a big part of why we keep doing this. We appreciate that you guys enjoy our work.
Azmyst: My message is also –
Iya: Hey, don’t copy me, man! This is typical…
Azmyst: So I just want to say everything that he said, but put mine before his.
Iya: I said it first!
Azmyst: Thank you to the fans!