The name Tharindu Wijesekara may not ring a bell until you associate it with his pseudonym “Gappiya.” This Sri Lanka Youtuber is all the rage. He’s funny, creative and isn’t trying too hard to be Sri Lankan: he just is. His impressions of Sri Lankans and Sri Lankanness is often spot on, whether it’s the local Isspiderman, relationship advice, insanity and love or immigrant problems .
We love how he effortlessly morphs into different characters and personas, whether it’s the rustic types or the trying-to-be-posh types. It’s also refreshing to see how original and relatable his stories are. Roar caught up with this Youtube sensation to find out more about his life, his craft, what makes him tick and what he’s like off camera.
What’s the significance behind the name ‘Gappiya’?
Well, Gappiya is a just a space to express my thoughts. There is no great intention. No specific direction. No filters. Just expressions in form of pictures and sounds. Nothing more, nothing less.
When did it start for ‘Gappiya’?
It all started when Gappiya was born to a middle class family in a dusty town called Maharagama, Sri Lanka 1984. The world started to know about Gappiya with the release of a video called “Foreign Bullshit” in 2012.
What prompted you to start – were you inspired by other Youtubers or did you just have a need to express?
In 2012, I moved to a small country town called Maitland. I couldn’t get a job for a very long time and was feeling very lonely. I didn’t have friends or people to hang out with. I was living with my wife (girlfriend at that time) and spent a lot of time with her family and her friends. I start to see the cultural difference between Australians and Sri Lankans a lot. This made me think. I wanted to express how I feel about this. I think that’s how it all started.
You seem more authentic than other Sri Lankan Youtubers despite living abroad. How do you maintain that level of groundedness with your mother country?
I am still very Sri Lankan. I eat rice every day. I listen to Sri Lankan music. I do pretty much everything an average Sri Lankan would do. The truth is no matter how long you live abroad, no matter how hard you want to forget who you are, you are still YOU. The core remains the same.
Of course, over the years I have changed a lot. I don’t get to speak Sinhala everyday but I still think and act like a Sri Lankan. I can’t change who I am or my connection with my race. So I don’t have to maintain anything. All I am doing is just being me.
We noticed that you act as almost all your characters. What’s the filming process like? Who mans the camera when you’re filming yourself?
I do everything by myself. Occasionally I get my wife to give me a hand if it’s something impossible to do on my own.
First I write a detailed script. Then a storyboard. I plan every single shot and review dialogues, angles, lighting before the actual shooting day. This saves me a lot of pain in the editing room and in most cases it is essential that I have to be the cameraman, light person, sound person, actor and director at the same time. Finally I put everything together in the editing program, add a bit of music…and we are done.
How do you come up with some of your stories, like The Jungie, for instance? Are they based on real experiences?
Yes, The Jungie lady knocked on my door one evening and I did lose my towel. Then she took me to her bedroom…and no, it didn’t happen for real, I was kidding.
All my stories are definitely inspired from real life. Anything I see, hear, experience gets stored inside my mind (happens to all humans – it’s called the subconscious mind). Then it all transform into pictures and sounds (the human brain is pretty amazing).
Could you tell us a bit about the Poson cartoon incident? It created quite a furore online…
Yes, it did. The Poson day never gets to live up to its glory. Usually all the attention goes to Vesak day. When it’s Poson day, people are usually tired from all the celebrations from Vesak month. So I think this year Poson day definitely lived up it’s glory. Thank you, internet.
Do you connect with the larger Youtuber community?
I still haven’t got a chance to collaborate with other YouTubers but this is definitely something I’m interested in. I don’t physically attend any YouTube events since I live far from the city.
What has the response been like? Do people get your brand of humour?
I get both positive and negative feedback. Most people think it’s pretty good, which is pretty good.
Is this your fulltime job or do you have other projects going on?
I spend most of my day making videos. We are not making a living out of it yet. Lilly (my wife) works in a cafe and supports both of us.
Just out of curiosity – do you think you would have reached a similar audience base had you operated out of Sri Lanka?
This is hard to say. I suppose I won’t have the same freedom to create in Sri Lanka as in Australia. As we all know Sri Lanka has a very enclosed culture. Before even start something new, there are plenty of people to say no and can’t. This is a big letdown for young creators. If I had started out in Sri Lanka, I don’t think I’d have the courage to do what I do now. I would probably get an IT job, marry a girl my parents arrange and spend all my time hating my life, my job, my country and especially that famous YouTube guy in Australia for no reason.