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Jasmeet Raina stars in Late Bloomer.Crave

Shortly after releasing a YouTube video more than five years ago, Jasmeet Raina – popularly known by his handle Jus Reign – seemingly disappeared off the internet. The video, a defence of the popular Indian music label and movie studio T-Series, which was embroiled in an online rivalry with Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie, racked more than two million views.

In industry parlance, the video went viral. But then Raina just vanished. No announcements. No explanations. Not even a cryptic post for onlookers to decipher. Just radio silence. His followers slowly started noticing that he was no longer posting videos on any of his social media platforms including YouTube, Instagram and Vine. (At its peak, his YouTube channel reportedly had a million subscribers.) Speculations abounded.

So what happened?

“That’s a question I get all the time,” Raina says in an interview in Toronto. “I just don’t know how to answer.”

The short answer though, as he puts it: He needed to step back from his frantic career and “re-evaluate life.” Raina started on the internet at a young age, spent his entire 20s making content there and, he acknowledges, became worn down by the demands of the digital world.

“You’re always going, going, going,” he says. “This industry encourages you to just keep doing, doing, doing. Eventually that can kind of take a toll and catch up with you.”

Sitting in the Bell Media office space in downtown Queen Street West, Raina is dressed all in black: turban, button-down shirt and corduroy pants. The deadpan humour he was known for still lurks in his responses. For the most part, he exudes a zen-like attitude, pausing to consider his answers while doing the media rounds to promote his coming eight-part original comedy series on Crave called Late Bloomer, premiering Friday.

That’s the other reason he took a break – to focus on a show for a new medium, without the distractions of his success through social media.

Inspired in part by his own life, Late Bloomer follows content creator Jasmeet Dutta (Raina), who is trying to balance his plans for success with familial, community and cultural expectations. In the first episode entitled Nudes, Jasmeet’s laptop gets stolen, along with sensitive information. In the next episode, How To Be Viral, Jasmeet jumps through hoops on both business and personal fronts as he tries to take his career to the next level.

There was no announcement of his social media break because that just takes away the power from the act, says Raina.

“I’ve just been like that with everything I’ve done. I don’t ever declare when I’m working on something. I’ve always been guarded in that sense. I never want anybody to prematurely watch anything I’m working on either – until it’s done,” he says.

“If people want to make the announcement, that’s cool, too. I know we live in this world where people are always expecting a video or vlog, and I just don’t feel connected to that medium in that way any more. I just grew out of that space.”

The decision to exit social media didn’t come easily, given the waves of success he was riding in the years leading up to his departure. In 2015, he was one of Much Digital Studios’ first content creators and among his achievements was co-hosting the red carpet at the Much Music Video Awards. His commentaries on race and pop culture found appeal outside the community scene, making yet another case for more inclusion of diverse voices in mainstream Western media. There were in-depth magazine profiles, and flights in and out of Los Angeles in search of the right collaboration or project.

“People around me were like, that’s insane. Why would you step away from this machine, essentially, that you’ve built?” he says.

There was a feeling of being boxed in by his online image, however. People expected him to constantly play the role of the class clown, while he considers himself more of an observer. If he had the resources, he would have tried to make a traditional sketch comedy show.

“I never really like the labels of an influencer or content creator. … I just wanted to make stuff I personally would enjoy watching,” he says.

He was equally uneasy being called a comedian, and is now apprehensive about how viewers will react to Late Bloomer. “I don’t know if people are going to react like, this guy isn’t funny any more, it’s just boring and emotional. I had that judgment of myself. But there’s a lot of beauty and richness, and a whole spectrum of feeling things as a human. It’s cool to just make art. That’s just the kind of artist or creator that I am.”

When he took a social media break in 2018, Raina gave himself a year to create the show, writing “pages and pages” of notes, before putting together a pitch deck. The world he created was informed by deep conversations he had with his parents, understanding their life stories versus parodying their quirks, delving into topics like colonization and intergenerational trauma. Therapy also helped. Used to creating a YouTube episode within two to three weeks, he thought he would get a show on air by 2020. But then the pandemic hit. “Life just had other plans,” he says.

However, the delay also allowed Raina to be more in control of the process.

“There are actual Sikh characters in the show, like turban-wearing Sikhs. … Sometimes we had to do street casting. And I know it’s a bit of a risk. Why not go with actors that have experience because this is a TV set? Not just some YouTube video,” he says. “As a creator, finding the right characters was the most special thing. That required a little time, attention and more risk. But I think it was worth it.”

With the imminent launch of the show, Raina has reactivated his Instagram account, with hindsight in mind.

“I don’t think I’m gonna just put my life out there as much as I used to. I think some people, some things, you just have to experience for yourself. And I wish I told the younger version of me that,” he says. “I’d like to believe I have a much healthier relationship with social media now. I’ve only been on Instagram for barely a month. So I don’t know.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

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