Meet India’s top YouTube stars — they are comedians, musicians, chefs, doctors … and they are all the rage with the millennial generation.
YouTube stardom is a new phenomenon in India. Sharp growth in internet connections, a surge in smart phone sales and the emergence of YouTube role models like AIB and The Viral Factory (TVF) worked as a catalyst. The active internet user base in India nearly trebled from 120 million in 2012 to 343 million in 2015.Meanwhile, the number of smartphones rose from 42 million to 240 million even as prices of the cheapest smartphones dipped from $75 (Rs 4,950) to $45 (Rs 2,970). YouTube has felt the growth first-hand.According to data, in India, every month some 20,000 active YouTube channels upload 3.8 lakh videos, get 9.48 billion views and attract 1.1 crore new subscribers. The average Indian viewer spent 475 minutes watching 79 videos a month in 2015. This surge is reshaping content and viewership and creating an alternate universe of stars and fans.To know about India’s top 10 YouTube stars, read on…
He is India’s top YouTube star. But there is nothing star-like about Tanmay Bhat, cofounder of All India Bakchod (AIB). An oversized body, a wicked grin, an unfussed look and naughty eyes make for a man who could be easily confused for the big bully in school.
For Sahil Khattar, success came early. At 17, he became Chandigarh’s top radio jockey with his programme Love Guru. Early success puffed him up. He started living life king-size. In 2011, Khattar decided to venture out to Mumbai. At home, all hell broke loose. An emotional mother wanted him to be around her. His father wanted him to join his business.Unable to get steady work, he started writing dialogue and exploring acting. It was a period of struggle. While living in a chawl, he would lie to his parents that he was in a two-bedroom flat in the suburb of Bandra. To save a few bucks, he would walk rather than take an auto or bus.The hard work paid off in 2014. Culture Machine, a digital media company, signed him up for a programme they were exploring. They were vetting a format where one would pose questions to people on the streets. For Khattar, used to theatre and theatrics, it was a perfect fit.The channel Being Indian is owned by Culture Machine and the latter takes charge of all the production logistics. Khattar does one video a week. People now recognise him on the streets.
In 2008, Sanjay Thumma decided to reboot his life. A trained chef, he was running his own restaurants in the US. He was short on time, so he sold his restaurants to introspect on what to do next.
His patrons and friends, though, were already beginning to miss his trademark dishes. Many would call for recipes. Then, one day, he decided to upload a few recipe videos on YouTube so that his friends could readily access them. Turned out that it wasn’t just his friends who accessed them. The videos went viral, after which YouTube called him to suggest he should upload more videos and get paid as well.
He moved back to India in 2008 with his family and began uploading his recipes on YouTube. It was mostly a family affair, with Thumma and his wife running the show. Today, he claims, he has become the most watched chef in the world on YouTube. He has landed some brand endorsement deals too.
In 2007, Nisha Madhulika was grappling with the empty nest syndrome. The children had grown up and moved out. She had stopped helping out with her husband’s information technology business. She came across a recipe on the internet. In 2007, she started a blog.
Her husband helped her get started online. By 2011, she had written over 100 recipes. Her blog was getting a lot of traction and often her fans would request her to put out a video. There were initial glitches. Her kitchen as a setting did not work. Then they set up a room with the required props and lighting, with her husband chipping in during shooting, editing and uploading.
With her fan base growing, Madhulika now puts out three recipes a week. She reserves two days of the week for shoots; four days are set aside to research, engage with her followers, and respond to their emails.
Sanam Puri’s affair with music began when he was six. But it didn’t get serious until 2010. That’s when he, along with his brother Samar and two friends Venkat Subramaniyam and Keshav Dhanraj, came to audition for the Times Music Supastars hunt for a pop band.
They nailed it and thus SQS Supastars band was born. Soon they moved to Mumbai, renamed their band SQS Project. In 2013, the band signed up Ben Thomas, who has managed pop stars like Sonu Nigam and Vishal-Shekhar, as manager. Thanks to Thomas, the same year, they got their Bollywood break with the song Dhatt teri ki from Gori Tere Pyaar Mein.
Their YouTube rise was an accident. He had recorded some videos to be pitched to a few agents for live concerts globally. He put them on YouTube, too. A few months later, the band got a cheque from Google of $800. By 2014, they had rebranded the band to the more catchy Sanam.
Besides their YouTube videos, they do about 15 live shows every month. Their ambition is to revive the indie music culture in India, once shaped by bands like Silk Route.
It all started in 2010 when techie Shruti Anand, 30, was in Washington DC, US. On her 90-minute commute to work, she would catch up with a load of “How to” videos on YouTube — how to cook, apply make-up, style hair and the like.
Anand bought make-up kits and began educating herself on technicalities but soon realised most of the products and tips on YouTube were not for Indian skin tones. In 2011, while in between jobs, she filmed a video and uploaded it on YouTube for a lark. She soon made it a weekly habit.
By 2013, Anand and her husband had moved back to India; her YouTube uploads continued, and her popularity was slowly but surely growing.
Her techie husband recently quit his job to build her YouTube channel, and they also have a five-member team. In future, they want to tap into the user base to launch their own product lines and accessories.
In college, Kanan Gill kept himself busy writing funny lyrics and singing silly songs for the comedy rock bands he was a part of. For a career, though, he chose something far more removed from the crazy college days: software engineering.
But the interest in comedy persisted and, when working as a techie, he participated in, and won, competitions like Punchline Bangalore and at the Comedy Store, Mumbai. In 2013, he gave a shot at comedy sketches by quizzing people on the street.
He tried his hand at music videos, too. In 2014, all doubts were put to rest when he got a chance to work in an improvised sketch comedy show, The Living Room, on Comedy Central. His new project which he did along with YouTuber Biswa Kalyan Rath — Pretentious Movie Reviews, satirical takes on Bollywood — was well received. The same year, Only Much Louder (OML), which managed just AIB then, reached out to him.
Gill soon quit his job and plunged headlong into his new venture. Today, Gill does a range of work, evenly split between online and offline.
In 2007, Hyderabad-based Ranjit Kumar was a programmer who, like most of his tribe, was earning well and leading a more than comfortable life. The only problem? He was bored to death. To relieve the ennui, he started reviewing gadgets. What started as textbased reviews evolved into videos, which he duly uploaded on You-Tube.
In the first year, he hardly got any views and just 1,600 subscribers. He persevered, uploading six videos a week. Things started to change around 2014, recalls the 38-year-old. Now, he adds 800-900 subscribers a month. Doing everything by himself, he spends 10-14 hours a day working on his videos and engaging with his followers.
It took him roughly two years to break even and about three years to start making money.
Every Saturday at 7 pm, he has live Q&A sessions, with his followers tweeting questions to him. Most of his followers are college students and young, tech-savvy professionals who want to buy gadgets. Kumar’s growing following has been noticed by tech product firms.
While studying medicine around 2007, Vikram Yadav would often use the internet and online forums to seek answers and understand issues from global experts. In 2009, when he graduated, he felt it was payback time. So he began to upload videos on YouTube about stuff he had researched or a medical problem he had encountered, along with treatments and outcomes.
A hobby has now turned into a full-fledged passion and also an income-generator for this Moradabad-based doctor. A one-man army, he uploads two videos a week.
His followers, mostly non-Indians, come from all over the world — especially the US, UK and Japan.