Digital demigods

Written by Anirudh Vohra | Updated: Oct 26 2014, 07:58am hrs
When a young Shraddha Sharma uploaded her first music videoa cover version of the cult song Main tenu samjhawan ki from the movie Virsaon YouTube on April 30, 2011, it received over six lakh views in just a couple of days. But little did the girl from Dehradun, now 18 years old, realise that she would become a YouTube sensation soon, garnering as many as 20 lakh views across 30-odd videos over the next three years, besides a long-term contract with Universal Music and a few singing assignments for commercials.

Her YouTube channel Shraddharockin now has 1,54,542 subscribers and counting. She released her first album Raastey on March 1 this year at the YouTube FanFest in Mumbai. The idea to upload my songs directly for my viewers came after I had auditioned for several reality shows, but where I only faced rejections. However, within three months (of uploading) I had a viewer base running into millions, and I had uploaded just four videos, says Sharma.

Gone are the days when actors, singers and sportstars enjoyed the title of being the only celebrities around, for social media today has created a new league of stars across genres, be it crooning, cooking or crystal-gazing. Global populism is no more restricted to a lucky few, as social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have created several Justin Biebers out of Toms, Dicks and Harrys from across the country.

Music and entertainment are one of the fastest-growing genres on YouTube and singers like Sharma have shot to fame primarily through this platform. Take, for instance, Mumbai-based indie band, Maati Baani, which has managed to acquire 39,439 subscribers and 12,04,855 views so far on YouTube. Our single Balma is an Indo-French collaboration featuring 11 musicians from five countries, says vocalist Nirali Kartik, one half of the husband-wife band (the other being Kartik Shah, who also plays the guitar and produces the bands songs).

Maati Baani fuses elements of rustic folk, Sufism and different genres of world music with Hindustani, classical, funk and new-age sounds. We like to surprise even ourselves by creating new songs, each unique from the previous, says Kartik.

Comedy is huge too on YouTube, with seven out of 10 of the most popular channels revolving around the genre. In India, comedy is the fastest-growing genre within the TV shows category on the popular video-sharing channel. Recently, YouTube launched Comedy Week that revolved around the comedy content creators on the platform.

Also going viral is The Viral Fever (TVF), an online youth entertainment networkas Anurabh Kumar, its founder, would like to put itwhich has managed to rope in 3,60,628 subscribers and 24,009,048 views till date. Since its inception in 2012 on YouTube, TVF has created popular youth content with humour at its core. TVFs flagship content brand Qtiyapa is now an iconic brand. TVF has a team of over 20 highly qualified and driven members who are crazy about quality content creation. TVF aspires to become one of the top media networks in India and be among the top content creators for youth globally, Kumar says.

On Facebook, too, there has been no dearth of comic celebrities. The Garbage Bins page, for instance, is closing in on six lakh likes already. The comic details the adventures of pre-teen Guddu, his best friend Shaan and the rest of their gang. I dont even know how we got here, says Faisal Mohd, who worked at an STD booth in his hometown Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, before creating Garbage Bin with his friend and business partner Mohd Shah Nawaz in December 2011.

Nawaz was into developing games, while I was interested in working with Flash animation and would make doodles about a mischievous kid either on the laptop or on a notepad, Faisal explains.

When social worker Anna Hazares anti-corruption movement was at its peak, Faisal came up with the idea of creating a game in his support and thats how the Angry Anna game was born. It had Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi battling well-known politicians. The free Web-based game went viral, thanks largely to social media.

Cooking is another category that falls in the top five on YouTube. People are coming to the platform to learn cooking and to make the process easier and enjoyable for themselves. In fact, viewership for cooking content is growing around 40% annually. And this phenomenon is not only restricted to English and Hindi languages; many regional content creators are also emerging.

Nisha Madhulika, a 54-year-old housewife in Noida, became an avid user of the Internet after her passion for cooking led her to launch Nishamadhulika.com in 2007 to share some of her recipes. On her fans demands, she launched her YouTube channel in mid-2011. Her channel is a cooking guide featuring her own recipes, as well as those suggested by her audience of 60,692 subscribers. Recipes range from a simple dal or a peanut chocolate bar snack to exotic dishes such as watermelon rind curry and mango cake. I produce around 20 videos a month and spend around six hours a day working on my recipes and shooting videos, says Madhulika.

As per Gautam Anand, director of content and operations, YouTube, Asia-Pacific, India is a market with versatility of content. In the past few years, we have seen a whole new independent creator ecosystem evolving in the country. In general, cooking, music, Bollywood, entertainment and TV shows are the big categories. Among the fast-growing categories of content, food is number five followed by tech, beauty and fitness.

Anand adds: YouTube has over 1 billion users and were seeing a similar growth in viewers and viewing hours in India. India is among our top partner content countries in the world. The number of views generated by Indian content creators globally is massive, and there are many Indian channels that feature in the global top 25 channels. YouTube in India has over 60 million unique users.

If music is blurring digital boundaries, comedy celebrating our lighter sides and cooking stirring up a social media storm, there is also divine intervention at play here. Meet God, a profile on Twitter whose handle proclaims, Im your dope-ass divinity, trollin with My trinity, droppin top tweets in your immediate vicinity, flingin fly phrases from the fringes of infinity. Followed by celebrities from all over the world such as Farhan Akhtar, Katy Perry, Omar Abdullah and Suhel Seth, among others, God has 1.55 million followers and counting.

No one knows exactly who holds the Twitter handle. In fact, it is considered one of the biggest digital mysteries of the 21st century. But yes, God follows only one Mr Bieber (you heard it right, Justin Bieber)!