An Interview with Parody Blogger, Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala
The Wikipedia entry for Rakesh Jhunjhunwala describes him as an equity investor in India, who manages his own portfolio as a partner in his asset management firm, Rare Enterprises. However this isn’t the first piece of information that comes your way when you Google ‘Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’. A parody blog that goes by the name of ‘The Secret Journal of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’ occupies the better part of the Google search.
The blog greets you with a cheeky tagline of ‘I always knew I was going to be rich. I never doubted it for a minute’. The sidebar features a picture of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala captioned ‘The Market is my Alter. I am Its God. Anyone want to form an alliance?’ The associated Twitter account proudly proclaims that its owner invented Twitter and has achieved Omni God Mode.
Nobody knows who the writer of this blog and these tweets really is. But he is popular and his blogposts often go viral. Elusive as he is, a chat-only interview throws up some interesting insights into the life of an anonymous, parody blogger. Presenting the Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala:
When & how did the Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala start?
“I’ve been writing online since 2005. I had been reading the Fake Steve Jobs blog and I liked it a lot. Then I thought something along those lines might be fun for an Indian Audience. So I started writing the Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala blog in 2008 and around August 2009, I started to use Twitter. Over the first few months the readership grew steadily. It was a shot in the dark and I was having fun writing it. So I continued.
My blog is powered by Blogger. I use a lot of images so there’s Photobucket also. I use Tweetdeck and Twitter mobile to tweet.”
Why Rakesh Jhunjhunwala?
“My work is related to the stock market and the corporate world. I consider Rakesh Jhunjhunwala to be my hero. He is pretty much a God in the stock markets. And he is a mega deal despite not being a cricketer or movie star. His presence is pervasive beyond the stock market.
As a character, he was perfect for the type of personality I wanted to portray on the blog. He is boisterous and fit into the egoistic persona I envisioned. He has his own way of thinking. Also, he is a tycoon with an opinion on other areas of life like politics, sports and movies. Basically, Jhunjhunwala is an entertaining personality.
So if a guy like him started to blog, it would make for a fun read. For me, it was natural to pick him.”
How do you find material on your muse to be able to create an alter ego?
“People in the markets talk about him and what he’s buying or selling or generally doing. I know that Rakesh Jhunjhunwala likes to drink. Often after market hours, he goes to Geoffrey’s Pub in Bombay. I would often either go there myself or talk to people who have had conversations with him. But none of them (not even my own family) knows that I’m the fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala writer. It’s been that way for four years.”
When it comes to readers, has anonymity worked for or against Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala?
“For four years I haven’t met a single soul that I’ve interacted with, through the blog or Twitter. It’s not hard to be anonymous on the internet. I use a different email address from my personal one. I’ve tried Skype but it doesn’t work for me. Twitter is easier because there are many more anonymous people and parody accounts so it is more acceptable.
At the end of the day people enjoy reading good content online and whether it comes from a real account or an anonymous one does not matter so much. If people are having fun and I’m having fun, then the line between anonymity and being open blurs.
Most readers have liked it and understand that it is intended to be humorous and entertaining. That said, I get my share of critics and trolls.
There are some fans of (the original) Rakesh Jhunjhunwala who are infuriated that someone is parodying a great man online. They make their displeasure well-known. One guy just wouldn’t stop taking my case. Every post of mine, was met with hate by him. He’d abuse me a lot and blame me for parodying Rakesh Jhunjhunwala as it were a crime. I ignored him till he got tired of trolling me. That was a long time ago when the blog was still new. But characters like this keep popping up from time to time. Repeated trollage led me to institute a site policy.”
Let’s consider Brand Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. You’ve achieved the kind of visibility and engagement that is the envy of a professional social media outfit. How?
“That is a hard question to answer. It takes time to build a brand online. I didn’t start off trying to create a brand. I just wanted to have fun with my writing and my tweets. I hoped that if I had fun, my readers would too.
In the initial days, people who were tuned into the markets started to talk about it. People stumbled across the blog and then started posting links on message boards and forums, mailing posts to each other. I was in the know because I work in the same area. When it was new, the Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala was hot on office buzz among those who read blogs. There was speculation on whether I was the real Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, which helped build interest.
Then I wrote a post about how Deve Gowda was greater than Barack Obama, which really pushed the blog out further than it had ever been. This was the post which basically put my blog on the map as it were. It caught the attention of people outside business circles and stock markets. In that sense, it was my first big ‘hit’.
Rashmi Bansal linked to the blog, which brought it a lot of attention. After that, business journalist, Sucheta Dalal, who exposed the Harshad Mehta scam, also mentioned my blog on her website. Soon other bloggers also started linking to my blog and it started growing from there.
I try and update the blog as and when possible. Tweeting regularly also helps to gain a readership. My blog and my Twitter account are linked. I plug every blogpost on Twitter. The Facebook Page is a mechanical feed of my tweets. I’ve set it up so people who use Facebook and not Twitter can read content that I tweet, from within their accounts. This way I connect to Facebook users too. When I write for magazines and websites, I insist that they include links to my blog and Twitter account or publish URLs.”
What kind of work opportunities has Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala afforded you?
“The model that suits me best is where I am paid to write for a publication which is not interested in who I am but in what I write. Magazines and newspapers ask me for an opinion piece now and then. Some offer a weekly column.
HT Brunch were launching an initiative to include content from people on the web, who were not part of mainstream media. They were looking for bloggers like me, with a decent following. When they approached me, I told them that I could not write under my own name and that I wanted a link to my site and Twitter handle in every column. Also that I would only deal with people that I had managed a certain level of trust with.
It was a risk for a company like that, with a big readership to take a punt on a guy like me. But they understood that I’ve been lucky to have a decent readership of my own, built over the years. So they offered me a weekly post on their website.
It is basically a humour column. I can choose my own topics as long as they meet the editorial criteria and are funny. Both parties own the content but it can only be published under the Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala name. Reposting does not happen, even on my own blog because it is exclusively for HT Brunch.”
“I’ve had to turn down writing opportunities because I can’t tell people who I am. Once, I was asked to be part of a web show. I told them that I could only do it over email and would not be able to meet them or share my voice. But they needed to meet to get to know my ideas.
Some people want to create comedy shows for the net so they asked if I could meet them for brainstorming and be part of the creative process. Since I can’t meet, let alone talk to them, I have had to turn such offers down.
What’s more, many of these need bank details and other such information. I am only willing to get paid by Paypal and other methods which don’t allow the other party to know who I am. People are still comfortable doing things a certain way. If they can’t Skype with me, then it is difficult for them to see themselves doing business with an anonymous guy.”
Has the real Rakesh Jhunjhunwala ever acknowledged your existence?
“I have it from reliable sources that the real Rakesh Jhunjhunwala does read my blog. Journalist friends have interviewed and written about him. When specifically asked if he reads, he has replied that he does and that he finds it funny. I think it’s pretty cool that Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is one of the readers of the Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala blog.”
Are there any legal ramifications of impersonating/parodying a living person online? What steps have you taken to protect yourself from these?
“Impersonation and parody are different things. I do not claim to be the real Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. My blog makes it clear and my Twitter account carries a disclaimer too. My intention is to parody Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, to entertain people, not cheat them out of their money!”
What are your future plans for Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala?
“I have had two book offers but nothing substantial from either, from a creative or monetary perspective. Someday, I intend to write a book under my real name. Perhaps my experience as Fake Rakesh Jhunjhunwala will help.”