On Twitter, Ashwin Mushran is "That Guy from That Ad,That TV Show,That Film". But for a movie buff like me, he's a great actor with probably the best caller tune EVER!
Ashwin, however, is more than just an actor. He dons several hats and amongst one of them is his Twitter-self. I have been following him on Twitter for a long time now and his tweets are remarkably different from all the other celebs (he doesn't like being called a celeb though) out there. There's wit, wisdom, fun and lots more.
Following is my interaction with him a few weeks ago where I prodded him about social media (especially Twitter) and how it has helped him. Read on to know more about Ashwin and his views about social media.
1. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Linkedin. Out of these 4 popular social networks out there, which one is your most favourite and why?
Well, at the moment it has to be twitter because it’s an engaging platform plus the fact that you can connect to the news at any time of the day. I follow a lot of news accounts and information accounts. It’s very important for me to be updated with what’s happening in the country, with the world and with people in general. Mainly twitter is about the people you follow not necessarily the people who follow you.
That happens when you make your own timeline interesting by keeping it the way you want, sometimes it’s nice when people follow you back but sometimes they don’t but that’s not what it is about. What matters to me is how I get my engagement. And of course, Facebook is great for keeping in touch with your school friends, college friends, and people you met in the past or for people from around the world but twitter is definitely more engaging.
LinkedIn I don’t really understand it. It is not my kinda thing, it’s mainly to spam your inbox. Youtube is very important because I have a YouTube page for work. I do a lot of voice work so clients, ad companies always refer to my YouTube page. Apart from that I keep some film clips, ad clips etc. which are always available. So instead of sending someone a sample I can always ask them to check it out there.
Plus it’s so easy to assemble and use, one can do so many different things with it, people enjoy watching stuff, why would someone not make use of it?
2.Why do you think social networking platforms are so much addicting?
Nowadays you can access it from anywhere, from your phone, from your tablet, from home. Its not that you have to log on to a desktop computer, turn it on, now everything is instant. So I think the addiction comes from the access. If we weren't so easily connected then I don’t think we would be so addicted.
For me I hardly go on to Facebook and since I'm on it I link my twitter account to Facebook. So it appears that I'm really really busy on Facebook but I'm not but there are a lot of people on Facebook who are not on twitter and I’d like them to see my posts. So I put all my news posts, my political posts and all that goes straight to Facebook thus I'm actually killing two birds with one stone.
Well, There is always so much happening on twitter that sometimes I have to say no to myself from checking. On Sundays apart from the newspapers I get some of my best news links on interesting articles from around the world and not even on the computer you just open it on your phone and begin reading. It’s a little worrying because both you and your wife are both looking at your phones, when you should be talking to each other.
I think all of us are looking at our phones too much and that includes me, so we need to cut that down and may be get a little more social with each other, even though we think we being social online.
3. Social media has brought common people closer to celebrities whom they once thought to be unapproachable. How do you view this change in the dynamics of the fan-celeb equation?
I never happen to considered my self in the celebrity category, what I do happens to be a job and I am lucky that people get to see what I do but I've not grown up with that around me. It’s still something I feel weird to deal with because I'm the same person whether I'm online or in the front of people. But frankly speaking a lot of people in the entertainment industry are finding that they can reach out to people much better.
May be there was something about having the mystery and having an air about you but I think this is good because it gives a lot of entertainment people a chance to be known, who you wouldn't have ever known about because they don’t like to spend money on PR companies or give pictures about parties they went to in the newspapers.
This way they can be themselves, talk about the things they like, the things that are important to them and show people who they really are. I love it when people talk about the film, like you said I loved watching ‘quickgun margin’, it’s important for us to know that because ultimately you guys watch it, people watch it and whether they like it or don’t like it, I still like to know.
Then there are a lot of actors who don’t use social media well, they just post stuff about work, they’ll be silent for months over months but when a movie comes out suddenly they’ll post saying look how wonderful I am, I am in this movie and that. I think sometimes that becomes a little negative for them. It can turn things around for them. It’s so easy for celebrities to make mistakes on social media, one stupid sentence and you are in trouble for a weekend and you have to apologise.
I'm usually careful about what I say, I never abuse online. Even though I don’t hold back from talking about politics and posting other comments because I think it’s important. Sometimes I'm told that you can get arrested and I say for what? For stating my mind? But it does bring people closer, I try and reply to almost everyone, sometimes I miss out obviously, sometimes I'm late in replying but I do reply and try to be as polite as possible.
The top-notch stars, I don’t know how they deal with it, I doubt one gets personal replies from them but minor actors I guess always reply.
4. What is your approach towards social media? What are the goals that you are trying to achieve, professionally and personally, by being on various social media platforms?
Professionally I guess people are more aware of who I am and what I do the different kinds of work I do. There are a lot of actors like me who the industry doesn't really bother about, I’ve done over 25 films but bollywood never really bothers about me. This is the way we can take our PR into our own hands, so we treat Facebook and twitter like our own PR companies, who have allowed us to do what we want.
We make people aware of what we do, who we are. My bio says that guy, yesterday I went to a concert and somebody said you are that guy from that ad, not because he has seen that name but that’s what he said and I am used to that, it’s what I do. I am the actor with no name usually who people recognise and I am ok with that, it doesn’t bother me. I still get my work so I think most importantly its about reaching out to people to show who you are and the different kinds of work you do.
Like I don’t just do film, I do live sketch comedy, improve, I do voice-overs, I do a lot of plays and I think it’s nice for people to know all of that. Then I think they respect you more as an artist. If you didn’t know me then you would watch all the roles I do and not know the kind of person I am, now at least on can relate to the kind of person I am. When it comes to my work I never say my film is fantastic, I just say my film is out go and see it and it’s up-to people to decide.
My secondary goal is to be part of commenting on current affairs, being a part of discussions, talking about what happened in the world today. It is very important to engage and talk about and comment- positively or negatively on situations in the country and I think twitter is an amazing platform if you want to use it like that. So I use social media for two things professionally about work and socially for engaging with society at large.
And people see you a certain way if you talk about current affairs and most of the time I like to talk about current affairs rather than work. What I’ve also noticed is that many people have followed me not because I am an actor but they followed me because of the things I said and later on they've said “ oh you’re the guy who acts in movies also” and I like it like that.
I started tweeting actively only in 2010, when I had about 700-800 followers. But now its up-to 14000 15000 but that’s really nice because you get different people again. There are many people who have many more followers than you, but that doesn't bother me at all. I also myself follow people when I think they are interesting.
Its nice that people follow me for who I am and hopefully the day will come when people will massively follow me for my fame but right now I'm happy with the engagement I have. I am content with the way I'm using both platforms for my professional aspects as well as for my social goals. I try to interlink the two to create a whole.
5. Has social media helped you professionally in any way? Has your presence and regular interaction on social media helped you in getting any work?
I’ve actually hosted a couple of events which have come from it, I’ve done a lot of voice work from the interactions online and movies will come either way but I think the presence online counts because they also know the kind of person I am now. From three years ago people talk to me differently now and it is a lot because they are aware of the kind of stuff that I say on twitter.
I don’t think many people mess with me but may be 5 years ago they would've still tried. The kind of things I say and the kind of things I can say online, makes people react to me differently. But definitely voice work I’ve got, events and shows I’ve got and social media is a very important part of the live shows. I get a lot of fans from there and it’s nice. And I think my standing within the industry has improved because of the way I am online.
I think the perception towards me in the last few years would've changed because of twitter. Not many people from Bollywood are known for commenting on the film industry but I’ve always commented on stuff and not backed down. I intend to keep it that way because it’s my way of reaching out.
6. What in your opinion lead to such a huge (and rapid) growth of social networking?
The internet has no boundaries, it is an open world. Somebody may be in Alaska and somebody may be in Japan and your connected instantly online. And to be able to say what you want to say because everybody likes to show who they are and now social media can do that.
I know other people say that Facebook is the person you want to be, I believe twitter is the person you are because your thoughts come out straight away. Facebook is you put your pictures up, you make them nice, you write your comments and then you upload. twitter is immediate. The intense rise of internet because of the freedom of being able to say, think and present your views online immediately to everyone in the world is the biggest factor for it growing.
Something happens some where in the world may be 5000 miles away, you don’t have to wait for the news papers until next day to tell you, you don’t have to wait for your politicians to say anything to you, you can comment on it right there, right then. I think that it’s something that brings the world together and that is very scary for the government and politicians and hence they react to the internet.
And that’s why India has also has had these reactions in the past. So the main reason is actually the absolute freedom of the internet to say anything. Things that I don’t like, I ignore them. if you take away the freedom of expression from one person you are taking it away from everybody else. One has to remember that freedom of expression comes with other people saying things you don’t like and as long as you understand that I think the internet will always be free.
7. Do you think social media is pulling people away from the real-world interactions?
I do think we are on our phones and our tablets too much sometimes, I keep everything cut down but I’ve met so many people from twitter who I wouldn't have met otherwise, we actually met in real places, on that basis it actually brought some people together.
I make French war around the world, I dance salsa, some times I'm at a salsa festival in another country, I connect with people on Facebook so I know they are going to be there, they know I am going to be there so we meet. You can use social media the way you want to. If you want to step away from reality it’s up to you , if you want to use it more to be a part of the real world then you can use it that way as well. You make the best choice for yourself. I believe that social media is part of culture now but you've got to balance the two.
8. Does social media have the capability to drive social change in India like it did in the Middle East last year?
We are a messed up country, it takes years for things to happen. I think for the first time and in the last few months last year. I think social media has driven some change because people's voices who were never heard before are being heard now.
These 2 girls who were arrested, 5 years ago they would have had to go to court again and again. Today all these people are being taken into account, it was awful what happened but a lot of good came out of it because now the law says that only senior level of cops can decide if it’s sec 66 a or not, earlier any local station cop could do it. Even with regard to the rape cases, so many more rapes are being registered. It’s happened before but more people are talking about it and complaining about it.
And all these politicians and these god men who would say so many idiotic things everyday, now people are taking their words into account so if they say something stupid now, within 5 mins they have to apologise to people. People used to tell me what are you doing, you are sitting at home and making comments and protesting online, but eventually 500 million voices protesting are heard.
In the Namita Joshi case, who began the change.org petitions and collected 5 lakh signatures, so it brought up that 5 lakh people feel that something is bad, then politicians have to look at it in a proper way and say that I can see there is a problem. Social media has provided a new form of protesting, without being hurting any thing, without being violent but still making your voice heard.
In the Arab rising with social media, the messages went out so fast. Even in the Delhi case it not only brought the rich people out but there were regular people out there. And don’t forget India 50 percent of our population is people under 30 and these people are growing up with the internet and social media. So all I can say is better listen.
Of course the government tries to put restrictions and say that only 50 messages allowed at one time etc. However, they cannot stop us from putting it up as our statuses on Facebook or twitter so it’s a great way of getting people together.
9. Social media has given people the power to say whatever they wish and remain anonymous. In your opinion, is this anonymity a boon or bane?
If something has done something really wrong then there is the cyber police to deal with that. I don’t believe in abuse, there are a lot of people on the net with anonymous accounts so where do you draw the line?
If somebody abuses me I block them, yes you can remain anonymous that is up to you but if it leading to something violent and stuff that you know is really wrong then I think it should be taken into account. You should be responsible. Regulations should come from people itself not from a certain act. It comes down to the whole freedom of expression thing. If you stop one you stop for some one else as well.
If you really are a strong person and if you really do have strong views then tell me who you are. But these people are usually scared and petrified that they may get axed from their jobs and their probably right. Having said that I don’t believe that anonymous accounts should not be allowed, that is part of the freedom of expression as well.
You have to take the bad with the good sometimes. Abuse like that and your account should be suspended. These steps should be coming from within the particular company who owns the social media platform. Of course there are people who hide behind these anonymous accounts do unacceptable things like utilise data and crop pictures of other people and misuse them, this must be watched through the system and safeguards must be placed. Our safeguard is reporting and blocking.
If 10,000 people report and block one account then it’ll get suspended right? It’ll get suspended if there is somebody looking at it and asking why so many people have reported it.
10. The government has cracked down on social media quite a few times recently. Especially during the exodus of northeast students from Bangalore. Do you think such behaviour from government is a point of serious concern for everyone who believes in democracy?
They say things and they suddenly find there is this huge power online and so many voices suddenly hit them. I understand there has to be an IT law sometimes I understand about regulations but not regulations for government to do what they wish, it has to be a practical approach. Right now as per the acts that they have, one can say anything and it can be deemed offensive by someone and they can complain about you that should not be the case.
They try to say things about it without understanding how the medium works, but I think they are learning quite quickly how it works. We need more politicians on line and saying things, we need them to have their accounts and be more engaging people. Its our responsibility how we use it and that will also be learnt over a period of time. Mistakes are made as well, mistakes will happen, you will not be able to stop that but on the other hand it does a lot of good as well.
As you've seen from the Delhi rape, it’s bought people together and its made common man really aware of things that are wrong in our society, how we treat our women and that’s also very important. Hopefully we can ask people to stop treating the north-eastern people as outsiders and once that changes a lot of other things will change. Not for the government to do what they wish, that should not be the case, they are learning quite quickly how it works, on the other hand it brought people together, stop treating the north eastern people.
11. Five years from now, which of the present day social media sites do you see dying out and which one will rule the roost? Or will it be some new site altogether?
This is also such a new phenomenon My space has died, Orkut has died, I think twitter and facebook have really got the pulse and how people use these sites. I believe twitter and Facebook will be there, unless another one comes up as a rival, in that case I don’t know. But right now I see these two as the strongest ones and are definitely here to stay.
There are a couple of others that came up like Pinterest, and Google+. Google plus has sort of died and Pinterest is out there but the level of engagement and interaction on these two sights is unmatchable. These two are going to rule the roost unless something else comes up that’s going to give them a run for their money but I don’t think I will have the time to give another network!
I think these two will get stronger I could be eating my words 5 years from now, I think twitter will be more respected, not just prime minister presidents but there will probably be an India account as well. That’s what I believe in at least.
- Nowadays you can access internet from anywhere, from your phone, from your tablet, from home. Its not that you have to log on to a desktop computer, turn it on, now everything is instant. So the addiction comes from the access.
- Social Media gives a lot of entertainment people a chance to be known, who you wouldn't have ever known about because they don’t like to spend money on PR companies or give pictures about parties they went to in the newspapers.
- It’s so easy for celebrities to make mistakes on social media, one stupid sentence and you are in trouble for a weekend and you have to apologise.
- The intense rise of internet because of the freedom of being able to say, think and present your views online immediately to everyone in the world is the biggest factor for it growing.