How Indian web stars are using social media to become the voice of a frustrated generation

Anupama Hegde
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Indian web stars

A lot has been said about millennials and their addiction to social media, although one cannot possibly fathom the positive change it has brought about by bringing not only common strangers closer together, but also their idols, from celebrities to politicians!

It was not too long ago that mainstream media was the main source of news for the millennials of India. You got your news from the same source your parents did, and this source was a one-way street.

Frustrated with the state of the country? There wasn’t much you could do except read endless newspaper articles about corrupt politicians.

Education system getting you down? You just had to suck it up and do what was expected of you - study.

But now, things are changing. And the source of change is unexpected - Indian stand-up comedy.

What’s comedy got to do with it?

All India Bakchod (AIB) rose to fame as a quirky comedy collective, but it has grown into so much more than that. AIB’s news show - ‘On Air With AIB’ - literally has ‘Comedy in Tragedy’ as its tagline. The viewer demographic is young, the AIB guys are young - everything about the show screams ‘youth’.

But if you’re about to associate youth with frivolity, think again. ‘On Air With AIB’ has covered everything from Punjab’s drug problem to Diwali-appropriate safety measures (yes, that’s an important issue too). And all of these issues were discussed with the help of jokes, puns, wit, sarcasm and my personal favourite, witty sarcasm!

Tragedy is easier to digest when encased in comedy. And nobody understood that better than AIB.

Why is the web where its at?

While the first season of the ‘On Air With AIB’ was telecast on Star World, the second season was a pure HotStar product. The web became the meeting ground for comedians and millennials to air their grievances and talk about the issues that mattered - with minimal censorship. This was truly a two-way street.

Need more proof that the web is the new place to be for thought-provoking content? Each episode of The Viral Fever’s web series, ‘Permanent Roommates’, averaged about 1 million viewers. How many of those million read ‘The Times of India’ daily? I’m no statistician, but I’m sure the number is a lot less.

How do comedy, the Internet and the Indian youth combine on social media, to bring about real change?

It boils down to three things.

Complete honesty and candour

Social media is not a place where you can hide behind fake claims and false promises for long. And comedians and web stars are nothing if not honest.

Take AIB’s Rohan Joshi, for example. He dropped out of engineering college (equivalent to blasphemy in many Indian families!) to pursue a comedy career. And guess what? He has no regrets, and was completely honest about it on social media. So honest, he received Instagram DMs from students whose lives he had changed. Such is the power of honesty, only amplified through a channel like Instagram where Joshi has almost 200,000 followers.

Rohan Joshi is honest about his failures, and he wants you to be too


Source: Rohan Joshi official Instagram

Fresh, up-to-date and trending content

Social media moves at the speed of lightning, and so do today’s comedians. Whether it is something as trivial as Aishwarya Rai wearing a lurid shade of lipstick at Cannes or a senseless national event like last year’s riots in South India, the Indian Comedy Collectives have their finger on the pulse.

And the youth? Those fast-paced millennials who do not have time to wait till ‘tomorrow morning’ to crack open a newspaper? They love the bite-size, witty social media updates that comedians deliver in spades. After all, nothing is more embarrassing than appearing to be clueless about the latest Twitter trending topic with your friends - or worse, on social media.

Comedian Mallika Dua isn’t afraid to share her opinion about a recent tragedy on social media


Source: Mallika Dua official Facebook

Constant engagement and interaction

Try commenting on one of Priyanka Chopra’s Instagram posts. It is highly unlikely that you will receive a reply. At best, you might be treated to a generic response from her manager.

Now try engaging with a comedian on, say, Twitter. He or she might not only reply, but also engage with you further! Doesn’t this seem like an actual conversation between friends who are recommending music to each other?

One of Rohan Joshi’s followers interacts with him, and gets a conversation going


Source: Twitter

The point is - be relatable, and people will relate to you. It is as simple as that. Comedians in India understand this more than any celebrity with an army of fans and fan clubs. And since social media is all about engagement, comedians on social media are surely an engaged bunch.

So, comedians in India have risen to fame through a three-pronged strategy on social media. Except, it isn’t a strategy. Yes, comedians are also celebrities with managers and PR considerations. But their social media presence is anything but calculated. Why are they fast becoming the voice of a frustrated generation? Well, simply because they are as frustrated as we are - and not afraid to talk openly about it.

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