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India’s YouTube family

Members of an extended family are making a tidy profit through the video-sharing website by posting content on beauty, cooking and home remedies

  • Arjun Sahu and Shruti Arjun Anand with the rest of the team in the studioImage Credit:
  • Shruti gets her niece Anantya ready for a video for MyMissAnandImage Credit:
  • Nisha Topwal shares recipes from the Bundelkhand and Garhwal region of IndiaImage Credit:
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When Shruti Arjun Anand created her channel on YouTube and uploaded her first video on hairstyles, her plan was to make some friends and overcome her loneliness. Newly-married, she was then living in a suburb of Washington DC and lacked friends to mingle with owing to a limited social circle.

“Unlike India, it’s very different in the United States,” explains the 31-year-old as we meet in her office in an apartment on the outskirts of Delhi. “There is no social pressure and nobody comes to meet you [uninvited].”

She never thought about making money from her vlogging, even less about turning it into an employment opportunity as her husband, Arjun Sahu — a chemical engineer from Delhi IIT — was earning a decent salary and was the primary breadwinner for the family. Today, however, Shruti is the director of Shruti Make up and Beauty Private Limited, an Indian company she set up with her husband in October 2015.

The company runs half a dozen channels — ShrutiArjunAnand, PrettyPriyaTV, CookWithNisha, MyMissAnand, Viral Hairstyle and ViralMehndi — on YouTube, demonstrating makeup, hairstyles, home remedies, beauty tips and how to cook Bundelkhandi and Garhwali dishes.

Operating from a rented three bedroom and basement apartment, the company dishes up 18 videos every week to around 1.5 million subscribers, collecting a tidy profit from YouTube’s advertising revenue and its own brand engagements.

What makes the company unique is that it’s run by a single family. The three women and the little girl featured on the channel videos — Nisha Topwal (CookWithNisha), Priya Mall (PrettyPriyaTV) and Anantya Anand (MyMissAnand) apart from Shruti Arjun Anand in the channel named after her — along with Vishal Vaish, Vikram Singh and Pankaj Topwal taking care of back-end operations are all members of one extended family. And apart from Shruti and Sahu, all the others are paid company employees.

“My side of the family is behind the camera while my wife’s family is in front,” Sahu laughs. A team of two family members handles each channel. What’s more surprising is that most of them quit well-paying jobs to join the company. Shruti, for instance, worked with the Department of Commerce, Erie Insurance and another company in the United States during her three years in Washington.

She vlogged for an hour and a half each in the morning and evening. In April 2013, when she and Sahu decided to move back to India, her channel had around 50,000 subscribers. Since then, it has grown 14-fold and has started making money from YouTube.

Back in India, the couple started MyMissAnand featuring Anantya, the seven-year-old daughter of Shruti’s brother, Ankur Anand and his wife Nisha Topwal. The channel shares new hairstyles, fashion and fun videos from Anantya’s daily routine.

In March last year, Sahu quit his job with NIIT Technologies to devote his entire time to Shruti Makeup and Beauty. He also invited his cousins Vishal Vaish and Vikram Singh to join the company. Vaish was then working as a medical representative in Indore, a city in central India.

Last November the family enterprise launched PrettyPriyaTV with Priya Mall, a 23-year-old cousin of Nisha Topwal as its anchor. A month later, it started CookWithNisha, a channel where Nisha, a 34-year-old former employee of iSOURCe, a multinational corporation, shares recipes from the Bundelkhand and Garhwal region.

Today PrettyPriyaTV, where Priya Mall, a trained lab technician, shares home remedies for skincare and beauty products, has 686,518 subscribers, just about 35,000 less than ShrutiArjunAnand. The two channels are the backbone of the company.

As well as sharing hairstyles and beauty secrets on ShrutiArjunAnand, Shruti — a graduate in computer science — also releases videos of her family weddings, train journeys and shopping trips and even new acquisitions. The mother of a two-year-old daughter Ana, she even shared her pregnancy vlogs on the channel and wants viewers to follow her.

Shruti began shooting her vlogs on a simple video camera she and her husband had bought for capturing special honeymoon moments. They were married in November 2009 and soon travelled to America as Sahu secured an L1 visa.

Since then, the company has moved on to sophisticated camcorders, cameras and lights and even flashy props. The company also makes use of WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram to attract more viewers and subscribers to its channels. According to Sahu, they have 360,000 and 70,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram respectively.

“Every time we upload a new video on YouTube, we share the link with our family members back at Jhansi on WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. Therefore, they become part of our experience. Also if somebody has followed us for five years he would know how we have evolved and would be part of our extended family,” Sahu says. Shruti nods in agreement.

At Shruti Makeup and Beauty, the effort is always to keep the content peppy, positive and decent. “We put out only family content. Our motto is others should feel good about it,” Shruti says.

Sahu says the company’s income fluctuates every month because the viewers and brand engagements vary from video to video. What is obvious from their smiles is that they are earning more now than they did in their previous jobs. Vicky, who partners Nisha in editing her videos, confirms he is making more now than when he was in his medical representative job.

Bouquets and brickbats

The videos produced by Shruti Makeup and Beauty get bouquets as well as brickbats. Shruti says that they have become thick-skinned and don’t bother too much about criticism, and always look for the positive element even in the negative comments.

“After my first videos people called me fat and asked me why I shot the videos in the bathroom. But I did not stop making videos. One should not have a big ego in this profession,” she says, adding that they use filters to block abusive comments.

The YouTube family greatly empathises with film stars, television actors and public figures who are constantly under scrutiny. “We understand what they must be going through,” says Shruti.

Priya Mall says she consults her elders for content on home remedies. She learnt to mix candle wax with mustard oil to prepare a remedy for cracked heels from her grandmother. She says her knowledge of human anatomy from her training as a lab technician also helps her find new remedies.

Initially, Shruti and Nisha found it difficult to shoot with Anantya Anand as the little school-going girl would not sit still for long. Then they devised a way out — every time they have to model a hairstyle or a new dress, they simply play a Hindi film on a mobile phone and hand it over to her.

Other than ShrutiArjunAnand, which is in English, all the company’s YouTube channels are Hindi or Hinglish — Hindi mixed with a smattering of English.

YouTube believes Shruti Arjun Anand’s exceptional family is an example of how it has evolved in India over the years. “It is heartening to see the YouTube content creator ecosystem evolve in India and creators from all parts of India are now embracing YouTube to pursue their passion. This family is a great example of how things are changing in India and certainly presents itself as a unique case,” a YouTube spokesperson told Weekend Review.

The members of the YouTube family believe vlogging has strengthened the bond amongst them, and there is no backbiting and no catfights: It looks like a case of a family that vlogs together stays together.

Narendra Kaushik is a writer based in Uttar Pradesh, India.

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