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‘I Am Living In The World I Always Dreamed Of’

Twinkle Khanna is a columnist, author, interior designer and actor. She chats with Prachi Pinglay-Plumber on the sci-fi she read as a 15-year-old, the first book of ­fiction she has penned and everything in between.

How hard is it to be constantly spontaneous and witty in your writing?

My way of looking at life is not straightforward; it’s whimsical. I think people find me funny because sometimes the truth is actually funny. We cloak it with so many layers and bec­ome sanctimonious about it. Recently, I was asked why I didn’t change my surname, I just said I am married, not branded, but people thought it was a witty reply. It was just the truth. I am not a small firm being taken over by a big corporation, so I have to change my logo. That was my logic.

Has the social media phenomenon grown on you?

I love Twitter. Here I get pieces of information quickly, and I also get myriad viewpoints rather than a one-sided view from a particular newspaper. Here I have got a topic and 11 viewpoints and I can judge for myself.

Despite writing in lighter vein, you are often talking about very serious subjects... 

Do you think it can be an accident? There are things which bother me, especially when it comes to gender equality. It is subliminal, it is rampant. It is to a level where even ‘liberated’ people don’t realise that perhaps their point of view is not of equality. And it’s not just in our country. So yes, it deeply affects me. But when you are preaching, nobody is listening. When you make them laugh, make them see how absurd something is, the way they look at it is altered forever. It works.

Do you feel scrutinised because of your background—daughter of superstars, married to a superstar?

She is from Bollywood, how can she speak like this, how can she write, does she read? I got that a lot, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. Am I under pressure? No. That is the good thing about getting older. You stop trying to prove anything. You just do what you please and enjoy it. Now you are living on, well, not exactly borrowed but extended time. Had I bothered how people would think, I would not have written that first column.

Do people expect you to be witty all the time?

No, people don’t because I crack jokes anyway. I am not a performing seal. In your writing, you are tapping into the part that is “the best” in you. But what you are also filters through in your writing­—your prejudices, your bitterness. I am not a pretentious person.

Are you comfortable with the rapid tech-driven changes in the way we produce and consume information?

I have been reading sci-fi since I was 15. All these things that are here now were already there in the books written way back in the 1960s. I am living in the world that I always dreamed of. I am still not living in a world where you can teleport matter from one place to ­another just by atoms. We haven’t reached there yet.

Your next book will be out soon...

All I can tell you now is that it will be out sometime in December. And it isn’t Mrs Funnybones Part 2. It is a work of fiction. There’s a little bit of a leap there.

It is believed that Bollywood stars don’t stick their neck out, they don’t speak out...

I don’t think that is true. Last year, they have spoken about things and got into trouble. Some people are diplomatic, some people are outspoken, but the next generation is very clear. People are speaking their mind out. People are worried about other things, ­besides their own careers. It’s not accurate to say that they don’t speak out. Not anymore.

It Pays To Be E-Visionary

Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Business person of the Year

Like a majority of people from small towns, Vijay Shekhar Sharma knew Aligarh and its environs. But he had bigger ambitions, and did exceedingly well in his studies. A topper throughout, he raced through school at 14 and came to Delhi to join an engineering college. Since he was underage, he had to wait for a year before he joined the Delhi College of Engineering.

Sharma considers it a privilege to be exposed to computers early in college and calls himself a first-generation internet consumer. While still in college, he wanted to start an internet business. Soon, he lau­nched a company, turned it into a success, and sold it to a media firm. In 2010, during the smartphone revolution, consumers were inc­reasingly using their phones to download content. “I had a Eureka moment—I saw iTunes and Webstore, but found that India did not have any online payment system,” he says. It was a leap of faith att­empt and PayTM was born, aimed at giving users an online payment experience. Today, PayTM has a customer base of 140 million and is doing payments worth $4 billion a year with revenue of just under Rs 1,000 crore. Sharma feels that social media has reached a stage where people will look at it more than a newspaper.

“I started as a consumer of social media and became a creator of content. The best part is that it is not editorially curated. There is a raw beauty to it,” says Sharma. Today, Sharma is a heavy user and content creator on social media for his company. He says he uses it individually and posts his thought processes on it. Its most important job, he feels, is to influence people. For Sharma, social media is an excellent mode for customer feedback. As such, he has put in systems to utilise social media to connect with his customers directly. Today, PayTM’s customer care is on social media and Sharma encourages all his teammates to be on social media to connect directly with people. “Social media gives us important business feedback and ideas about lines of business for us,” he says. In future, feels Sharma, social media will be an important element to also get an insight about what people really want from a particular business. “Social media is the most consumed media and all brands use it. Today, perceptions are created out of social media and not out of traditional media,” says Sharma.

Now, PayTM launches a campaign on social media, looks at what is relevant and then launches it on TV. It may not be far when campaigns may be launched only on social media, as that is what catches the real pulse of the people, feels Vijay.

—Arindam Mukherjee

The Turnaround Man

Suresh Narayanan, Quick response team of the Year

Suresh Narayanan is today one of the most important persons in the Nestle ecosystem and has earned the sobriquet of ‘turnaround man’ for his expertise in handling crisis and tricky situations and turning them around.

“I see challenges as opportunities. The best in a human being comes out in adversity,” says Narayanan

His first assignment in professional life was with Hindustan Lever Limited (now Hindustan Unilever), where he was managing a small animal feed business for the company. He got his first brush with crisis when the company shut down its factory in Ahmedabad and relocated to Baroda.

Narayanan joined Nestle in 1999, just after a management change, and was immediately given charge of sales and the responsibility to set up the company’s chilled dairy business. The next few years at Nestle saw him contribute much to the company’s growth.

After over four years at Nestle, he was sent to the Philippines, but within four months he was brought back to India, where Nestle was facing one of its biggest global crises: the ban on Maggi noodles. This was a big challenge as it was not an issue with a competitor but with the regulator. What happened thereafter is history.

It opened a big chapter of Nestle in social media. This is when, he says, the level of engagement of the company with the consumers increased manifold and social media played a big role in this. “Social media is a direct link with our consumers. It is very person-to-person and you can get an instant feedback. The core target of our company is the younger generation and they engage through social media. So Nestle is clearly becoming more internet savvy,” he says.

What is more important, he says, is that social media enables his company to reach a much larger audience and a more focused audience. “Thanks to social media today, the anthropological trait of the consumer has changed. Social media has changed the paradigm of marketing. Earlier, we used to look a psychographics, geo­graphies and demographics. All that is gone. Now, we use social media to know where to target a product,” he says. The challenge though, he feels, would be to have a leadership that understands how to effectively use social media for change and growth.

A heavy user of WhatsApp and LinkedIn, Narayanan feels that going forward, social media will be the single most differentiating factor for targeting and focus of marketing, creating content for consumers and engaging them in a more captive way. And since it is dynamic and one gets a response in seconds it will be the biggest fabric to bind the seller and customer to achieve a common goal.

The Uncommon Storyteller

Unlike a majority of people in power, Kerala’s finance minister, Dr T.M. Thomas Isaac, does not wear any attitude on his sleeves. At the end of his day at the secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, he prefers to casually join a group of employees leaving the office to his parked car at the entrance instead of hopping into a beacon-fitted car.

The minister’s Facebook page ­appears as grounded. Like a journal written in earnest, his posts in social media are about his everyday ordinary encounters with people. 

Simple, straightforward and peppered with original ­humour, Isaac’s Facebook posts have given to his communications with his followers a personal touch. “I do not preach. I just share my experiences,” says Isaac. “I tell stories of people I meet and give them space. People are ­interested in reading such stories. It is a very ­important way of communicating.”

During Kerala’s heated election campaign earlier this year, excerpts from Isaac’s Facebook post read like this: “May 14.  I met Mahesh while I was campaigning in Kalavoor market area. Mahesh is 12 years old. He’s a fifth standard student. From the time I started campaigning here, he has been following me. His job is to sell lottery tickets. With a laugh, he takes a bunch of tickets from his bag tucked under his arm and says ‘Today’s ticket! ‘Why aren’t you in school,’ I ask. ‘I sell lottery tickets after class,’ he says, ‘and now, isn’t it vacation time?’

“While seeking votes, I ferret out more information from Mahesh. Abandoned by his parents, he now lives with his grandparents and his elder sister who works at a petrol pump. His sister’s inc­ome is the mainstay for the family and Mahesh sells around 150 tickets per day. He is like a mature householder. Finally, when we part Mahesh says, ‘When you become minister please inc­rease the commission for lottery sellers. We are the ones who sell the tickets.’ Before Mahesh could bargain
further, I say goodbye. After election, I must go to see him and his family.”

Isaac’s joined Facebook in 2011, during the election campaign. Towards the end of 2012, he used it effectively to highlight his efforts to clean up his constituency through his campaign called ‘Clean Home, Clean City’ on social media. His posts made people take ­notice in no time. With the gradual rise in the number of his followers, he went on to become one of the most popular politicians on social media in Kerala.

Isaac has also used Facebook efficiently during the various agitations and struggles he has participated in. “When the unorganised salesgirls of a textile shop went on strike, it was not reported by the mainstream media. I got involved and shared their struggles on FB. When the owners refused to budge from their stand, I called for a boycott of the shop. Finally, they ­relented,” says Isaac.

Another struggle was highlighted after coir workers were dismissed in large numbers in the state in 2015. As the president of the coir workers union, Isaac led the protest march from Vaikom to Thiruvananthapuram. During the agitation in front of the secretariat, Isaac ­befriended a young peanut seller named K. Arun Kumar, who also happened to be an engineering student. The 20-year-old was pitching in to help his father, who is an auto-rickshaw driver. Isaac’s post went viral and was reported widely by the mainstream media.

Such insightful posts, highlighting the travails of the common man, have kept increasing the number of his followers on social media.

—Minu Ittyipe

Everybody ‘Likes’ This Collector Bro

In the early days of creating the Facebook public page ‘Collector Kozhikode’ in February, 2015, N. Prasanth, the district collector, did not know what to expect. At that time, other DC pages had few followers. So, when the page crossed 5,000 page likes, his office cheered. It was a major milestone. Weeks later, Prasanth visited the government-run Mental Health Centre and was shocked by its miserable condition. He asked the superintendent for a wishlist and was given a list of essential items like cots, buckets etc.

Knowing well that the official route would be long, he put up the list on FB. Within two weeks, items worth Rs 4 lakh reached his off­ice. “That’s when I realised how effective the social media platform is,” says Prasanth.

Then, Prashant invited volunteers to come with acoustic equipment to the Kozhikode beach for a ‘Drum Circle’. “Since inmates of the government children’s home had finished their exams, I thought I’d take them for an outing on the beach. I gave the call on the FB page at 9 pm, asking people to come at 6 pm the next day. People drove from far-off places such as Banga­lore and Thrissur. Even bands like Oorali and Thykoodam Bridge came by.”

Hailed as ‘Collector Bro’ for his noble efforts, Prasanth thinks that direct interactions with people distinguish social media from traditional media. He handles the FB page himself and responds to questions. The catchy titles of different initiatives, such as Tere Mere Beach Mein, Kozhipedia, Hey Auto, Yo Appooppa, and all his peppy posts are bereft of any bureaucratese.
In a post, Prasanth has issued an appeal to samaritans to support poor kids who need funds for education. The administration, which had so far concentrated on government institutions, now reached out to individuals through social media. “If anybody wants to help educate a child, we will find a match. We will do proper screening to ensure that the help reaches the deserving kid. Social media has helped me connect and help people connect to each other,” he said.

The blog Compassionate Kozhikode enables one to donate in kind. Prasanth has made it clear that no cash will be collected or pictures taken of the donor. “The community has to reach out to the people. When we launched Operation Sulaimani to eradicate hunger in the city, I got a call from a rich businessman settled in the Gulf who was willing to donate Rs 1.25 crore for the initiative but I had to decline because we believed in crowd-sourcing. Under this initiative, people put money into drop boxes while we distribute coupons among the needy for meals at the chosen restaurant. Those with the coupons are treated like any other customer. at the restaurant.”

— Minu Ittyipe

This Baker Goes Well ­Beyond A Dozen

Shivesh Bhatia’s first encounter with baking wasn’t an ideal one. During a family gathering, as he and his cousins sat reminiscing about their B’s famous chocolate cake, they decided to bake cupcakes with a Betty Crocker cake mix. The experiment left Shivesh with a batch of burnt cupcakes, but a firm resolve to master baking.

Bhatia calls himself a self-made baker and, needless to say, those burnt cupcakes weren’t his last. Yet, not many reach where the 20-year-old political science student from Delhi University has. He started his experiments from his kitchen—a workstation he uses still. As more people began to try his sugary delights, a friend advised him to post pictures of his cakes on Instagram. A novice at social media, Shivesh started by clicking and posting everything, but soon enough, he got the hang of it and started his own blog, Bake with Shivesh. As his viewership grew, more people started asking for his recipes. His easy-to-follow recipes caught the attention of companies and other food bloggers and soon his business was soaring.

Shivesh’s blog was noticed and applauded by the likes of American writer and businesswoman Martha Stewart. What he likes the most about the medium, says Shivesh, is how easy it has become to meet new people, especially other food bloggers, and have fun exchanging recipes and new ways of baking.

Shivesh prefers choosing his online platforms. Twitter and YouTube were never his forte; he believes Instagram suits his interest more. He decided to commercialise his Instagram acc­ount a year ago and has since received offers such as campaigns for Amazon, Foodhall and Flipkart. “A few of my blogger friends asked me to join Twitter, but I never really took to it,” he says. Barring the intentionally provocative ones, Shivesh replies to every text message he receives. Though most of the feedback is positive, Shivesh is no stranger to trolls­—from the mean to the absurd. His theory to deal with this is simple—ignore and carry on.

Shivesh isn’t sure whether to take up baking professionally, but he definitely wants to give it a shot. He plans to go to culinary school after he graduates, but believes nothing is set in stone. Baking, he says, will remain a passion, whether or not it becomes a career choice. 

— Arushi Bedi

‘Fighting For The Right Cause’

Ajay Sukumaran talks to actor-activist Siddharth, who does not fight shy of raising social issues off screen
It’s not often that film stars speak out plainly. And Siddharth Suryanarayan, or just Siddharth, is one of those who does not shy away. Sample this tweet from him just three months ago, when the horrors of stalking were in the headlines: “We’ve been selling a terrible dream in our films for long. That any man can get the woman he wants just by wanting her enough. Must change!”

Similar concerns were expressed by many outside the film industry but Siddharth’s was a rare voice from within. “When a woman stalks a man in our films she’s a vamp. When a man does it he is a hero. It’s a complicated discussion. But it needs to be had,” went his tweet. Another recent episode—two medical students flinging a dog off the top of a building—too got him into action, re-tweeting posts from people who were trying to track down the offenders.

“I respond to issues that mean something to me. I say something when I think it’s counterproductive to stay silent,” he tells Outlook. How do people respond to his observations? “What people say doesn’t usually matter as long as my instinct tells me I’m right. Bad days get worse when unnecessary negativity comes in.”

The Rang De Basanti star, who has been on a winning streak in Tamil cinema of late, revealed another side of himself last year when his hometown Chennai was battered by torrents of rain. Siddharth, along with radio jockey and actor Balaji Patturaj (see adjoining panel), were co-ordinating relief work in Chennai and Cuddalore using social media to reach hundreds of volunteers.

“None of us went into that week with expectations. We were ­reacting to a crisis, a calamity we had not seen before except on television or in the movies,” says Siddharth. Were they surprised that they could bring together so many people who wanted to help? “The question of being surprised does not even arise. Balaji and I felt the only thing to do was react. The reaction manifested in us using social media to mobilise resources and people.”

The initiative, Chennai Micro, he says, led Balaji and himself, along with all their volunteers to set up a trust to help rehabilitate flood affected individuals. “I am not an NGO worker or a philanthropist. The floods reinforced the values my parents and my life have taught me. To do what is right. And to do what it takes to help people when they need it most.” The social media, says the plain-speaking actor, helped in “making enough noise for a strangely disinterested national media to wake up and take notice”.

How does he deal with trolls? Pat comes the reply: “I don’t. To react is to feed the devil. It’s best to let them die of being neglected.”

Creating A Flood Of ­Relief Work

RJ Balaji calls himself a ‘shy type, share auto’ guy. It’s probably tough for anyone to believe how a man who can tickle people by rattling off comic situations on radio, who once ran a prank-call show and is now a busy actor can call himself shy. Share auto? Well, that was how he travelled to work in Chennai every day. Needless to say, the experiences on those auto rides worked themselves into radio waves.

Last year, when Chennai was submerged under rain ­waters that broke a 100-year-old record, Balaji and a few friends were driving around in two big cars at midnight to help stranded people. “After we did it for four to five hours, we returned to a friend’s place, where we found about 100 boys waiting for us. Even (actor) Siddharth was there. We shifted everyone to my studio...by afternoon, there were thousands of people outside the FM station, offering to help,” says the radio jockey. “By the second day, we had some five centres and about 8,000 volunteers turned up. It became a movement that lasted 10-15 days.” That’s how Chennai Micro, a crowd-sourcing initiative, began.

Social media, he says, helped in a big way during the floods, because phone lines were down. The response was unexpected, he says, because people were venturing out onto the roads, offering to help rather than just contributing money.

Chennai Micro, the crowd-sourced effort for which Balaji and Siddharth and others later collaborated with two NGOs, began with medical camps in Chennai and Cuddalore. The volunteers are close to building 15 houses for the very poor and have also cleaned up about 1,500 to 2,000 acres of agricultural fields near Neyveli. “Because of Chennai Micro, we rea­ched people who wanted to work. I just have to post it on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll see hundreds of volunteers reaching there in no time,” he says. In recent months volunteers have done small activities, all through social media. He recalls how, over a weekend, it was possible to raise Rs 15 lakh for a frisbee team representing India at a world championship. “I realised the ­medium can be effectively used as long as you use it for meaningful purposes,” he says.

— Ajay Sukumaran

A Crusader’s Platform

Ashok Khemka, Bureaucrat of the Year

Ashok Khemka is known for having exposed cases of all­eged high-profile corruption, such as the Robert Varda-DLF land deals and the pesticide scam in Haryana. But last month, he took up another worthy cudgel. Travelling on a Rajdhani Express from Delhi to Allahabad, he found the train dirty, food unsatisfactory and had to endure a delay of about 13 hours. But he couldn’t get any complaint book on the train. “The staff kept making excuses and even promised me a special dinner. But they just wouldn’t give me the book.”

At his wit’s end, the principal secretary in the science and technology department of the Haryana government decided to tweet to Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu. “@sure­shpprabhu Travelling in 12424 DBRT Rajdhani from Delhi to Allahabad. Poor food and not as per menu. Complaint book not provided.” Later, he tweeted again, “Got complaint book after 5 hours at 8:10 pm. Registered the complaint. Thanks.”

Khemka believes social media should be used as an eff­ective tool to improve government-public interaction. He himself remains accessible to people through his account. “When I was handling transport, people would give me direct feedback on overloading of vehicles. When I handled archaeology, they provided information on encroachments around monuments. I took action in all these cases,” he said.

Khemka has also not hesitated to speak up on issues of public welfare, as he did in a tweet after the railway ministry’s recent decision to introduce surge pricing in premier trains. In a profession where plainspeak isn’t a virtue, it is not surprising that Khemka has been transferred 46 times in the past 25 years. He sums up the dilemma of a bureaucrat who is outspoken, that too on social media, with an Urdu saying: Mera qatil hi mera munsif hai (My murderer is my judge). “In our case, it is especially difficult because our employer, the government, also happens to be the judge of our critical views. But one needs to understand, corruption is neither part of government policy nor action. So my fight against corruption should not be seen as being anti-government.” Khemka, however, admits it would be a lie to say that there is no fear in speaking the truth. “I am scared about losing my job but I alw­ays strive to overcome it,” he said.

 — Anoo Bhuyan

Anything But An Armchair Activist

Randeep Hooda, Good Samaritan of the Year

Social media never gripped Randeep Hooda in the manner it has so many members of the entertainment ­industry. The successful 40-year-old actor prefers to indulge his audience through his acting skills more than his celebrity life online.
 Hooda’s association with social media began a few years ago, when he was spending time by his ailing grandmother’s side. “I took to it out of curiosity more than anything else,” he says.

But he makes it clear that he doesn’t believe in blindly following the latest trends. On being asked the different social media platforms he is active on, he is prompt to say “all the old ones”, adding, almost as an afterthought, how he’d never get on to a platform because it was the latest fad.

The actor is acutely aware of the ­dichotomous nature of social media, where people are quick to express an opinion but, more often than not, do nothing about it in person. His almost stubborn need to stay away from this “armchair activism,” as he puts it, has made him limit his interaction mostly to opinions outside the ­entertainment industry. “People are so fast to comment on happenings, but it’s quite obvious they haven’t thought their argument through,” he says.

For him, social media is a way to showcase not Hooda the actor, but Hooda the human being. He says that actors are often stereotyped as faces that have no right to have an opinion about the things that matter. “That’s what needs to be broken.”

This is why he makes it a point to practise what he preaches. Almost everything Hooda talks about on social media, be it his ­interests in animal protection or his opinions about his hometown Haryana, he tends to put to action. “It annoys me how not only common people but politicians also believe that somehow tweeting about something manifests in action,” he says.

The importance and reach of the ­medium, though, isn’t lost on the actor. What he cherishes the most is the ­approachability of the medium. He ­enjoys the ease with which one can connect with like-minded people. 

Hooda considers social media to be a “non-entertainment platform for an ­entertainer” such as himself. Yet, as most ­actors, he too feels the pressure of the medium. “Today, It has become so important to voice one’s opinion on trending matters even if you might not have much to say,” he says

Yet, Hooda still has some faith in the ­medium and how it’s changed the level as well as manner in which people choose to discuss social issues. As for responsibility, he says that awards such as the Lloyd-Outlook Social Media (OSM) awards will ­encourage people to be ­responsible while having an opinion, something he bel­ieves is clearly lacking within the space at the moment.

— Arushi Bedi

Freewheeling Melody

Shirley Setia, Musician of the Year

“Singing was never a career choice for me. In fact, until four years ago, I never sang on a public platform. My interaction with music was limited to humming along to pop songs, something friends and family always enjoyed and encouraged. While growing up in New Zealand, the only way I had access to music was through the internet. A huge part of my career flowed from social media. What started as an amateur recording, sitting in my pyjamas signing Tum hi ho, became a viral video.  I uploaded it at 1:00 a.m. and went to bed without expecting it to go viral or thinking of music as a full-time profession.

My dad is an entrepreneur while my mom is a homemaker and an interior designer. No one in my family had even the remotest association with music. But social media is a strange thing. A month or two after my first video, relatives back in India started tagging me in posts on Facebook. That was my first lesson in social media and how, sometimes, you simply cannot control it.

My journey as a singer is different from that of most within Bollywood. A digital sensation at first! I’ve grown as a singer and as a person. What I cherish most about this journey is the relationship I’ve been able to build with my fans. I call them Team Shirley...my biggest support system; truly like an extended family. Just the other day, I was walking on the streets of Mumbai and a guy on a bike stopped and gushed about how he was a huge fan of my latest original video, Koi Shor. This easy connect with fans is something only social media platforms can give me.

Before the internet, for someone like me to carve a career in Bollywood while being in New Zealand, would have never been possible. Social media has become an irreplaceable aspect for asp­iring singers, it’s an alternate medium to connect with a fan base that sees you as one of their own. It’s also a way to make a mark in the industry and be acknowledged by experts. The array of med­iums offered today, be it YouTube, Facebook Live, Instagram or Twitter, helped me connect with fans and show them how my life is no different from theirs. People tend to put celebrities on a pedestal of perfection—social media for me breaks that barrier!

Opportunities come from everywhere, sometimes the most unex­pected places, OSM being one such. How often does it happen that a mainstream publication takes an initiative to honour all the hard work put in by people on social media? It encourages more people to follow suit. After all, social media is the future.” 

— As told to Arushi Bedi


Food For Passion

Pankaj Bhadouria, Kitchen king of the Year

Talk to Pankaj Bhadouria and two things become instantly clear—her all-absorbing love for food and her outgoing persona. The first winner of Masterchef India, now 40,  has been cooking since she was 10. Born to a Punjabi father and a Bengali mother in Lucknow, Bhadouria had the opportunity to try cuisines from all over the country. Both her parents, she says, are excellent cooks and preparing meals has always been a family activity. Yet, she never thought of taking up cooking as a career and went on to become an English teacher at a school. But the passion never died and one day she lined up for the Masterchef India auditions. Her interaction with social media started only after she won the title. After her car­eer as a chef took off in 2010, invitations to showcase her skills, from lectures at Cambridge to book deals, started coming and it became imperative for her to have a social media presence.

Bhadouria belongs to a rare breed of celebrities who now boasts of a presence not only on television but also new media. It was her students who were res­ponsible for her initial brush with social media, as they made Facebook page on her to support her during the Masterchef days. After her success on the show, Pankaj’s husband started her FB page for business. Together, they subsequently started dabbling in other platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. Pankaj took to social media like fish to water. “The connect with people you find on social media is something you never experience with television,” she says.

Pankaj and her husband now make it a point to personally reply to almost every message that comes their way on social media. “I started receiving messages from people about how even a simple recipe I had posted had made their dinner party a hit,” she says. “The gratification one feels on receiving such messages is unparalleled.”

So buzzing did her social media presence become that when she opened her own culinary school in Lucknow a few years ago, she had no trouble getting her up and running. Most people had already heard of her through Masterchef but others came in bec­ause of her FB videos and Instagram.

Lloyd-OSM, Pankaj feels, it’s a brilliant ini­tiative and a start for many more to follow. “Such awards are a great way to bring to light people who are extremely talented and provide them with a chance to do even better,” she says. The award has her excited. “It’s always great to get appreciation, especially when it has the public’s weight behind it.” 

— Arushi Bedi

Aunty Extraordinaire

Ssumier S Pasricha, Humour king of the Year

With the onset of social media, when people you had not heard  from in years and also people you had not heard of at all  started surfacing, Ssumier S. Pasricha died a ‘social death’, only to be reborn on social media in a new avatar—our well-known, next-door Punjabi neighbour Pammi Aunty. Pasricha jumped onto the MBA-turned-actor bandwagon and quit his well-paying job in Australia, a decision his family was not happy about.

In an industry with countless struggling ­actors, all vying for recognition, Pasricha aka Pammi Aunty found it aplenty in a matter of a few months. “I have always loved being in touch with people, and social media, when it came, was the perfect way to do it,” says Pasricha. Pammi Aunty happened to Pasricha through  Snapchat, where he discovered what he named the ‘Pammi Aunty’ filter, which allowed him to transform into a hip aunty. Pammi Aunty was born out of boredom, and an innate ability to mock and rant. “I was doing it for my friends. I did not realise when it got shared, and liked, and when my followers increased,” says Pasricha.

On her 1st month birthday, Rishi Kapoor retweeted Pammy Aunti, asking if anyone knew who she was. It was then that Pasricha knew the talkative Punjabi aunty, with her thick accent, and needless advice and gossip was going to be a phenomenon. “I was getting tweets and messages from people about how I was part of their lives, how I put a smile on their lips at the end of a long day, and how they are alive because of Pammi Aunty,” recalls Pasricha.

After Snapchat removed that filter, Pasricha realised he needed to do some shopping to help resurrect Pammi Aunty from her deathbed. A towel, a set of colourful rollers, and big glittery glasses did it. From Snapchat, he moved to other social media applications which gave Pammi Aunty more time. The popular aunty now has 7-minute screen time.

What makes her tick? “It’s clean comedy. Pammi Aunty captures a generation that is fading away slowly,” says Pasricha.

Pammi Aunty does not drink or talk in foul language and her qualities distinguish her persona from the horde of comedians out there. And Pasricha is very protective of her too. “I do all the shooting and make-up myself, all on the phone—a Samsung SX,” he says.

For a character that wasn’t planned, Pammi Aunty is on the roll. “I never even planned to do comedy,” exclaims Pasricha who now has big endorsements like Harpic and iPhone 7.

Pammi Aunty is also part of Comedy Bachao, which airs on Colours TV. He feels great to be awarded the ‘Humour King of the Year’ at the Lloyd-Outlook Social Media Awards. “I am obliged. It is my first award, and I take it as my responsibility to do better,” he adds.

— Stuti Agarwal

Picture Perfect

Ajay Sood, Shutterbug of the Year

Among the very few people who have the fortune of saying that they left a successful career to chase their passion is Ajay Sood. After working in advertising for 27 years, Sood decided six years ago that it was time to quit and go where his heart always was: photography. A self-taught lensman, Sood specialises in travel photography. His page, Travelure, is one of the most visited travel photography pages in the country.

The understanding of social media, though, didn’t come easy to Sood. The challenge of using social media to his advantage began during his advertising years, when the technology was still new and most people were trying to adjust to what he calls the “internet nerds”. But he knew that it would be ­impossible to stay off the medium and decided to start small—a website and a Twitter handle.

The onsets of websites such as Instagram and Snapchat had ushered in an era where almost everyone who owned a DSLR claimed to be pros. For this reason, making a mark in the virtual world was initially a frustrating experience. His initial instinct was to post everything and anything.

With time, he decided that his strategy would have to be more focussed. He decided to limit the quantity of his product and focus on niche platforms. He worked on travel photography and started concentrating on hunting for like-minded people to share his craft through mediums such as Triber, a website that allows you to share content with people with common ­interests. Soon, his following on most platforms started growing organically. He started collaborating with travel houses and other organisations and business started soaring.

For most photographers who want to make a mark on the web, Sood says it is important to first build on their credentials outside of the web and then play to the strengths of ­social media. This strategy, he says, will bring the people who want to do business with you themselves, instead of the other way round. He also says that one needs to choose the appropriate medium. After all, a still photographer cannot make it big through YouTube.

— Arushi Bedi


‘I Don’t Draw A Line Between Work And Personal Life’

Part of a generation that witnessed the birth of social media, and saw it grow through infancy to the ogre that it has become, Scherezade Shroff made a judicious decision to quit her modelling car­eer and tap into the potential of this goldmine. Turning beauty blogger to all those eager onlookers on YouTube Success didn’t take long and she now has multiple channels. She talks to Arushi Bedi about her online success story.

Tell us a little about how you started blogging.

Honestly, I never planned to be a YouTuber or a blogger. I’ve always given advice on fashion and beauty and a few friends asked me to start a blog since it was a cool thing back then. I was ext­remely apprehensive since I hated writing and still do, which is why the blog was more pictorial and interactive. Blogging to me was simply a way to add information on the internet by using my knowledge of fashion and beauty. I was modelling fulltime back then, but around the same time a network that manages YouTube channels ­approached me and said they wanted me to be the face of a new channel they were launching on fashion and beauty. I worked for them for about 8-9 months before realising that this was something I wanted to do full time.

Tell us about your channels and the philosophy behind your content.

My blog started as a beauty and travel channel, but has evolved into being an extension of my life. Now, I talk about everything. I recently did videos on how to save money and how to be independent for women. I do a lot of sketches because I get requests for them.

YouTubers face a huge challenge in deciding how much of their personal lives they put on the medium. How do you balance this?

I’ve never been someone who is conscious in front of a camera. While working on content, I have a general idea when I start and then mostly go with the flow after the camera is on. I like my videos to look real. Nothing is staged.

How do you use different social media platforms to your advantage?

Different platforms on the internet are simply an extension of my YouTube channel. I do handle all my platforms myself and make it a point to reply to each tweet or each comment on my video. What you see on my Twitter and Instagram is ­actually how the day unfolds for me and I reply and interact with my audience on the go.

How do you feel awards such as Lloyd-OSM will affect the social media circuit?

Three years ago, when I started, people didn’t even know what we do. It’s a big thing to be nominated for public awards and a great validation that we are nominated amongst our contemporaries. It’s even more important to see that the content we create is important to people.

‘Social Media Is Here To Stay And Evolve’

Mariellen Ward, Traveller of the Year

Mariellen Ward is a travel writer, a digital storyteller, best known for her travel blog Breathedreamgo.com, a blog about meaningful adventure travel inspired by extensive travels in India. She divides time ­between Toronto and Delhi, writes for many publications and has ­founded WeGoSolo, an online site for solo female travellers. She talks to Stuti Agarwal about life as a travel blogger.

When did travel and the social media come together for you?

It was during a whimsical trip to India in 2005, a six-month journey of self-discovery. I decided to blog about it. I signed up for a site called Travelblog.org and religiously blogged twice a week for all the six months. I remember going to any cyber cafe I found, writing, and uploading photos from a tiny camera. A process that was painfully slow. Over time, people started to subscribe to my page, comment, and engage with me. It was an eye-opener—to write, get instant feedback, and be able to connect with people. It was a whole new world, and I took to it immediately.

Any interesting social media incident in the last 10 years?

Only recently, a television channel, wanting to increase tourism from the USA, ran an online story about India, and posted my photo alongside. I’m Canadian for one, and another, they used my photo without permission or credit. I made a comment about it on Twitter, and 700 people liked, retweeted it, forcing the channel to add my Twitter handle to the photo caption. They still didn’t ­acknowledge that I’m not American.

You’ve been nominated, and have won the Lloyd-Outlook Social Media Award in the Traveller of the Year category. How do you feel?
I am thrilled even to be nominated. Breathedreamgo.com has been a labour of love. I have never worked harder on anything in my life, and it is nice to be recognised. Being able to make a living from it would be nice. It’s unfortunate that the work of writers, bloggers and other creative people is not always valued. I hope winning this will help support my plans to make Breathedreamgo.com bigger and better.


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