“I...don’t need Bollywood or record companies to reach people or popularise my music. I have social media. Through social media, I can reach the entire world.” These were the words of rapper Vivian Fernandes, who goes by his professional name, Divine. That, in a nutshell, defines the power that social media wields today. Such is this power that today you do not need any other medium to reach people across ages, walks of life and political and religious orientations. Celebrities, sportsmen and politicians alike are using social media to reach more people than was ever conceivable before.
The Outlook Social Media Awards come at a time when social media has become an integral part of our everyday life. What we eat, where we go, who we befriend and what we talk about are all being dictated and followed on social media. Outlook celebrates the icons who have used social media to the hilt in pursuing their goals, bringing society much to celebrate in the bargain.
Ulaganayagan’s Eleventh Avatar
Kamalahaasan, OSM Supernova of the year
If it can ever be said of a man that, grandiloquently, as the poet did, that “He contains multitudes”, Kamalahaasan, born Parthasarathi on November 7, 1954, is that man. Modern Tamil history, with its many seamless transitions between culture, cinema and politics, is a field rich with many precedents for one like Kamal. The canvas fairly bristles with titanic figures who have stridden like colossi across the domains. But the thing with Kamalahaasan is that even his filmic personality, his acting craft, seems to revolve around a kind of many-sidedness. He is never one man on screen, as stars are often wont to be. He is often not one man even in one film. His persona is exploding with many personas, disguises, multiple roles, costumes, avatars. He is always turning into someone else. The latest character he has turned into is outside the silver screen. After being actor, producer, director, screenwriter, playback singer, lyricist and dancer, now he has launched a political party, Makkal Needhi Maiam (People’s Justice Centre) in Tamil Nadu. Such incarnations have precedents both glorious and bathetic, but whatever the result, it’s undeniable that a star has evolved into a supernova drawing all eyes in the electoral firmament.
To The Top In A Jiffy
Rajkummar Rao, OSM Entertainer of the year
Rajkummar Rao, 34, born Rajkumar Yadav, is one of the finest actors of his generation. With just eight years in the field and 28 films under his belt, he’s already won great laurels.
Born in Gurgaon, he graduated from Delhi University and then went on to study acting at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. He made his cinematic debut in 2010 with the film Love Sex Aur Dhokha, but his major break came in 2013 with the film Kai Po Che, which got him critical acclaim across the country and established him as a mainstream actor. He further cemented his position in the Indian film industry with his performance in the Hansal Mehta-directed biographical film Shahid (2012)in the same year. In this film, Rao plays the role of Shahid Azmi, a lawyer and activist who was known for defending people accused of terrorism, and was gunned down in 2010. For his portrayal of Azmi, Rao received the Best Actor Award at the National Film Awards. Other award-winning films include Trapped, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Newton. In the latter, which was India’s entry for the Academy Awards last year, he plays a government clerk who tries to organise a fair and free election in an area plagued by Naxals and apathetic voters.
He’s active on social media and uses it to communicate with his fans. It is, he argues, one of the most powerful tools of our time. “We cannot deny the power of social media today. I know people who are famous and have become stars just because of social media; it gives more power to all those people. It also gives very easy access to people to send out their message to the world. You can put out your opinion and your thoughts in a jiffy and the whole world will know it,” he says.
We’ll soon see him in Hansal Mehta’s Omerta, where he plays terrorist Omar Sheikh, the man he met briefly in Shahid while playing the title role.
The Diva of Insta Fitness
Shilpa Shetty, OSM Inspirational Celebrity of the year
There are popular actresses who hold the silver screen in thrall for a generation, set new standards of beauty and ubiquitously smile back from billboards and dorm rooms. Then, as the zeitgeist shifts elsewhere, they fade away, leaving behind a million fragrant memories framed within the words ‘in our time’. Shilpa Shetty is a rare actress to have miraculously escaped that inevitable fate. If, in her heyday in the ’90s and noughties, she was a great beauty (referenced by a visiting US president in Parliament, no less), she is considered so even now; if she had been a style icon then, her dazzling smile can launch a thousand labels even now. Reality TV star, yoga (and karate) expert, author, producer, IPL owner…Shilpa is an inextricable part of Indian show business. With the Inspirational Celebrity of the Year award, OSM recognises an achiever who we believe has just embarked on an enormously successful career.
“I got onto Instagram just for the heck of it and I saw that there were a lot of celebrities and people who use social media just to flaunt their social life. But I thought, why not make use of the platform and play a catalyst in promoting healthy living. So I decided to do stuff around health and just propagate the things that I believe in and the way I lead my life and how I eat on Sundays (and I binge on Sundays). People really caught onto that and I am really happy that it is inspiring to people who think that to maintain a healthy lifestyle or to be a certain size is very hard. But it’s not rocket science.”
Trendmaker In SocMed City
Athiya Shetty, PCJ OSM Fashion Icon of the Year
With her arm in a stylish black sling (reportedly the result of a workout injury) to match her dress, Athiya Shetty stepped up to receive the PCJ OSM Fashion Icon of the Year award. The 25-year-old-actress—a graduate of the New York Film academy, daughter of Sunil Shetty and schoolmate of Shraddha Kapoor and Tiger Shroff—won the Dadasaheb Phalke Excellence Award for her cinematic debut in the 2015 film Hero. It didn’t take long for her to make her mark in the fashion world after that, and she’s graced the covers of magazines including Cosmopolitan and Vogue, while also essaying one of the lead roles in the 2017 film Mubarakan. A foodie who loves to keep fit, she is known for understated dressing that complements her lithe and statuesque figure—and she’s no slouch on social media either, with 1.9 million followers on Instagram!
“I feel we need to use social media in a more positive manner and use it to our advantage: talk about causes that we believe in, talk about causes that need to be spoken about. I feel that social media is such a huge part of our lives. But I feel you have to have a balance as it is minimising human contact and human communication—like having a conversation, being able to enjoy your food rather than taking a picture of your food. You have to have that balance. Someone has to draw a line somewhere. You have to be able to know when to switch off.”
Party’s Just a Tweet Away
Derek O’Brien, OSM Politician of the Year
Derek O’Brien is certainly a crossover star who has made the transition between sundry theatres of action with a quip always at the ready in a speech balloon. Known across the country as one of the finest quiz masters, Derek, who comes from an Anglo-Indian family, is also a public speaker, author and television personality. All the key ingredients for being a politician. He now serves with aplomb as a Rajya Sabha MP from West Bengal and as spokesperson for the Trinamool Congress. A prominent figure on the social media to boot, Derek skilfully uses his Twitter posts to keep his nearly 2 million followers updated on Parliament and the state of West Bengal.
For a man whose first job was as a journalist at Sportsworld magazine, after which came a stint in advertising, that old way with words serves him well. and then started a successful career as a quizmaster.
“Social media plays an important role in ascertaining the mood of the people. One of my goals is to use social media to bust the government’s fake narrative on several important issues. Additionally, social media has given me an opportunity to highlight developments in West Bengal, under the Mamata Banerjee-led government and compare it with the Centre’s achievements,” he says.
For the Love of Cooking
Chef Sanjay Thumma, OSM Foodie/Chef of the year
From scrambling eggs and making dosas for his siblings as a boy in Hyderabad to YouTube superstardom, 48-year-old Vah-Chef Sanjay Thumma has come a long way. He studied at Hyderabad’s Institute of Hotel Management and went on to open his first restaurant, Sizzle India, in Chicago in 1998, following it up with three more over the next seven years. Then he decided to sell off all his businesses in order to dedicate himself to cooking rather than management. He started uploading cooking videos to a YouTube channel, VahChef, in 2007, recreating Indian recipes on camera—and became an instant sensation with millions of viewers. He moved back to India with his family (his wife is also a chef) a year later, and now hosts his own TV cooking show, Vahrevah and maintains a website, vahrevah.com, while continuing to upload videos regularly to his channel, which now has 1.2 million subscribers. With a much-loved screen presence and serious culinary credentials, he won the gold medal in an all-India chefs’ competition. His videos are an inspiration for a number of home cooks aspiring to recreate restaurant-quality dishes. “I got into social media 10 years ago when YouTube was pretty new,” says Sanjay. “I brought in the restaurant recipes for every housewife. It became an instant hit and I became the world’s most watched chef on YouTube! Social media is such a thing that if people like you, they will share and spread the goodness. A lot of chefs have followed my path and embraced social media and YouTube to reach people.” Sanjay is especially popular among the Indian expatriate communities in Europe, Australia and North America.
Fashion on the Go
Santoshi Shetty, OSM Influencer of the Year
Despite her interest in architecture, Santoshi crafted a more fluid, personalised zone than is usual for her ilk. Known for founding the blog The StyleEdge, Mumbai-based Santoshi has accumulated more than 500,000 fans on her Instagram account, notching up awards, including the Elle Blogger of the Year 2016 and the Palladium Spotlight’s Fashion Blogger of the Year 2017. Still pursuing her degree in architecture, she adapts her knack for designing spaces to her personal style. In a Facebook post that went viral last year, she narrated her own story: she was a student who liked to put outfits together and upload pictures to Instagram; as more people started to follow her online, she got her own YouTube channel and then a website, with content that combined her two loves—architecture and fashion. In that Facebook post, she also mentioned the challenges she had to overcome, including skin-colour-based snobbery—she often got comments such as “she’s so dark, how is she a blogger?”—and self-consciousness about a scar on her leg that she’d got from playing football. “I’m here. I’ve been on the cover of magazines, I’ve won awards, I travel solo for work internationally and, most importantly, I’m financially independent. All of this because, I decided to love myself as I am and didn’t decide to wait for acceptance—I demanded it,” she wrote. Social media, she thinks, is the best thing to happen to fashion. “People tend to follow what is there on social media, and fashion is easily followed anywhere. On social media, where it reaches so many people, its scope is even bigger,” she says. “These days social media has taken over the youth, which may not be such a great thing. But I cannot imagine life without social media. One should know how to use it effectively. I can collect certain information and put out my own information for other people.”
Tinder Auntie Cometh
Mallika Dua, OSM Comedy Guru of the year
Mallika Dua is an actress, comedian and writer who has made a name for herself through her social media feeds on Snapchat and Instagram. Better known for her Dubsmash videos and her vibrant Snap-stories as ‘Make-up Didi’, Mallika has successfully used social media to establish herself as a comedian. With her most prominent role as ‘Tinder Auntie’ from the AIB Apps video, Mallika is the embodiment of online comedy content. Her appearances in TVF’s Girlyappa videos have also cemented her position as the go-to queen of hilarity—leading up to her stint as judge on the Great Indian Laughter Challenge.
Before endorsing social media and making a name in comedy, Mallika was a copywriter. Her viral video of Shit People Say: Sarojini Nagar Edition catapulted her to instant stardom on the internet. She launched her own YouTube channel in 2017 and has more than 43,000 subscribers.
Mallika’s videos use satire to deliver messages about today’s reality coupled with a dose of humour. She says comedy is important in life not just for comic relief, but also to say the truth—because the truth is often not palatable for a lot of people unless it is masked. These days, she feels, social media has got too politicised. “This was bound to happen. Anything that is so powerful cannot escape politics because it determines how we are living. I think it’s a good thing. Data leaks and people taking advantage of it aside, it is helping spark so much dialogue and opinion all around,” she says.
Would You Like To Know A Secret?
Priya Varrier, OSM Viral Personality of the Year
Priya Varrier will go down in the history of Indian showbiz as the girl who achieved stardom with the merest suggestion of playful naughtiness—a delicious wink. The young star of the upcoming Malayalam film Oru Adaar Love, Priya Varrier entranced the entire country with that movement of her kohl-lined eye and an innocently mischievous smile. Featured in a promotional clip, that moment, which dragged us all back into the endless romantic possibilities of youth, is now iconic, and rightfully so. The many memes it spawned made it a social media tsunami, swept away millions in its viral tide and made her an instant celebrity. By many accounts, Priya is India’s first pure social media sensation.
Priya, 18, was born and brought up in Punkunnam, Thrissur, Kerala. She started learning classical dance and music at a very young age. Since her childhood, she says with that shy smile, she dreamt of becoming a star. Priya couldn’t have foressen that her slo-mo, hypnotic wooing in the song Manikya Malaraya Poovi in her debut film would make that dream come true. Within a few hours of the song being released, over 6,00,000 people were following her on Instagram. Within two days, 4.3 million people viewed it on YouTube.
Social media, she says, can make a star out of a common man. “My film was just a Malayalam movie, but it has now gone to an international stage just because of social media. I think social media is very important these days. It can make a normal Malayali girl become an international celebrity in just a day. It has the power to transform things dramatically and very quickly. That is the power of social media. If used properly, it can do miracles and get your voice heard across the world. There are no limits.”
But she’s mindful of the disadvantages as well. Everything has two sides, as there is a small part of the youth who become over-involved with social media and let themselves be directed and dictated by it. That is something that has to be checked, Priya feels.
Pitch Perfect When The Grass Is Green
Mithali Raj, OSM SportStar of the Year
Captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, Mithali Dorai Raj, 36, is one of the most highly decorated women cricketers of India. Marquee batsman and inspirational leader, Mithali is women’s cricket’s own ‘Captain Cool’. She has received the Padma Shri as well as the Arjuna Award. Apart from her presence on the cricket field, her online presence continues to be a beacon of hope and inspiration to athletes across the country.
Mithali was born in Jodhpur in Rajasthan to a Tamil family. She started playing cricket at 10; at 17, she was picked for the Indian team. She made her One Day International debut in 1999 against Ireland and played a flawless innings of 114 not out. She made her Test debut in the 2001–02 season against South Africa in Lucknow.
Across the world, Mithali is regarded as one of contemporary women’s cricket’s greatest batsmen. She is the highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket and the only female cricketer to surpass the 6,000 run mark in Women’s One Day International Cricket. She is also the first woman cricketer to score seven consecutive 50s and holds the record for the most number of 50s in ODIs for women. Calmly efficient on the crease, the maestra gives solidity to the batting order.
Social media, she feels, is an important tool to connect with people who do not have access to celebrities. But it has its share of ills. “Well, it comes with its own share of good and bad; there are people who appreciate you for what you have done, there are people who criticise you also—just like both sides of a coin. But, overall, I’d believe that it is good to express your view as well as knowing there are people who appreciate you and recognise the hard work that you are doing. You can always update people who don’t get an opportunity to watch women’s cricket, what is happening in women’s cricket and the calendar of women’s cricket around the globe,” she says.
Pads And The Man
Padman Challenge, OSM Campaign of the Year
The real Padman is a Coimbatorean whose wit is accentuated by his Tamil-flavoured English. 20 years ago, the newlywed A. Muruganantham was branded quite mad when, seeing his wife resorting to filthy rags and newspapers every month, he decided to try making sanitary napkins that were cheap, healthy and effective. After several rounds of trial-and-error, Muruganantham succeeded in his mission, leading to a nationwide social revolution, global recognition and, yes, a biopic. And this has inspired a campaign with celebrities like Aamir Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor and Katrina Kaif posting pictures where they pose with sanitary napkins and effectively using social media to get the message out across the country—the Padman Challenge was a viral success.
Sketchy Neta Is A Hits Machine
Danish Sait, OSM Breakout Star of the Year
Danish Sait, like many of our other awardees, dons many hats. An Indian radio host, emcee, TV presenter, actor and writer, he has successfully trod these diverse paths in the last decade or so. He won gold at The World Championship of Performing Arts, for acting and another vocation—stand up comedy. If you haven’t seen Nograj, his sketch of a typically corrupt politician doing the rounds of social media, you need to update to what’s been trending for a while now.
It all started in Bahrain in 2009 for Danish, who was hosting a radio show for 104.2 FM Radio voice. Soon, he made an upward switch to host in 105.4 Radio Spice in Dubai. Switch to now, and you have one who operates one of India’s biggest SoundCloud accounts. With over 22 million plays, his prank calls, TV presentations and alter egos have made it big globally.
“Recently, a lady went missing in Bangalore. Four days later, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they found her. Social media cannot be ignored. But what is important is what you are doing on social media. You can do good, you can do bad, you can spread hatred, you can make a ruckus out of it all. That is what people have to keep a check. I remember a dialogue from Bajrangi Bhaijan: ‘Nafrat badi asani se failti hai.’ We need to avoid that.”
Keeping It Real, And Viral
Divine, OSM Musician of the Year
The fact that he’s already got Bollywood directors running behind for his biopic only shows that something original’s been a long brewing. Vivian Fernandes aka Divine leaped from the underground scene with the viral, and truly infectious, home produced single Meri Gully Main with fellow rapper Naezy.
Bollywood caught on last year too: the track Paintra, from Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz, which saw Divine collaborate with electronic artiste Nuclea, was an instant hit. Now, filmmaker Zoya Akhtar wants to helm the biopic, starring actor Ranveer Singh.
Divine started his career as an underground rapper in 2011. He began rapping in English, but later switched to Hindi. He was part of the hip hop crew called “Mumbai’s Finest”. In 2014, his song Yeh Mera Bombay won the best video award, given by the Rolling Stone, India.
Speak Truth About Power
Rana Ayyub, OSM Youth Icon of the Year
Rana Ayyub is an investigative journalist and writer. Never afraid to call out the powers that be, she uses social media to keep her followers updated on stories that may get lost in mainstream media.
While working as an investigative reporter for Tehelka, she spent ten months undercover as a film student, carrying out a sting operation in which she spoke to politicians, bureaucrats and police officers to get their uncensored views on what had really happened during the 2002 Gujarat riots—and wore concealed recording equipment all the while. This resulted in a magazine expose and the book The Gujarat Files, which became an instant bestseller when it came out in 2016.
Social media, she feels, can no longer be taken lightly. “Retweeting and liking something is changing the opinion of the country, it’s changing the way people think, it’s changing the storyline on television channels in the evening. And some of us are fighting a lonely battle out there by raising our voice on social media because that is the only way of letting people know of all the work that we are doing,” she says.
But she feels that social media is vulnerable to misuse and ulterior motives, adding, ”You have the syndrome of fake news wherein you receive WhatsApp messages or messages on social media on what is not the truth but is being perceived as the truth. Of course that is a big problem that we need to address. And that’s true of all social media platforms. How do you decide how much to consume and how much not to? I think it is up to the individual’s discretion. I don’t think we can have checks and balances on that, but we can certainly have checks and balances on the kind of stuff that goes onto social media.”
Failing the Fakes
Pratik Sinha, OSM Inspiration of the Year
A former software engineer, Pratik Sinha is the co-founder of Alt News, a website launched in February 2017 to combat the phenomenon of fake news. Alt News has now become the go-to portal for cross-checking any false statements or reports made in the mainstream or social media. Pratik effectively uses social media to promote awareness about fake news. With @Free_thinker as his moniker, Pratik is among the most fearless and vocal champions of democracy and freedom of expression online.
Social media, he thinks, has its pros and cons and needs to be used carefully. “It is a double-edged sword,” he says. “It has democratised opinion. You don’t have to be a leader for sharing your opinion. Today anyone can use social media to put across information and opinions to a wide range of people, which could not be done earlier. It has become a tool for the common man to reach out to the world.”
At the same time, Pratik cautions that social media can be grossly misused. In India, where digital literacy is limited, deliberate misuse for mischievous purposes easily leads to the rapid propagation of misinformation. “It’s not difficult to mislead people on social media. It is so easy to spread propaganda. This happened during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, though at that time it was one-sided. Particularly dangerous are the fake videos that incite hatred on religious lines and can cause havoc in society,” he says.