What it takes to be an online star
With over 180 million Indians watching videos on their phones, according to data from a 2017 YouTube survey, it’s clear that the entertainment industry is undergoing a digital transformation. Here’s a look at the challenges that four professionals in the business face
Mithila Palkar, 24
“I am still getting used to being recognized on the streets,” says actor Mithila Palkar, best known for her roles in the web series Girl In The City and Little Things. She catapulted to success when her version of the Cups song, popularized by Anna Kendrick in the 2012 movie Pitch Perfect, on her YouTube channel, went viral. Palkar’s version, set to the traditional Marathi song Hi Chaal Turu Turu, has garnered over three million views so far.
How she got here: It took Palkar a while to convince her family that she wanted to pursue a career in acting— most members of her family work in the fields of science and accounts. “I did science at the junior college level but switched to a bachelor’s in mass media at MMK College, Bandra,” she says.After graduating in 2013, she auditioned for her first role with Quasar Padamsee of QTP Productions, a theatre company. She didn’t get the part, but she did get a job backstage. Padamsee offered her a job managing their Thespo theatre festival.
Palkar’s real break came when writer Kartik Krishnan cast her on News Darshan, FilterCopy’s news satire show. This was followed by Bindaas’ Girl In The City and Dice Media’s Little Things, the web series that cemented her online fame.
Skills needed: Palkar says the ability to experiment in front of the camera is key. “I don’t really overthink my characters.
The camera comes on and I am on. Acting on a digital platform is similar to the big screen,” says Palkar—except for the scale.
Biggest challenge: “I’ve done over 100 auditions, but I was lucky to stumble on to the internet as it was growing. Because, in film, people are not looking at casting completely unknown faces as lead roles,” she says.
Work wisdom: To pursue something as unconventional as the performing arts, what you need most is resilience and persistence. The struggle can get to you, but you have to keep going.
Money matters: According to Palkar, you could earn anything from Rs5,000-8,000 per day shooting a web series.
Mayank Sharma, 36
Scriptwriter and director, Amazon Prime, Mumbai
“The digital medium has corrupted me as a film-maker. It just gives you such amazing freedom,” says Mayank Sharma, director of the Amazon Prime series Breathe, a psychological drama starring
How he got here: Sharma’s father is an artist, and, growing up, he was exposed to both art and cinema. In 2003, he graduated from the Asian Academy of Film and Television in Noida, near Delhi, and, by 2004, had moved to Mumbai and landed his first job as a fifth assistant director, working as a clapper boy. He went on to assist on several films, and, by 2013, he had been commissioned to direct a series for Sony Entertainment Television.
Skills needed: Sharma says it is important to invest your energy in scripting and pre-production—getting the foundation right is important.
Biggest challenge: On a streaming service, your content has to be engaging to ensure viewers don’t move on to another show.
Work wisdom: The digital medium is not the future; it is the present, according to Sharma. Watch web series and assist other directors working on digital platforms to familiarize yourself.
Money matters: A director’s fee is 5-15% of the project cost. Earnings per project can be Rs4 lakh or above.
Anirudh Pandita, 33
Co-founder, Pocket Aces, Mumbaii
“In 2013, the entertainment sector seemed ripe for something new,” says Anirudh Pandita, about his decision to co-found Pocket Aces, a youth-focused online media company, with Ashwin Suresh and Aditi Shrivastava. Their brands—FilterCopy, Dice Media and Gobble—have clocked over a billion video views through social sharing.
How he got here: After graduating in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana—Champaign in 2006, Pandita worked as an analyst at the Banc of America Securities, London, and Goldman Sachs, Dubai, before completing an MBA from The Wharton School in 2012. That year, he joined Valo Group, a Philadelphia-based hedge fund, as an investment analyst. In 2013, he moved back to India and co-founded Pocket Aces. Passionate about films, he says: “I told myself, I will try this for six months and see if it works out. If it didn’t, I would just start over again.”
Skills needed: “People spend too much time on just ideation, but it’s important to keep experimenting. Make things and put them out, no matter what—you’ll only get better,” he says. Pandita also believes a good understanding of data analytics is important. “We are able to see what works and what doesn’t and adapt accordingly,” he says.
Biggest challenge: In the past, it was about knowing when to give up and when to persist; now it is about
getting the right talent. “We mostly work with young people and gauge the cultural fit of a candidate before anything else,” Pandita says.
Work wisdom: Create opportunities, and seize those that happen to come your way. “I once found myself working out next to actor Saif Ali Khan at my gym in Bandra. At first, I was hesitant to speak to him, but we had been trying to meet him for months. I finally did speak with him, and we had a good meeting even though the project didn’t work out eventually,” Pandita recalls.
Money matters: “In the beginning, you pay yourself nothing. At a seed funding stage, you could pay yourself anything from Rs6-12 lakh per year, and go up to Rs20-50 lakh with subsequent funding rounds,” says Pandita.
Satya Raghavan, 42
Head of entertainment, YouTube India, Mumbai
On the journey to build an ecosystem of original content creators for video-sharing website YouTube, Satya Raghavan has seen a flood of Indian-language content. “Video watch time in India is growing at 400% year-on-year,” he says, adding that Hindi, Telugu and Tamil are currently the top three languages on YouTube.
How he got here: A computer engineer from the Ramrao Adik Institute of Technology, Navi Mumbai, Raghavan was always interested in media. In 1995, while at college, he, author Rashmi Bansal and another friend set up the youth magazine JAM. He went on to do a postgraduate diploma in management from the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow in 1998. After stints in consumer sales with Coca-Cola, General Mills India and IT company SQL Star International Ltd, he joined Star TV India as vice-president, marketing, in 2004 and worked on shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati until 2007. The same year, Raghavan left to pursue a second master’s in business administration at Harvard Business School. He went on to work in private equity with Helion Advisors, and founded and sold Skoolshop.com, an educational start-up, before joining YouTube India in 2014 to head content and operations. In 2016, he was promoted to head, entertainment, at YouTube India.
Skills needed: Working with content creators, and understanding and presenting viewership research to clients are his top skills. The YouTube’s ecosystem has three parts—content creators, advertisers and consumers. “We are continuously matchmaking between creators and advertisers, advising them on how to optimize their channels and how best to reach their target audience,” he explains.
Biggest challenge: The entry of newer platforms like Facebook video may offer direct competition to YouTube, but Raghavan doesn’t see this as a threat. “We tell creators to figure out how they want to use other platforms, like producing shorter edits on those platforms that can drive content to their YouTube channel,” he explains.
Work wisdom: Raghavan says the key to generating good content is to find out what you are interested in, and create videos that might get the consumer interested.
Money matters: While Raghavan chose not to comment, career website Glassdoor estimates the salary for an equivalent position to be upwards of Rs1 crore per annum.